Bank Negara holds the key in probe on alleged 1MDB funds transfer

Zeti Akhtar Aziz, governor of the Bank Negara Malaysia. According to The Star, It was "highly unlikely" that the Malaysian central bank did not detect the inflow of huge sums of money into Malaysian bank accounts from abroad.
Zeti Akhtar Aziz, governor of the Bank Negara Malaysia. According to The Star, It was "highly unlikely" that the Malaysian central bank did not detect the inflow of huge sums of money into Malaysian bank accounts from abroad. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

PETALING JAYA - It was "highly unlikely" that the Malaysian central bank did not detect the inflow of huge sums of money into Malaysian bank accounts from abroad, The Star newspaper said in an editorial on Saturday.

Malaysia's biggest English-language newspaper said Bank Negara Malaysia is key in finding the answers in the multi-agency investigations into the alleged US$700 million (S$945 million) that was deposited into the bank accounts of Prime Minister Najib Razak.

The unprecedented high-level probe into the now-closed accounts of the Prime Minister came after the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) newspaper reported two weeks ago that nearly US$700 million flowed into Datuk Seri Najib's accounts at AmBank, Malaysia's fifth largest lender. The funds are suspected to have originated from state investor 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB).

The inflows included two payments, according to the WSJ, totalling US$681 million from Wells Fargo Bank in the United States in 2013.

The Star said Bank Negara has the Ringgit Operations Monitoring System, or ROMS, that detects all in-coming and out-going foreign currencies.

"Under ROMS, all foreign transactions of US$1 million and above are captured. Every day, the foreign exchange dealers from all financial institutions update their transactions at 5pm," it added.

The updates contain particulars such as the sender of the foreign currency, the foreign bank, the counter party in Malaysia, the recipient and the reasons for the movement of the funds, the newspaper said.

"ROMS is something that is under the purview of Bank Negara. Surely, when a sum of US$681 million comes into the country in two transactions over two days in March 2013, the central bank would have known about it at that point in time," the editorial said.

If the central bank was indeed alerted, "it should not be too difficult for the high-level task force to determine the flow of funds from Wells Fargo Bank, where it went to and who the recipients were".

The editorial in effect asked what some Malaysians, including Umno leaders, have been asking since the scandal broke: why hasn't Bank Negara and its respected Governor, Tan Sri Zeti Akhtar Aziz, come out to confirm or deny the huge fund inflow.

Others have also asked AmBank to stand up to say there were no such money transfers, though bankers have said that Ambank is prohibited from doing so under Malaysia's banking secrecy laws.

Umno division chief for Cheras in Kuala Lumpur, Datuk Seri Syed Ali Al-habshee, said recently that Madam Zeti should stand up to clear Mr Najib's name.

"This is the time for Bank Negara's Governor to step up and clear the Prime Minister of any wrongdoing as he is being accused of manipulating his power and position to further his political and financial interests," he said.

The Star in the editorial concluded: "The faster the task force completes its probe and comes up with the findings, the earlier the uncertainties will end and the faster the ringgit will find its real level.

"The key to the US$700 million funds flow lies with Bank Negara".