Malaysia's PM Najib hails ties with Saudi Arabia during visit overshadowed by donation scandal

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak (left) and Saudi Arabia King Salman at a meeting in Saudi Arabia.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak (left) and Saudi Arabia King Salman at a meeting in Saudi Arabia. PHOTO: THE STAR/ ASIA NEWS NETWORK

RIYADH (Bloomberg) - Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak praised Saudi Arabia in a visit overshadowed by a scandal over a US$681 million (S$950 million) "personal" donation from the Saudi royal family.

The countries are "inseparable partners" in the war against Islamic extremism and terrorism, Datuk Seri Najib said during a four-day trip to the Middle Eastern kingdom that ends on Thursday (March 3). It is his second visit in two months.

He was expected to meet King Salman, Crown Prince Muhammad bin Nayef and Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman while there, according to a Foreign Ministry statement issued on Monday.

"I would like to personally thank the Saudi Arabian royal family for their support over the decades," Mr Najib said in a Facebook post late on Wednesday. "We will always appreciate it and not likely to forget it. We in Malaysia are fortunate to have constant and trusted friends."

Saudi Arabia is one of Malaysia's largest trading partners in the Middle East, with trade between the countries valued at about RM11 billion (S$3.71 billion) last year, according to Malaysian government statistics.

Mr Najib is facing his biggest political crisis since coming to power seven years ago as questions linger over the funds which appeared in his personal accounts before the 2013 General Election. 

Attorney-General Mohamed Apandi Ali in January closed the door on a graft probe, clearing Najib of wrongdoing over the "personal contribution" and saying the premier later returned US$620 million that was not utilised. 

The Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday that Mr Najib received more than US$1 billion in his bank accounts between 2011 and 2013 - more than the previously known US$681 million. It cited two people it did not identify. 

Investigators in two countries believe the US$681 million originated from troubled state investment company 1Malaysia Development Bhd., rather than a Saudi donation, the paper said.

The Malaysian government reiterated Tuesday the funds were from Saudi and "verified by multiple lawful authorities who conducted exhaustive investigations".