Malaysia's weirdest week: Revelations pour out as new govt lifts lid on ex-premier Najib

Former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak leaving the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission headquarters in Putrajaya on Thursday. The agency's chief, Datuk Seri Mohd Shukri Abdull, said he "nearly died" when first investigating 1Malaysia Developmen
Former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak leaving the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission headquarters in Putrajaya on Thursday. The agency's chief, Datuk Seri Mohd Shukri Abdull, said he "nearly died" when first investigating 1Malaysia Development Berhad corruption claims linked to Mr Najib in 2015.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Malaysia is no stranger to controversy, but the past week has tossed up whoppers almost daily as the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) probe began cracking open a can of worms.

For Malaysians, truth is certainly stranger than fiction at this point, with revelations pouring out as the new Mahathir administration lifts the lid on former prime minister Najib Razak's time in power.

In the early hours of May 18, the media and passers-by crowded the entrance to the swanky Pavilion Residences in central Kuala Lumpur, gawking as a seemingly endless stream of handbags and suitcases were loaded into five police trucks.

Luxury apartments linked to Datuk Seri Najib were being raided, and the final haul added up to 284 boxes of designer handbags, most of them Hermes Birkins which can be worth as much as US$200,000 (S$268,000) each, and 72 bags of cash, watches and jewellery.

A week later, police revealed that the cash seized amounted to RM114 million (S$38.5 million).

The value of the seized luxury goods is still being verified, with Hermes' headquarters in Paris being asked to assist.

  • STUNNING

    1

    NAJIB RAZAK

    Lawyers said police personnel helped themselves to food, chocolates in refrigerator during search.

    2

    MAHATHIR MOHAMAD

    Says Malaysia's debt has breached the RM1 trillion (S$337 billion) mark.

    3

    LIM GUAN ENG

    Says state firm 1MDB has only one employee - CEO Arul Kanda - who is on "garden leave" till next month.

    4

    MOHD SHUKRI ABDULL

    Says he "nearly died" during 1MDB probe in 2015.

    5

    ABDUL AZEEZ ABDUL RAHIM

    Most of luxury watches seized from MP's homes are high-quality fakes.

Bizarrely, Mr Najib's lawyers issued a statement after the search operations - which were also conducted at his home in a leafy KL suburb - complaining that "police personnel helped themselves to food and chocolates in the refrigerator".

While Mr Najib's complaint was largely about the "cavalier and irresponsible manner" in which the raids were carried out, the missing candy claim spawned ridicule on social media and a chocolate donation event tagged #Chocs4Cops.

Just as strange was the statement by Umno, the party formerly helmed by Mr Najib that suffered a shock loss in the May 9 polls. Instead of distancing itself from the corruption allegations around Mr Najib, Umno claimed the seized cash was part of its campaign funds.

On Monday, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad dropped a bombshell, announcing that the country's debt had breached RM1 trillion. The news sent Malaysians scrambling to figure out how many zeroes were in a trillion.

The allegation that the Najib administration lied by stating fiscal debt was just RM687 billion, or 51 per cent of the gross domestic product, spooked markets, with the Kuala Lumpur Stock Exchange losing most of the gains it has made in the year so far. Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng backed this claim on Thursday, saying that various hidden debt and government guarantees added to the country's official debt of RM687 billion brought total debt to RM1.1 trillion.

Mr Najib has disputed this, but Malaysians have been shocked enough to start a crowdfunding campaign to reduce the debt. As at yesterday evening, activist Nik Shazarina Bakti, 27, had managed to collect about RM15,000 to this end.

Mr Lim also made stunning announcements about state fund 1MDB, insolvent since 2016.

He said the Treasury has paid RM7 billion to service the firm's debts since April last year, and that another RM1 billion is due by November this year.

Even more curiously, Mr Lim revealed that 1MDB has only one employee - its chief executive Arul Kanda. According to Mr Lim, Mr Kanda told the minister he was on "garden leave" until the end of his contract next month and was in the dark regarding the firm's financial situation.

But these startling revelations could not match the high drama of Datuk Seri Mohd Shukri Abdull's tearful return to the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC).

In an emotional tell-all press conference on Tuesday, he said that he "nearly died" when first probing 1MDB graft claims linked to Mr Najib in 2015.

Mr Shukri said a bullet was sent to his home and he was threatened with dismissal for pursuing the investigation.

He claimed he was followed by some people while he was in the United States and had to seek protection from friends in the New York Police Department.

He told of his anguish after finding out several of his colleagues on the case were arrested. "I cried in front of (the Americans)," he said.

Mr Shukri also shed tears when he revealed how he and his team were accused of being traitors, when all they were trying to do was track stolen money.

On the same day, the anti-graft agency seized RM900,000 in cash and 14 luxury watches, including Rolexes, from the homes of Baling MP Abdul Azeez Abdul Rahim.

What made Malaysians gasp was his admission that most of the watches were high-quality fakes.

"I bought them because they look nice ... ," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 27, 2018, with the headline 'Malaysia's weirdest week'. Print Edition | Subscribe