KUALA LUMPUR - Najib Razak said on Friday (Nov 19) that he will withdraw his request for a residence from the government allegedly worth RM100 million (S$32.5 million) despite being entitled to the property as a former Malaysian prime minister.
The award of the land and funds to build a house on it sparked controversy just days before Saturday's state election in Melaka, where Najib is leading the Umno-led Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition's campaign.
He told a press conference in Melaka that he had "made a decision to reject the offer".
"I realise and understand that while the people are facing tough times, the nation's priority is the people," he said, adding that the issue was being politicised due to the Melaka polls, as he had made the request for the land and house in 2018 after he became the first Umno president to lose a general election.
Critics such as former premier Mahathir Mohamad and opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim claimed the Umno-led government had approved the RM100 million award.
But Finance Minister Tengku Zafrul Aziz told Parliament on Thursday the matter had been discussed in Cabinet, but refused to state if it was finalised. He also seemed to indicate that the request came to light only recently, and hence was not accounted for in Budget 2022 which was tabled on Oct 29.
De facto Law Minister Wan Junaidi Wan Jaafar said on Friday that the government had "shown the former premier three pieces of land".
"In principle, the Cabinet has agreed to grant the former premier his request on the ground of his right under law. However, I must stress that this decision is not final and is subject to further deliberation and final approval," he said in a statement.
Datuk Seri Junaidi added that the Cabinet has decided to establish a committee to "review the proposed guidelines" for the provision of land and residential houses for former prime ministers.
Najib also insisted he chose the plot based on its suitability and was not aware of its valuation.
"I came to know (of the value) after it was publicised," he said.
The housing entitlement for former prime ministers was enacted in 2003, a few months before Tun Dr Mahathir stepped aside for Tun Abdullah Badawi. But Dr Mahathir claimed on Thursday that "during my tenure, I had not even once asked for a house and I depended on my pension".
The Straits Times has learnt that the Najib government approved a plot of land in Kuala Lumpur and RM10 million to build a home for Mr Abdullah, his immediate predecessor who resigned in 2009.
Dr Mahathir claimed that Najib's pick was valued at RM60 million, with RM40 million allocated to construct a residence.
"How can the government allocate such gifts to a former prime minister; to a convicted person?" he said, referring to Najib's guilty verdict related to the 1Malaysia Development Berhad scandal. He was sentenced to 12 years' jail but is appealing against the judgment and remains a member of Parliament.