By YANTOULTRA NGUI andCELINE FERNANDEZ
Wall Street Journal
March 21, 2016
Malaysia leader embroiled in 1MDB scandal seeks to assure his supporters
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia—Prime Minister Najib Razak has told supporters that he isn’t a “crook,” amid continuing fallout from investigations into state investment fund 1Malaysia Development Bhd., or 1MDB.
Pressure has grown on Mr. Najib since The Wall Street Journal reported last year that government investigators had found that hundreds of millions of dollars had entered his personal bank accounts via banks, companies and other entities linked to 1MDB, whose advisory board he chairs.
The government probe didn’t name the source of the money or specify what happened to it. Global investigators said deposits totaling more than $1 billion—hundreds of millions more than identified by the Malaysian investigators—had flowed into Najib’s personal accounts, people familiar with the matter said earlier this month.
Mr. Najib has denied wrongdoing or taking money for personal gain, a stance he reiterated Saturday in a talk to more than 5,000 supporters and leaders of the ruling party, the United Malays National Organization, in his home state of Pahang.
“If I had wanted to rob, I would have robbed the forest here long ago,’’ Mr. Najib was quoted as saying by the national news agency, Bernama. “I didn’t even take an inch, I didn’t take a single tree in Pahang, I didn’t take the bauxite mine, I didn’t take anything.”.
“I have not changed my stand when I became prime minister,’’ Mr. Najib was quoted as saying. “I will not take the people’s property. Don’t think I am a crook, don’t think I steal the people’s property. I am the prime minister for the people.”
The 1MDB fund has denied wrongdoing and has said that it is cooperating with investigations. Malaysia’s Attorney GeneralMohamed Apandi Ali has said $681 million deposited to Najib’s account was a legal political donation from Saudi Arabia and that most of the money was returned. Investigators in two other countries agreed that most of the $681 million ultimately was returned, according to people familiar with the probes.
“This is a real distraction to governing the country,” said Wan Saiful Wan Jan, chief executive of the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs, an independent think-tank. “At some stage a line has to be drawn on whether or not government resources can continuously be used to deal with questions surrounding personal integrity. This has to stop soon one way or another.”
The remarks come as opposition to Mr. Najib over his handling of the 1MDB scandal is building. The anti-Najib forces recently won a major adherent when Mahathir Mohamad,who was prime minister for 22 years, quit UMNO and lent his support to an alliance seeking unseat Mr. Najib.
Mr. Najib’s opponents plan a gathering Sunday at a convention center in Selangor state, which is adjacent to the country’s capital city Kuala Lumpur and the seat of government, Putrajaya. The organizer, Zaid Ibrahim, a former law minister, said that leaders of the movement will chart strategy to increase pressure on Mr. Najib.
Malaysian authorities last week deported two Australian reporters who were briefly detained after they attempted to question Mr. Najib about corruption allegations.
Earlier, the owner of a news site blocked in recent weeks by the government after critical coverage of 1MDB announced that he had decided to shut the portal for commercial reasons.