A senior Cabinet minister has confirmed the widely held belief that Prime Minister Najib Razak is "Malaysian Official 1", alleged by the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) to have received more than US$700 million (S$954 million) siphoned out of 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).
Datuk Abdul Rahman Dahlan said in a statement yesterday that the unnamed high-ranking official in charge of 1MDB referred to 36 times by the US in July was the Malaysian premier.
"It's obvious that the so-called 'Malaysian Official 1' (MO1) referred to by the US Department of Justice is our Prime Minister," he said, following similar quotes attributed to him by the BBC yesterday.
The BBC article appeared on its website in conjunction with a televised news report that highlighted last weekend's protest in Kuala Lumpur calling for Datuk Seri Najib's arrest over the DOJ claims.
The DOJ filed a civil suit seeking to seize US$1 billion in assets said to have been diverted from the troubled state investor. It named Mr Najib's stepson, Mr Riza Aziz, and their confidant, Mr Low Taek Jho, as those involved in diverting up to US$3.5 billion away from 1MDB.
Although the suit did not name Mr Najib, it said more than US$700 million was deposited into the personal bank accounts of Malaysian Official 1, a top government official related to Mr Aziz.
But Mr Abdul Rahman, the ruling Barisan Nasional's strategic communications director, suggested that the DOJ did not name Mr Najib because he was not involved in any wrongdoing. The Minister in the Prime Minister's Department said MO1 was not named as the subject of any DOJ civil suit.
"As any lawyer will confirm, the difference between being named as the subject of a civil lawsuit, and merely being referred to in an investigation, is black and white. Meanwhile, after comprehensive investigations by multiple authorities, our Prime Minister has been cleared of any wrongdoing. So the evidence is clear," the minister in charge of economic planning added.
Mr Najib has faced mounting calls for him to step down over the scandal. But he has fended off critics, sacking senior government officials, including former deputy premier Muhyiddin Yassin, who has formed a new party in an attempt to unseat his former boss.
Tan Sri Muhyiddin challenged Mr Najib yesterday to sue him if his allegations that the premier "schemed with Jho Low and Riza Aziz to plunder 1MDB" were false. "Be a man. I challenge Najib to sue me if what I say is untrue," he said.