Anwar supports Najib's call to probe forex scandal in the 1990s

KUALA LUMPUR • Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, who is in a tussle with former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad to control Malaysia's opposition alliance, said he welcomed a call by former premier Najib Razak to probe some RM30 billion in losses in the 1990s by the central bank in foreign exchange (forex) trading.

Datuk Seri Anwar, who was the finance minister then, said in a Facebook post on Sunday evening that he had no problem if the authorities decided to investigate the matter. "They can investigate it, but what's important is that I didn't steal a sen, I didn't take RM1 billion, I didn't take timber land, I didn't take stocks. That's important. So if you want to investigate forex or 1MDB (1Malaysia Development Berhad), please go ahead," he said.

Mr Anwar, surprisingly, went on to thank Najib, who was ousted as prime minister in 2018, for raising the matter last Saturday.

His comments are likely to raise tensions within opposition ranks amid the Anwar-Mahathir tussle in Pakatan Harapan (PH) and its allies, as they try to wrest back federal power from the Perikatan Nasional (PN) alliance led by Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin.

Tan Sri Muhyiddin's loose alliance won power at the end of February after some 40 MPs defected from PH.

These MPs, from Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia and a breakaway faction of Mr Anwar's Parti Keadilan Rakyat, joined Najib's Umno, Parti Islam SeMalaysia, the Gabungan Parti Sarawak coalition and several small parties to form PN.

Today, PH, which is led by Mr Anwar, has 91 MPs under its wing - far short of the minimum 112 lawmakers needed to wrest back power in the 222-seat Parliament.

Mr Anwar, 72, is pushing to become the next prime minister should PH regain power.

But if Tun Dr Mahathir is allowed to become premier again under a deal being discussed by opposition chiefs, then PH's 91 MPs would be boosted by at least 17 more opposition MPs to bring the total to around 108, only a few short of 112.

The so-called "Pakatan Plus" alliance expects several defections to meet the minimum number needed to topple PN.

The number of MPs backing PN has not been tested in Parliament, as Mr Muhyiddin was appointed by the Malaysian King to lead a new government at the end of February, after the ruler personally met each of the 222 MPs to hear whom they supported as premier, after PH collapsed.

Najib had on Facebook called on the PN attorney-general to reopen the files on PH's 21 months in power and on the forex scandal. He claimed that five cases against PH politicians were dropped by the previous government.

The ousted premier was pushing back against opposition leaders who had raised questions about court cases being dropped against his stepson Riza Aziz and former Sabah chief minister Musa Aman.

Mr Anwar's support for a probe into the forex scandal that occurred more than 25 years ago was a surprising turn of events in his tussle with Dr Mahathir, as Pakatan Plus was expected to officially name its prime ministerial candidate this week.

In November 2017, a royal commission of inquiry backed by then Premier Najib found that Bank Negara Malaysia, the central bank, had lost RM31.5 billion between 1991 and 1994. The commission had recommended that Dr Mahathir and Mr Anwar, who was then in jail, be investigated for criminal breach of trust offences.

But questions have been raised over why Najib - who faces various corruption cases - wanted to probe financial losses from more than two decades ago, but not allegations of huge losses in the 1MDB state fund under his watch.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 16, 2020, with the headline 'Anwar supports Najib's call to probe forex scandal in the 1990s'. Print Edition | Subscribe