All eyes on banks' response to allegations against Najib

Malaysian PM Najib Razak (centre) at a Ramadan bazaar in Semenyih in Selangor yesterday. The Wall Street Journal reported on Friday that he had received up to $940 million in personal accounts in AmBank between March 2013 and February this year. Mala
Malaysian PM Najib Razak (centre) at a Ramadan bazaar in Semenyih in Selangor yesterday. The Wall Street Journal reported on Friday that he had received up to $940 million in personal accounts in AmBank between March 2013 and February this year. Malaysia's central bank, Bank Negara, would normally be alerted to such large transfers in domestic accounts.PHOTO: THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

Bank Negara, AmBank yet to confirm or deny WSJ claim of large sums wired to his accounts

Attention has turned to Malaysia's central bank and a domestic bank to confirm or deny that large sums of cash were wired to Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak's personal accounts.

This followed claims in a Wall Street Journal (WSJ) report last Friday that Datuk Seri Najib received up to US$700 million (S$940 million) in various personal accounts in AmBank between March 2013 and February this year.

Malaysia's central bank, Bank Negara, a well-regarded regulator in international banking circles, would normally be alerted to large transfers in domestic accounts, especially ones such as the alleged deposit via a Singapore-based Swiss bank of US$620 million in March 2013.

AmBank is Malaysia's fifth-biggest bank by assets.

SILENCE WON'T HELP

If the two banks remain silent, it will not reduce public perception (of wrongdoing).

UMNO'S KUALA LUMPUR LAWMAKER JOHARI ABDUL GHANI, talking to the Mingguan Malaysia newspaper yesterday

Umno's Kuala Lumpur lawmaker Johari Abdul Ghani told the Mingguan Malaysia newspaper yesterday: "If the two banks remain silent, it will not reduce public perception (of wrongdoing)."

Another Umno Member of Parliament also weighed in.

"There has been no clear statement from Bank Negara Malaysia or even AmBank... and this brings about confusion among the public," Penang lawmaker Reezal Merican said in a statement yesterday.

Writing about Mr Najib's troubles, The Star columnist Joceline Tan yesterday said Bank Negara "has to step in to clear the air".

"WSJ had claimed that the alleged monetary transfers amounted to billions of ringgit. These are gigantic sums and the regulating body would have been immediately alerted on such movements," she wrote.

Both banks had not responded to queries from The Straits Times at press time.

Several Umno leaders told The Straits Times that they were concerned that Mr Najib's remarks that the funds, believed to be linked to state investor 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), were not for "personal gain" failed to address whether the money had indeed entered his accounts.

One of the alleged transfers into Mr Najib's accounts was the sum of RM42 million (S$15 million) through SRC International, a firm owned by the Finance Ministry.

The US$620 million was allegedly pumped in via Falcon Private Bank, a Swiss bank in Singapore, the WSJ said.

Falcon is owned by the International Petroleum Investment Company (IPIC), the state fund of Abu Dhabi. IPIC has guaranteed billions of dollars of 1MDB's bonds.

Bank Negara said on June 3 that it had commenced a formal inquiry into 1MDB - whose advisory board is chaired by Mr Najib - but could not disclose any details as that would undermine the probe.

1MDB last Friday denied funnelling funds to Mr Najib.

Mr Wan Saiful Wan Jan, chief executive officer at think-tank Ideas, told The Straits Times that the timing of the allegations is disastrous for Mr Najib. This is because it is happening at a time when he is weakened and the government institutions are under pressure to show that they are independent.

Attorney-General Abdul Gani Patail is leading a multi-agency task force to look into the allegations.

If the Attorney-General charges Mr Najib, "it would be the first time a PM is charged and he would be in grave trouble", said Mr Wan Saiful.

"But if he is not (charged), large segments would point to previous occasions when (the Attorney- General's) neutrality was in doubt."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 06, 2015, with the headline 'All eyes on banks' response to allegations against Najib'. Print Edition | Subscribe