'Broad mandate' to probe Malaysia's 1MDB accounts: Auditor-General

PUTRAJAYA - The Auditor-General Ambrin Buang insisted he has a "very broad mandate" to investigate debt-laden 1Malaysia Development Berhad's (1MDB) accounts, including reports in the media alleging misappropriation of public funds by the state investment agency.

Tan Sri Ambrin told a press conference Tuesday that "any matter related to assets and liabilities, we have to study" and that the National Audit Department would want to know "how the company is managed".

"We are studying all documents reported in the media," he said when asked if his inquiry included alleged documents revealing internal communications between 1MDB and other individuals said to have siphoned out billions of ringgit in public funds from the Finance Ministry-owned firm.

Ambrin added that his department had already begun work last week and that he "just" met 1MDB boss Arul Kanda, in response to criticism that he was dragging his feet in undertaking the "independent review" ordered by the Cabinet last Wednesday.

"Time is of the essence. That's why we are giving priority to this," he said, but admitted there was no time frame to complete his report.

He also refused to divulge details of his meeting with the 1MDB president, who joined the company late last year despite RM42 billion (S$15.8 billion) in debt - a third guaranteed by taxpayers - sitting on its books.

He also said his probe would be independent and he would call up Prime Minister Najib Razak - who is chairman of 1MDB's board of advisors - "if necessary".

The Auditor-General was ordered to review the 1MDB's accounts before passing on the findings to Parliament's bipartisan Public Accounts Committee (PAC), according to a statement by the Prime Minister's Office last Wednesday, which added that the Cabinet was satisfied there was no wrongdoing within the company.

But Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said on Friday a "complete and comprehensive" report must not be delayed and told the PAC to begin its probe without waiting for the audit report.

"I want to stress that any effort to address the 1MDB issue must not involve a bailout of the company with public funds," he said in statement widely seen as distancing himself from Datuk Seri Najib.

The police, public prosecutor and anti-corruption enforcers also said yesterday they had formed a task force to look into allegations surrounding 1MDB, piling more pressure on the firm and the prime minister who has defended the company's business decisions.

shannont@sph.com.sg