Malaysia's AG says his predecessor agreed deal for Najib's stepson in 1MDB case

Mr Riza was granted a discharge not amounting to an acquittal. PHOTO: THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia's Attorney-General Idrus Harun on Sunday (May 17) said that the controversial decision to drop criminal charges against Riza Aziz had been agreed in principle by his predecessor Tommy Thomas, as the fallout continues over how Mr Riza, stepson of former prime minister Najib Razak has avoided prosecution on claims he laundered US$248 million (S$354 million) from state fund 1MDB.

Tan Sri Thomas had earlier denied any role in the move, as he had resigned from his post as AG in February.

Mr Riza was granted a discharge not amounting to an acquittal on 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 in November last year.

In his statement on Sunday 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.

According to the DOJ, part of the stolen money was transferred to Mr Riza's film company Red Granite Pictures, which produced "The Wolf of Wall Street" and "Dumb and Dumber To".

Critics have noted that the settlement amount includes three properties - Beverly Hills, New York and London - already seized by the US Department of Justice as part of its investigations into over US$4.5 billion it says was embezzled from 1MDB.

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 AG's Chambers to clear the air, after anti-graft agency MACC said Mr Thomas, appointed under the former Pakatan Harapan government, had agreed to the deal.

After Mr Thomas refuted this claim, the current anti-graft chief Azam Baki said that the ultimate decision is 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 at opposition party DAP, told The Straits Times.

The controversial decision has also raised concerns that the new administration could offer similar deals on other 1MDB-related cases, in particular the dozens of corruption charges currently faced by Najib.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.