1MDB saga: Najib critics eye street protests to force ouster

A Bersih supporter in AN August rally last year, when some 100,00 called for Mr Najib's resignation.
A Bersih supporter in AN August rally last year, when some 100,00 called for Mr Najib's resignation.PHOTO: REUTERS

Najib's brother and stepdaughter also weigh in on US civil lawsuits

Critics of Prime Minister Najib Razak are set to take to the streets as soon as next weekend if he refuses to step down following United States civil lawsuits claiming at least US$3.5 billion (S$4.7 billion) was siphoned out of 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), a state fund overseen by the Malaysian leader.

Pro-reform group Bersih - made up of 94 civil society bodies - said it is mulling over another street protest to renew calls for Datuk Seri Najib's resignation. The main opposition alliance Pakatan Harapan (PH) gave the premier a week before it would take "political action".

"Bersih's process is we have to consult the NGOs (non-government organisations) before we actually make any decision. That is definitely an agenda on the table," Bersih chief Maria Chin Abdullah told reporters yesterday.

Bersih has held four mass demonstrations in the past nine years. In August last year, close to 100,000 brought the capital to a standstill as it demanded Mr Najib's resignation in an overnight rally.

PH issued an ultimatum saying that if Mr Najib failed to vacate his office by July 29, "then Pakatan Harapan will mobilise the people in a political action" on July 30 to protest against his administration.

Bersih's process is we have to consult the NGOs (non-government organisations) before we actually make any decision. That is definitely an agenda on the table.

BERSIH CHIEF MARIA CHIN ABDULLAH, on calling for a street protest

Long-serving former premier Mahathir Mohamad, who is spearheading a campaign to topple Mr Najib over claims that some US$700 million found in the premier's personal accounts was stolen from public funds, has also called for a "peaceful rally".

Mr Najib has maintained that the money was a political donation from the Saudi royal family. He said on Thursday that the US lawsuits were "a civil action... limited to the names mentioned in the DOJ report".

The US Department of Justice (DOJ) in its court filings named his stepson, Mr Riza Aziz, and businessman Low Taek Jho, a former Najib confidant, as having laundered money out of 1MDB, resulting in a move to seize US$1 billion in assets.

Mr Najib's position as prime minister and Umno president is secure as his party chiefs remain behind him.

Umno's information chief, Datuk Seri Annuar Musa, said yesterday that Mr Najib "is not involved in any civil or criminal charge" and welcomed the US lawsuit. But Mr Najib's family is not all united behind him.

 

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The DOJ's claims have drawn criticism from his younger brother, Datuk Seri Nazir Razak, chairman of CIMB, one of the region's biggest banks. Mr Nazir noted that The Edge newspaper was slapped with a three-month suspension for carrying reports that are now the subject of the US suits. "Democracy is not just about elections; it's also about integrity of institutions, the rule of law and freedom of the media," he said on Instagram in his latest attack on the administration's handling of the 1MDB affair.

In a Facebook posting that has set Malaysia's social media abuzz, Mr Najib's stepdaughter, Ms Azrene Soraya Abdul Aziz, said if her brother Mr Riza "stood as proxy or as a trustee for what does not belong to him or any individual who asked him to be the 'dutiful son', he needs to pay for it". Ms Azrene also told her mother, Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor - Mr Najib's wife - not to forsake her brother "just so that you and your husband can get off scot-free".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 23, 2016, with the headline 'Najib critics eye street protests to force ouster'. Print Edition | Subscribe