By: Our Correspondent

The rift between Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak and his family appears to be growing, with the publication of a formal statement by Najib’s four brothers.

The statement was likely triggered by questions over the prime minister’s financial affairs in the wake of a Feb. 9 New York Times article that reported the family has vast wealth, much of it overseas. In that article, the prime minister’s office defended Najib’s wealth by claiming that “neither any money spent on travel, nor any jewelry purchases, nor the alleged contents of any safes are unusual for a person of the prime minister’s position, responsibilities and legacy family assets.”  The prime minister has made subsequent statements saying his wealth derives from inheritance.

That has raised the ire of Najib’s brothers, who say there were no “legacy family assets” and that any claim to the contrary is an insult at their father, Tun Abdul Razak, the country’s second prime minister and a man known for his parsimony with government funds.

Without naming any names, the brothers’ statement said, “We wish to put on record that Tun Abdul Razak was a highly principled man, well-known to all who knew him for his frugality and utmost integrity and any statement or inference to the contrary would be totally false and misleading to his memory and to his service and sacrifices for the nation.  We take issue with anyone who taints his memory, whatever the motive. We would also like to add that our whole family is united on this issue.”

The statement was signed by Nazir Razak, the chairman of CIMB group, as well as his brothers Johari, Nizam and Nazim.  It was not signed by Najib.  Mainstream media, all of which are owned by political parties aligned with the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition, chose not to carry the statement, which appeared on the independent news sites Malaysian Insider and Malaysiakini. 

As Asia Sentinel reported on Feb. 11, the rift in the family has been growing for months over a variety of issues, many of them related to Najib’s wife Rosmah Mansor, including the fact that she makes an ostentatious display of her wealth through jewelry and expensive handbags.

One source with close connections to the family said Rosmah will not allow Najib to meet with his brothers unless she is present, and that they are not allowed to talk with the prime minister outside of her earshot.

In addition, the bad blood is said to stem from the brothers’ indignation at the treatment meted out to Najib’s first wife, Tengku Puteri, whom he divorced to marry Rosmah and to the children from the first marriage.  When Tengku Puteri’s eldest daughter became a lawyer and was called to the Malaysian bar, Najib’s brother called him and asked him to attend. Family sources said Najib declined, possibly because of Rosmah’s objections. Najib’s mother, Rahah, instead brought her granddaughter to Najib’s office together with a photographer so that the newly minted lawyer could have her photo taken with her father in her court robes.

Other irritations have arisen over the deeply indebted government-backed investment fund 1Malaysia Development Bhd, which Rosmah is believed to have convinced her husband to initiate.   The fund is in deep trouble and only stayed afloat this month with an emergency loan from billionaire T. Ananda Krishnan, a close UMNO crony, who put up RM2 billion to meet debt service. Sources told local media in Malaysia that 1MDB may need another MR3 billion from its owner, the Ministry‎ of Finance.

Hints of the rift began a year ago, when Nazir wrote a long article in Kinibiz, the business edition of Malaysiakini, itself a red flag to the United Malays National Organization leadership because of its refusal to toe the line of the conventional media.

Nazir wrote a remembrance of  Tun Abdul Razak titled “Remembering My Father, Tun Razak.” Among other things the father was said to have refused to use public funds to build a swimming pool for the children at the government-owned prime minister’s residence. He personally paid his family’s expenses on government trips, Nazir said, and was personally committed to national unity between the three major ethnic groups, the Malays, Chinese and Indians.

The article stood as an obvious public rebuke to the prime minister, who at his wife’s insistence remodeled the prime minister’s residence at vast public expense, who has been accused of using the government’s public jet for private junkets, and who has refused to rein in Malay superiority NGOs such as Perkasa and ISMA, whose strident rhetoric has led to a poisonous racial situation.

“Nazir has long worried about the negative influence of Rosmah, in particular, on Najib and has complained to friends and associates about it,” said a longtime western political analyst in Kuala Lumpur. “Of course, Rosmah knows this and despises Nazir in return and badmouths him to Najib.  So it goes.”

Nazir has threatened suit against Taek Jho Low, the youthful wunderkind behind the creation of 1MDB, whom Nazir has accused of being behind an anonymous blogger who has attacked Nazir’s family. In a personal statement last week on Kinibiz, the business edition of Malaysiakini, Nazir said the attacks began soon after he wrote the article about his father and after he expressed public reservations about 1MDB. The attacks, constituting “lies and slander,” cross the line, Nazir said. His statement follows a series of statements by businessman Tong Kooi Ong, who had also been subjected to anonymous blog attacks which Tong claimed were due to The Edge Malaysia’s extensive and biting coverage of 1MDB. On Feb. 6, Tong said he had ascertained the identity of the blogger going by the name ‘ahrily90’ and had served a legal letter to Jho Low, who has previously denied any links to the attacks.