KUALA LUMPUR - A two-minute pre-recorded video narrated by Datuk Seri Najib Razak emerged on the social media accounts of the former Malaysian prime minister on Tuesday (July 3), claiming his innocence hours after his arrest.
Mr Najib was arrested by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) anti-corruption amid an investigation involving billions of dollars diverted from state investment fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).
"If you hear this message, action has been taken against me," Mr Najib said at the start of the video, which was accompanied by sombre instrumental music, the Malay Mail news site reported.
Calling the day of his arrest "a day that he and his family are being tested", the former premier said he was just an imperfect man.
"But believe it, the allegations against me and family were not all true," he said, slamming the spread of rumours and false news to shame him.
His arrest is the latest in a series of stunning moves by investigators that suggest the legal noose is tightening around Mr Najib, his family and many of his close political and business allies.
Malaysia's official news agency Bernama said Mr Najib is expected to face more than 10 counts of committing criminal breach of trust linked to SRC International Sdn Bhd, an energy company that was originally a subsidiary of 1MDB.
According to an investigation by the Wall Street Journal, US$10.6 million (S$14.5 million) originating from SRC was transferred to Mr Najib's personal bank accounts, just one small part of hundreds of millions of dollars from 1MDB that allegedly ended up in his accounts.
Allegations of massive corruption were a major factor behind the shock election loss in May of Mr Najib’s long-ruling coalition to a reformist alliance headed by his former mentor Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
Mr Najib and his cronies were accused of plundering billions of dollars from the 1MDB sovereign wealth fund to buy everything from US real estate to artworks.
A press statement issued by Mr Najib’s camp late on Tuesday said the impending charges and other investigations “are politically motivated and the result of political vengeance” under Dr Mahathir.
It said the current ruling coalition has already “delivered the guilty verdict” against Mr Najib in public and vowed that the former premier “will contest these charges to clear his name in court”.
Shortly after his ouster, a vast trove of valuables was seized in raids on properties linked to Mr Najib and his family, including cash, jewellery and luxury handbags, worth up to US$273 million.
He and his luxury-loving wife Rosmah Mansor were questioned by investigators, as were his stepson Riza Aziz – whose firm produced the hit 2013 movie The Wolf Of Wall Street – and his former deputy Zahid Hamidi.
A special government task force investigating the 1MDB corruption scandal said it froze 408 bank accounts containing a total RM1.1 billion ringgit (S$371.5 million) last week.
Local media reports said some of the accounts belonged to Mr Najib’s political party, the once-powerful Umno. Until their shock defeat in May, Mr Najib’s party and its coalition allies had run Malaysia for six decades.
A security source told AFP that agents from the MACC arrested Mr Najib at his home, a sprawling mansion in a well-heeled suburb of Kuala Lumpur.
“They came in three to four unmarked cars,” the source, a senior security official familiar with the arrest, said.
A spokesman for MACC told AFP the former leader was brought to the commission’s headquarters in the administrative capital Putrajaya outside Kuala Lumpur.
Mr Najib would stay there overnight and be brought to court on Wednesday (July 4), she added.
The US Justice Department, which is seeking to recover items allegedly bought with stolen 1MDB cash in America, estimates that US$4.5 billion in total was looted from 1MDB.
Veteran legislator Lim Kit Siang, whose party is a member of the current ruling coalition, said Mr Najib’s arrest had been expected.
“Najib has to answer the allegations. It is long delayed as the scandal has turned Malaysia into a global kleptocracy country,” he told AFP.
Mr Hamidi, Mr Najib’s former deputy, said: “I respect the rule of law... Let the rule of law take place.”