Najib denies hiring former Trump campaign aide as Washington lobbyist

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak arrives at Beijing Capital International Airport on May 12, 2017.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak arrives at Beijing Capital International Airport on May 12, 2017.PHOTO: AFP

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak has denied links to a former campaign aide to President Donald Trump, after reports emerged that his office hired her company to lobby with the US government.

A US Department of Justice filing under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) last week showed a company called The 45 Group will be paid US$25,000 (S$34,564) a month to arrange meetings between officials from both countries.

"The 45 Group will also assist the Republic of Malaysia via the Godfrey Group, Ltd with coordinating public relations efforts," according to the filing on FARA's website.

The West Virginia-based group was set up by Healy Baumgardner-Nardone, a former senior press aide to Trump's presidential campaign, who quit in September last year.

The FARA filing, dated May 19, said The 45 Group would be paid by a company registered in the British Virgin Islands called Godfrey Group Ltd, which has an office in the Malaysian city of Johor Bahru.

The 45 Group would deal with Prime Minister Najib Razak himself, and his office, the filing said.

"Contrary to recent media reports and a registration statement, neither the Prime Minister's Office or Government of Malaysia has instructed, appointed or contracted in any form with the Godfrey Group Ltd, the 45 Group or Healy Baumgardner-Nardone," Tengku Sariffuddin, the press secretary to Prime Minister Najib, said in a written statement.

Baumgardner did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Godfrey Group could not be reached for comment.

The news website the Daily Beast first reported on the agreement, citing the FARA filings.

Relations between Malaysia and the United Stated soured last year after the Department of Justice filed lawsuits in connection with a multi-billion dollar corruption scandal at state investment fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).

The lawsuits said more than US$700 million of misappropriated funds from 1MDB flowed into the accounts of "Malaysian Official 1", who US and Malaysian officials have identified as Najib.

Najib's stepson is one of the defendants in a Justice Department lawsuit seeking to recover assets allegedly stolen from the fund.

Najib has denied any wrongdoing and was cleared by Malaysia's top prosecutor.