By LOUISE STORY
New York Times
SEPT. 18, 2016
Organizers of a high-profile event to be held during the annual United Nations conclave this week have at the last minute canceled an award they had planned to give a Malaysian organization over concerns about its links to Malaysia’s first lady, whose family is mired in corruption allegations.
The event, to be held Thursday at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, honors people and groups that have fought extremism. Among the scheduled honorees was Permata, a Malaysian children’s organization that was founded several years ago under the auspices of Rosmah Mansor, the wife of the Malaysian prime minister, Najib Razak.
Ms. Rosmah is known for her lavish spending on luxury items like Hermès Birkin bags.
The couple’s family and close friends are at the center of a Justice Department lawsuit claiming that $1 billion in assets — including a $30.6 million penthouse at the Time Warner Center in New York and a $39 million mansion in the Los Angeles hills — were bought with money stolen from Malaysia’s sovereign wealth fund, called 1Malaysia Development Berhad, or 1MDB.
A statement on Sunday from Tudor Parfitt, a scholar involved in the event, confirmed that the honor had been withdrawn.
The statement said that questions had been raised about the sources of Permata’s funding, and that although the event organizers were not aware of any specific wrongdoing, they did not have time to vet the organization.
The event is co-hosted by the head of Unesco, Irina Bokova. Ms. Bokova is running to be secretary general of the United Nations, so her actions are also being closely scrutinized.
Questions surrounding Malaysia’s prime minister and his wife have intensified since the Justice Department lawsuit was filed two months ago.
Ms. Rosmah is not named in it, and Mr. Najib is referred to only as Malaysian Official 1. But Ms. Rosmah’s son from a first marriage — Riza Aziz, a movie producer — is named. The suit claims that Mr. Najib had $731 million from 1MDB, a government investment account, moved through his personal accounts.
Mr. Najib has said he broke no laws and took nothing for personal gain.
Malaysia is one of the 10 countries that hold a rotating seat on the United Nations Security Council, and Mr. Najib in recent years has had a big presence at the annual General Assembly session.
In 2013, Mr. Najib gave a speech about the “moderate Muslim,” which caused controversy in Malaysia, a Muslim country, but won him allies in the West. Also that year, he spoke at venues such as the Harvard Club about business opportunities in Malaysia.
Mr. Najib had lobbied strenuously for Malaysia to be added to the Security Council.
When Mr. Najib and Ms. Rosmah traveled to New York in the past, they stayed in the lavish Mandarin Oriental hotel, which is in the Time Warner complex, the location of one of the pricey properties included in the United States government’s asset forfeiture suit.
That condo was purchased by a shell company and traced by The New York Times in a 2015 investigation to Jho Low, a close associate of the prime minister and his wife.
Mr. Low, also prominently named in the Justice Department case, has burnished his image with ties to the United Nations as well. In 2014, his family’s foundation, Jynwel, was a major sponsor of the Social Good Summit, an event thematically tied to the General Assembly session. And late that year, the Jynwel Foundation invested $25 million in Irin, the United Nations’ news service.
A spokesman for the prime minister could not be reached for comment, and neither Unesco nor the United Nations Foundation immediately responded to a request for comment.
Somini Sengupta contributed reporting from the United Nations, and Richard C. Paddock from Bangkok.