Malaysia Prime Minister Najib Razak dispels rumours of leadership crisis in Umno

KUALA LUMPUR: Prime Minister Najib Razak said he has had a "heart-to-heart" talk with his deputy, dispelling rumours of a  rift and leadership crisis after senior Umno leaders questioned a controversial land purchase deal between 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) and the Tabung Haji pilgrimage agency.

Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin had openly criticised the government's handling of the 1MDB scandal while in Milan on a working trip last week.

Yesterday, Tan Sri Muhyiddin, who is also Umno deputy president, again reminded the party to not let 1MDB smear its image in a message  for Umno's 69th anniversary celebration.

Datuk Seri Najib  told a packed press conference that he and his deputy  cannot be separated. "I highly appreciate constructive ideas contributed by the deputy president in the meeting. I had a heart-to-heart meeting with him this morning and we will always hold heart-to-heart discussions to ensure that Umno's leadership at the national level remains strong," he said after a three-hour long Umno Supreme Council meeting. 

Mr Najib also dismissed rumours  that he would be asked to step down during the Supreme Council meeting and said the rumour-mongers would be utterly "disappointed".

Supreme Council members, he said, expressed their undivided support for the top party leadership, including its president and deputy president.

Mr Najib said the council also discussed 1MDB and the Tabung Haji land purchase deal. He assured Tabung Haji depositors that their money is guaranteed by the government and urged the Auditor-General to expedite his investigations into 1MDB.

"Stern action will be taken against anyone who broke the law," he warned.

At the anniversary celebrations later, Mr Najib said Umno had been able to overcome different obstacles because of its members who remain loyal to their leaders.

"I believe Umno is successful because we prioritise not only our members in this hall tonight but also the people outside and they will evaluate our very steps and decisions. As a party that practises democracy, the people will decide in the end," he said.

He criticised Umno leaders who promote rumours and want to divide the party leadership, questioning their love for the party. 

"We are not important but Umno is more important. If we believe our party is our only hope, then the party must remain strong to continue our struggle regardless who are the leaders."

Meanwhile, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), a bipartisan parliamentary panel which is conducting its own probe into 1MDB, said the hearings would start next Tuesday.

PAC chairman Nur Jazlan Mohamed confirmed yesterday the committee would summon Treasury secretary-general Mohd Irwan Serigar Abdullah and Economic Planning Unit director-general Rahmat Bivi Yusof. 

The Finance Ministry-owned 1MDB was set up in 2009. Mr Najib, who is also Finance Minister, heads 1MDB's board of advisers. It bought 15 power plants in five countries and also land banks in Malaysia, racking up more than RM42 billion (S$15.5 billion) in debt in the past few years.

asruls@sph.com.sg