Malaysia to consider probing Najib for abuse of power

Malaysia's former prime minister Najib Razak waits to attend Friday prayers at the Barisan Nasional party headquarters in Kuala Lumpur on May 18, 2018. PHOTO: AFP

KUALA LUMPUR (BLOOMBERG) - Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad's government is considering investigating former leader Najib Razak for abuse of power, as it intensifies efforts to seek evidence of wrongdoing at scandal-plagued state fund 1MDB just days after taking office.

The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission laid out in recent days a comprehensive list detailing the potential scope of investigations into 1MDB, according to people who have seen the document.

Examples of potential abuse of power by Mr Najib that the agency identified include witness suppression and the blocking of a central bank criminal case.

Mr Najib had indicated at the outset that he was "prepared and willing to extend his fullest cooperation to the relevant authorities", his lawyer Harpal Singh Grewal said in a statement on Thursday (May 17) in response to a raid on his client's home.

A spokesman for Mr Najib referred Bloomberg News to this statement when asked for comment.

A spokesman for the anti-graft agency could not immediately comment when reached on Friday.

Among the other areas the commission is looking into:

- Whether criminal breach of trust was involved in a letter of support from the Ministry of Finance for 1MDB bonds

- Alleged fraudulent investment by the fund

- An unauthorised bond issuance by the fund outside of its Articles of Association

- Funds flowing into Mr Najib's personal account

The move to lay out the scope of a renewed probe underscores how fast Dr Mahathir's government is moving to revive an investigation into 1MDB, which was set up in 2009 under Mr Najib's watch to support local infrastructure projects.

Since the 92-year old defeated Mr Najib's government in a shock election victory last week, he has barred his former protege from leaving the country, and police have searched Mr Najib's home and seized documents from his former office this week.

Dr Mahathir said on Wednesday he will seek to recover funds diverted from 1MDB by reaching out to authorities in Switzerland, the US, Singapore and other jurisdictions.

A parliamentary committee in 2016 identified at least US$4.2 billion (S$5.64 billion) in irregular transactions by the fund.

On Thursday, he set up a separate committee to look into matters relating to the fund, whose full name is 1Malaysia Development Bhd.

The same day, Dr Mahathir said he was appointing Mr Mohd Shukri Abdull to helm the anti-corruption commission, after the former chief, Mr Dzulkifli Ahmad, resigned last week.

Mr Shukri was deputy chief commissioner at the agency until he retired in 2016.

"Until and unless the issue of 1MDB is resolved, there will be questions that undermine public confidence in the government and its institutions," according to a statement issued by Dr Mahathir's press office on the formation of the 1MDB committee.

Dr Mahathir, who was Mr Najib's long-term ally and who is back in power after a prior stint as premier from 1981 to 2003, accused him on the campaign trail of being a "thief" over alleged graft at 1MDB.

Mr Najib has denied any wrongdoing and was cleared by the attorney-general at the time, while the fund has repeatedly denied any misconduct.

The 1MDB scandal spawned global probes as investigators tracked a money trail stretching from Switzerland to Singapore and the US.

The Department of Justice alleges that US$3.5 billion from the fund went missing.

The Malaysian machinery is now springing into action.

Documents seized from Mr Najib's former office are related to the ongoing investigation into 1MDB, Commercial Crime Investigation Department Director Amar Singh Ishar Singh said on Friday.

Police also searched two condominium units in Kuala Lumpur as part of the 1MDB probe, seizing 284 boxes containing handbags and 72 luggage bags containing valuable items such as cash and jewellery.

This comes after a nighttime search at Mr Najib's home this week, when police seized personal items including several boxes of items like handbags, clothes and personal belongings as evidence, his lawyer said.

Police mentioned possible money laundering offences but didn't mention 1MDB, he said, adding that there was "no indication at all" that Mr Najib would be arrested.

Dr Mahathir said on Thursday he didn't order the search and had no information, adding that he has tasked the police to investigate all criminal cases regardless of who is implicated.

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