Malaysia's Attorney-General Idrus Harun yesterday said the controversial decision to drop criminal charges against Mr Riza Aziz had been agreed in principle by his predecessor Tommy Thomas, as the fallout continues over how former prime minister Najib Razak's stepson has avoided prosecution on claims that he laundered US$248 million (S$354 million) from state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).
Tan Sri Thomas had denied any role in the move, as he had resigned from the A-G post in February.
Mr Riza was granted a discharge not amounting to an acquittal last Thursday, under a deal in which he agreed to return US$107.3 million to the government. His defence team had proposed the deal terms to prosecutors last November.
In his statement, Tan Sri Idrus said he had been advised that lead prosecutor Gopal Sri Ram, in consultation with Ms Latheefa Koya, then chief of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC), had suggested that the terms be accepted.
"I have also been advised that Tan Sri Thomas had agreed to the suggestion in principle," he said.
"Having been briefed by the deputy public prosecutors in charge of the matter, I shared the views of my predecessor as had been informed to me, and agreed to accept the offer that was made by (Riza) subject to his strict compliance with the terms and conditions," said Mr Idrus.
His comments come amid criticism that Mr Riza has been given a sweetheart deal, just months after a change in government that saw Umno, the party formerly led by Najib, return to power as part of the ruling coalition Perikatan Nasional.
The US Department of Justice (DOJ) says part of the stolen money was transferred to Mr Riza's film company, Red Granite Pictures, which produced The Wolf Of Wall Street.
Critics have noted that the settlement amount includes three properties - in Beverly Hills, New York and London - already seized by the DOJ as part of its investigations into over US$4.5 billion it says was embezzled from 1MDB.
Even though Tan Sri Idrus says he was advised about the settlement, the final decision was still made by him as public prosecutor. He should still explain why that decision was made, especially in light of the perception, rightly or wrongly, that this was a political decision.
MR SYAHREDZAN JOHAN, a lawyer and political secretary of opposition party DAP.
Prosecutors and investigators involved in Mr Riza's case have been issuing conflicting statements on who was responsible for the settlement, in what has been seen as an attempt to shift blame.
The legal fraternity had asked the A-G's Chambers to clear the air, after the MACC said Mr Thomas, appointed by the then Pakatan Harapan government, had agreed to the deal. After Mr Thomas refuted this claim, current anti-graft chief Azam Baki said the ultimate decision was made by the deputy public prosecutor.
"Even though Tan Sri Idrus says he was advised about the settlement, the final decision was still made by him as public prosecutor. He should still explain why that decision was made, especially in light of the perception, rightly or wrongly, that this was a political decision," Mr Syahredzan Johan, a lawyer and political secretary of the opposition Democratic Action Party (DAP), told The Straits Times.
The controversial decision also raised concerns that the new administration could offer similar deals on other 1MDB-related cases, in particular the dozens of corruption charges faced by Najib.
Former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad said he was not questioning the judge's decision, but had concerns about the principle behind it. "So would it be in the future, if there is a thief, he steals money, and... gets caught, is brought to court, he says 'Never mind, the money that I stole, I give back'. It can't be that we say 'Ok, we take the money, he is released?" he said in a video clip on his Facebook page.