The Malaysian authorities doubled the number of people with travel restrictions to eight yesterday and questioned the publisher of a media group, in what the government has described as a widening probe to get to the bottom of a financial scandal that has rocked the Najib administration.
The move came as Swiss national Xavier Andre Justo, in a Bangkok jail following allegations he tried to blackmail an early joint venture partner of state investment fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), told The Straits Times in an interview that a prominent Malaysian businessman had agreed to pay him US$2 million (S$2.7 million) for data that the businessman said would be used to attack Prime Minister Najib Razak. But Justo said he did not receive a single cent.
In a related development, Malaysia's police chief Khalid Abu Bakar arrived in Bangkok yesterday as he sought help from Thai police to interview Justo, who was arrested in Koh Samui last month for allegedly stealing information from his former employer, PetroSaudi International, a 1MDB venture partner in 2009, and trying to blackmail PetroSaudi for money.
Malaysia has arrested two company directors as a special task force investigates the scandal that has tarnished the government and punished the ringgit.
Malaysia's foreign-exchange reserves fell to the lowest in almost five years, Bloomberg reported yesterday, signalling the central bank may have intervened to stem the ringgit's decline. The ringgit is trading around 16-year lows against both the US dollar and the Singapore currency.
Included in the new list of those banned from travelling abroad is a former chief investment officer of 1MDB, Mr Nik Faisal Ariff Kamil, who is the managing director of SRC International.
SRC, formerly a 1MDB subsidiary, is a Finance Ministry subsidiary alleged by a Wall Street Journal report as being involved in part of the US$700 million transfer of funds into the private accounts of the Prime Minister.
Others on the list who are banned from travelling abroad are opposition lawmaker Tian Chua, and political activists Maria Chin Abdullah, Hishamuddin Rais and Adam Adli Abdul Halim.
Police yesterday questioned Mr Ho Kay Tat, publisher and chief executive of The Edge Media Group, asking him to explain its expose on the 1MDB scandal.
The travel ban raised hackles among the opposition, which asked why Datuk Seri Najib, the man at the centre of the alleged money transfers, was still free to travel abroad and has not been called up to answer questions.
"This question... does not give a good impression of the independence of the special task force if this important individual is yet to be interrogated," Mr Rafizi Ramli, the secretary-general of the opposition Parti Keadilan Rakyat, said in a statement.
Amid questions over Mr Najib's leadership, he has received support from an unexpected corner.
President of the opposition Parti Islam SeMalaysia Abdul Hadi Awang said in an interview with Channel NewsAsia that Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, a harsh critic of Mr Najib, should stop trying to topple the Prime Minister except through democratic means.