PUTRAJAYA • A global anti-corruption conference opened in Malaysia yesterday with a demand for the country's Prime Minister Najib Razak to come clean on a raging financial scandal.
Datuk Seri Najib has faced growing pressure since The Wall Street Journal last month revealed Malaysian investigators had found that nearly US$700 million (S$980 million) was deposited into his personal bank accounts. He said the transfers were "political donations" from unidentified Middle Eastern sources but the government has refused to give further details, sparking outrage in the country.
"There are two questions that need to be answered: Who paid the money and why? Where did it go? One man could answer those questions," Mr Jose Ugaz, global chair of Transparency International, told delegates in an opening speech at the conference yesterday.
Anger over the scandal brought tens of thousands of people onto the streets of Kuala Lumpur and other cities over the weekend. They demanded Mr Najib's removal and thorough reforms following a string of corruption scandals since independence.
The three-day International Anti-Corruption Conference is organised by Transparency International and brings together graft-fighting agencies from around the world. It is held this year in Putrajaya, Malaysia's administrative capital.
Mr Najib was originally scheduled to give the keynote address but was replaced by a low-ranking minister last week. The minister, Mr Paul Low, said earlier yesterday that Mr Najib stayed away to avoid facing hostile activists. No activists were seen at the conference by AFP.
Even before the bank deposit revelations, Mr Najib had for months faced demands to explain huge sums allegedly missing from deals involving state investment firm 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB). The Swiss authorities yesterday said they had frozen tens of millions of dollars in connection with a probe into people linked to the firm.
Drawing frequent applause from hundreds of delegates, Mr Ugaz said Malaysia faced a "corruption crisis". He criticised the disruptions to the investigations and the government's recent shutdown of two Malaysian newspapers for their reporting on the scandals.
"These are not the actions of a government that is fighting corruption," Mr Ugaz said.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS