The political storm that has been raging in Malaysia intensified yesterday after allegations surfaced in the media that US$700 million (S$940 million) from companies linked to debt-laden state firm 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) had been wired to personal accounts of the prime minister.
This sparked an immediate rebuttal from embattled Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, who slammed the reports as a "continuation of political sabotage" and an attempt to damage the country and remove an elected leader.
It also led to calls from the opposition for Datuk Seri Najib to step aside to allow an independent investigation.
Social media was set alight, with some asking why the Premier did not sue the media outlets that carried the claims, or why he did not say he had no such accounts at Malaysia's AmBank as reported.
Said secretary-general of the opposition Democratic Action Party Lim Guan Eng: "Najib should file a suit in the US against the publication to clear his name if necessary. But first, he must explain. Failing which, he has to resign."
The Wall Street Journal (WSJ), in a report, alleged that documents from a "government probe" into 1MDB - whose advisory board is chaired by Mr Najib - showed five deposits into accounts in his name at a Malaysian bank.
The two largest, worth US$620 million and US$61 million, were transacted in March 2013, just two months before a general election he narrowly won, WSJ claimed.
The allegations published by the WSJ did not specify which government agency had done the probe. Anti-government whistleblower website Sarawak Report - which also carried details of the alleged misappropriations - said the information was known to several law enforcers, including the Attorney- General's office.
Mr Najib's office said in a statement that "these latest claims, attributed to unnamed investigators as a basis to attack the Prime Minister, are a continuation of this political sabotage". "There have been concerted efforts by certain individuals to undermine confidence in our economy, tarnish the government and remove a democratically elected prime minister."
While the Najib administration and 1MDB have faced months of criticisms from former premier Mahathir Mohamad, the opposition and the media, the WSJ report might damage him the most due to the details given and the seriousness of the allegations by the highly regarded financial paper, analysts say. 1MDB said separately that it "has never provided any funds to the Prime Minister".
Auditor-General Ambrin Buang confirmed to The Straits Times yesterday that he has completed his probe and would table it to Parliament's Public Accounts Committee next Thursday. But he said he was not aware of the WSJ's claims and "cannot comment on the contents" of his report.
A company called Tanore Finance allegedly sent the US$681 million via Falcon Private Bank, which is owned by Abu Dhabi state firm International Petroleum Investment Company (IPIC).
IPIC recently helped 1MDB wipe out RM16 billion of debt in exchange for unspecified assets. Abu Dhabi and Malaysia signed a "strategic partnership" in March 2013, just days before the alleged transfers.