By now, the mysterious US$681 million (RMB2.83 billion at current exchange rates) that showed up in the personal AmBank account of Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak in 2013 has been said to come from so many different sources and to be used for so many different purposes that the government can’t keep track.
The source of the money is just one of a series of questions dogging Najib, who has fought to stay in power by firing or neutralizing anybody who might get in his way, including Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin and a long string of others.
To reports that he is being investigated in Singapore, New York, Switzerland and France, Najib has blamed unnamed dark forces or political enemies. He has hinted that the Chinese are involved in a plot to take over the country from ethnic Malays. He has paid vast amounts of money, created make-work jobs or allowed rent-seeking from top UMNO cadres through dodgy contracts to keep himself in power. In his latest move, last week he ousted Mukhriz Mahathir, the son of the onetime prime minister, from power in Kedah after a bruising fight that sources in the northern part of the country said was won by payments to turn around the votes of state assembly members backing Mukhriz.
When the US$681 million was first made public in July 2015, Najib said it came from an unnamed Middle Eastern source whom he declined to identify and denied that it was for his personal use. He refused to go beyond that.
Then officials said the money had come from a Saudi source and that it was to be spent in the 2013 election to ward off Islamic fundamentalists, although there were none – a violation of Malaysian constitutional law, which bars donations from foreign sources from being used for political purposes – and that US$620 million had been returned to the donor.
On Jan. 26, the Attorney General, Mohamed Apandi Ali, a longtime United Malays National Organization stooge, held a hasty press conference “clearing” Najib of any wrongdoing in the affair while at that time refusing to name the source. Then he told the Malaysian daily Sin Chew the money had come from a member of the Saudi royal family “out of a belief in [Najib] and his leadership on key issues.”
But on Feb. 5, the New York Times reported the Saudi foreign minister as saying the money hadn’t come from the Saudi royal family, but that he believed it had come from a businessman who was involved in a business deal with Najib – although he offered no further details. In any event, in the intervening three years, there has been no evidence that Najib was involved in a business deal that would require that much money.
In fact, the only thing that is clear about the donation is that nobody knows where it came from or what it was to be used for. There has been no documentation produced to show the provenance of the money. Apandi didn’t produce a paper trail when he cleared Najib on Jan. 26.