Najib Razak: ‘Don’t think I am a crook’

Jeevan Vasagar
Financial Times
March 20, 2016

Malaysia’s prime minister Najib Razak, mired in a growing international scandal over state investment fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad, urged a rally of supporters at the weekend not to think of him as a “crook” as he fights to retain control of the ruling party.

Mr Najib said that he had never misappropriated public property. Malaysia’s government is battling pressure from global regulators over allegations of corruption linked to 1MDB.

At home, leading figures from the governing United Malays National Organisation have combined with opposition parties to call for the prime minister’s removal.

Mohamed Apandi Ali, Malaysia’s attorney-general, has cleared Mr Najib of any wrongdoing over payments of $681m into his personal bank account. Critics allege the transfers were linked to 1MDB, which is denied by the prime minister and the fund.

At a rally in his home state of Pahang at the weekend, Mr Najib declared: “I haven’t changed my principles as a prime minister. I’ll never steal public property. Don’t think I’m a crook. Don’t believe that I’ve stolen public property. I’m the people’s prime minister.”

The remarks, reported by local media including the state news agency, indicate mounting concern that Mr Najib may be losing his grip on the grassroots of the party, which has dominated Malaysia’s politics since independence.

Mahathir Mohamad, Malaysia’s long-serving and influential former prime minister, recently quit Umno in protest at alleged “corruption” under Mr Najib’s leadership. He has allied with opposition leaders to call for Mr Najib’s removal.

Muhyiddin Yassin, Umno’s deputy president, who has been one of Mr Najib’s most prominent critics, was suspended from his position in the party last month. Mr Najib’s supporters say he has won the power struggle within the party and has never been more secure.

Friends of the prime minister said that he recently sang karaoke at a family gathering — performing a mix of Motown and Malay classics — which they said was evidence of a relaxed frame of mind.

However, some analysts say that Umno is fragmenting. Terence Gomez, a political economist at the University of Malaya, said the prime minister was losing the support of the grassroots.

Mr Gomez said: “He is in control of the [Umno] supreme council and division heads but numerous branch chairmen have come out and said we want an investigation in an open and transparent manner.”

He added that some ruling party supporters had been shocked by the scale of the flows into the prime minister’s account.

Malaysia’s attorney-general said in January that the $681m that came into the prime minister’s account was a donation from Saudi royals, and $620m had been returned.

Mr Apandi said investigations by the Malaysia anti-corruption commission had uncovered no evidence of any crimes committed by Mr Najib.

Mr Apandi was appointed last July when Abdul Gani Patail, who previously held the role, retired on health grounds.

At the weekend, the Malaysian bar council placed further pressure on the prime minister by calling on the attorney general to resign “for the good of Malaysia, to restore public confidence and perception of the rule of law”.

An official review of the Malaysia Anti-Corruption Commission’s investigation into the funds in the prime minister’s account has concluded that the anti-corruption agency’s inquiries are “still incomplete”, and should continue by seeking evidence from overseas financial institutions.

The bar council resolution accused the attorney-general of procrastinating in providing the necessary permission for obtaining evidence from overseas.

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