Malaysian ex-PM Najib and Saudi Foreign Minister backtrack on source of funds

Malaysia's former prime minister Najib Razak being escorted by police to the courthouse in Kuala Lumpur on Oct 25, 2018.
Malaysia's former prime minister Najib Razak being escorted by police to the courthouse in Kuala Lumpur on Oct 25, 2018. PHOTO: AFP

PETALING JAYA (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - For more than two years now, Malaysia's former prime minister Najib Razak has been claiming that the RM2.6 billion (S$806 million) deposited into his personal bank accounts was a donation from the Saudi Arabia royal family, and this was seemingly supported by the kingdom's Foreign Minister.

Now, both have backtracked.

Speaking to Al Jazeera's 101 East in an exclusive interview on Friday (Oct 26), Najib confirmed that he could not verify the source of the RM2.6 billion.

He said he assumed that the donations were connected to Saudi Arabia after the monarch then, King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, had assured him that he would support him.

"The question is when I received the funds, was I aware of the source of the money... certainly in my capacity I would not have access to banking knowledge."

"Because whoever owns the fund is protected by the secrecy of banking laws so when I received the funds, in all honesty I thought it was a genuine donation and at that particular time, the knowledge that I had was based on a conversation with King Abdullah," he told Al Jazeera in the 101 East interview that will air on Saturday morning.

However, in a Facebook post later the same day, Najib backtracked and maintained that the RM2.6 billion was indeed a donation from the Saudi government.

"Even though Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Adel Ahmed Al-Jubeir has stated twice that the nation of Saudi Arabia had donated the money to me, Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah said today that Adel informed him that the money had nothing to do with the Saudi government," he said.

Najib also linked a previous post, dated Sept 13, with photos of documents that supposedly supported his claims.

 
 
 

He said these documents "proved that most of the funds that were channelled into my account came straight from Saudi Arabia's Ministry of Finance, as well as from the Saudi princes".

Adel completed a three-day visit to Malaysia on Friday, where he met his counterpart Saifuddin as well as Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.

According to Saifuddin, Adel in his visit to Wisma Putra had informed him that the RM2.6 billion received by Najib had nothing to do with the Saudi government.

Saifuddin said Adel had earlier expressed the Saudi government's stand when they met at the 73rd United Nations General Assembly in New York last month.

"He said that the donation had nothing to do with the Saudi government. Today, he reiterated it," Bernama quoted Saifuddin as saying.

Adel had first supported Najib's claims at the 13th Summit of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation in Istanbul on April 15, 2016.

He was asked by a reporter whether he was aware of the background and details regarding the donation.

"We are aware of the donation and it is a genuine donation with nothing expected in return."

"We are also fully aware that the Attorney-General of Malaysia has thoroughly investigated the matter and found no wrongdoing," Adel had said, referring to then A-G Mohamed Apandi Ali.

"So, as far as we are concerned, the matter is closed," he added.

In its civil forfeiture suit, the US Department of Justice has alleged that the RM2.6 billion had originated from 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) and ended up in Najib's personal bank accounts before being transferred to another account controlled by fugitive businessman Low Taek Jho, also known as Jho Low.

Earlier this week, Najib was summoned by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) over 1MDB's dealings with Abu Dhabi's sovereign wealth fund, International Petroleum Investment Company (IPIC).

On Thursday, both Najib and former Treasury secretary-general Mohd Irwan Serigar Abdullah pleaded not guilty to six charges of criminal breach of trust involving RM6.6 billion.

This was regarding a payment of more than US$1.2 billion (S$1.66 billion) made to IPIC by 1MDB in a settlement over a US$6.5 billion claim made by the former.

It is understood that Najib, who was chairman of the 1MDB board of advisers, would be held liable for his role in the debt settlement.

He is already facing 32 charges ranging from corruption, criminal breach of trust and money laundering.