KL graft-busters challenge A-G's decision on Najib

Agency to refer decision to clear the Prime Minister over 'donation' to oversight panel

Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak speaks at the International Conference on Deradicalisation and Countering Violent Extremism, on Jan 25, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) said it intends to refer the Attorney-General's decision to clear the Prime Minister of wrongdoing over a US$681 million (S$974 million) Saudi "donation" to an independent review panel.

The move, announced yesterday after a meeting of its top officers, puts into doubt Attorney-General Apandi Ali's statement that the MACC admitted there was no evidence of criminal wrongdoing on the part of Datuk Seri Najib Razak.

But after the MACC was hailed for not bowing to the Attorney- General, its communications chief Rohaizad Yaakob clarified last night the move was "a procedure" and "should not be interpreted as rejecting the decision of the Attorney-General".

In a brief statement yesterday, the MACC said its top management had decided to table the Attorney-General's decision to the Operations Review Panel (PPO) and another panel to be appointed.

The PPO, an oversight panel monitoring the anti-graft commission, can review cases by the MACC that the Attorney-General's Chambers decides not to bring to court. However, the Attorney-General is not obliged to take up the PPO's recommendations. No details were given on the second panel.

The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported last July that the US$681 million had come via companies linked to troubled state investor 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).

At a press conference on Tuesday, Tan Sri Apandi absolved Mr Najib of any criminal wrongdoing over the US$681 million and another sum of RM42 million (S$14 million) discovered in his personal bank accounts that had led to calls for the Prime Minister to resign.

Mr Apandi said the bigger sum was a personal donation from the Saudi royal family and that, based on the MACC's investigations, the money, deposited just prior to the 2013 General Election, was not "given corruptly" and was not used as "inducement or reward" for Mr Najib to do anything in his capacity as Prime Minister.

As for the second sum, Mr Apandi said it came from SRC International, a former 1MDB subsidiary that now comes under the Finance Ministry. He said the "MACC itself admitted" there is "no evidence from the witnesses that could show that PM had committed any act of corrupt practice". He recommended that the two cases be closed.

International news reports yesterday caused confusion over the authenticity of the Saudi funds.

In its report, the BBC cited a Saudi source as saying that the donation came from the late King Abdullah "to help Mr Najib and his coalition win the election, employing a strategic communications team with international experience, focusing on the province of Sarawak, and funding social programmes through party campaigning".

The source claimed that Saudi neighbours had also been beneficiaries of massive donations from the Saudi royal family.

But according to a WSJ report, a Saudi government official said the foreign affairs and finance ministries had no information about such a gift and that a royal donation to the personal bank account of a foreign leader would be unprecedented.

Analysts said that while funding from Saudis might be more palatable than the oft-cited bogeyman of US interests, questions remain beyond concerns about corruption, such as the issue of national sovereignty.

"I sense a great deal of scepticism about the whole donation story among Malays," Mr Ibrahim Suffian, who heads leading pollster Merdeka Centre, told The Straits Times.

Mr Najib, who is the Finance Minister and also 1MDB's chief adviser, has repeatedly denied using public funds for personal gain. He has told supporters that, as Umno president, he is tasked with raising funds for the party.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 28, 2016, with the headline KL graft-busters challenge A-G's decision on Najib. Subscribe