PETALING JAYA • In a light-hearted press conference an hour after being confirmed as Malaysia's seventh Prime Minister, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad joked about having to stay up past dawn and being a dictator, but also tackled concerns about campaign promises that would burden government finances and stall the economy.
"We would like to tell the business people they can now push up prices in the stock market. There should be no cause for the devaluation of the ringgit," he told a packed room of reporters, in a message that was also aimed at the investment community.
"Our concern for the economy and finances of this country is the main focus," he told reporters in a packed hotel ballroom, in an attempt to address and ease concerns over the country's first transition of power in six decades.
The 92-year-old expressed concerns over existing government debt, which he claimed was reaching RM1 trillion (S$335 billion).
"We believe we can get most of the 1MDB money," Dr Mahathir said, referring to some US$4.5billion (S$6 billion) which foreign enforcement agencies claim was siphoned from the state fund.
"We know there is money in the United States, in Switzerland, in Singapore, and probably in Jho Low," he joked, eliciting chuckles from his colleagues who have long used the scandal as a focal point of attack against ousted premier Najib Razak. Mr Low, whose real name is Low Taek Jho, stands accused of masterminding the alleged theft of funds, although he has yet to be convicted in any of the ongoing probes worldwide.
Dr Mahathir also warned that "certain heads must fall" in the public service, saying: "Some people were egging and abetting a prime minister which the world condemns as a kleptocrat."
1MDB, Datuk Seri Najib's brainchild, is being probed by the US Department of Justice, which has labelled it as kleptocracy at its worst.