KUALA LUMPUR • Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said it was impossible for former premier Najib Razak to be unaware of the transactions involving state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) as he had claimed in an interview.
Datuk Seri Najib's signature was all over the documents involving 1MDB, said Tun Dr Mahathir.
"Who wants to believe him that he didn't know, when he signed (them)?" Dr Mahathir said in an interview yesterday with the Malay Mail news site.
"Every bit of money that goes in and out of the first borrowing of RM42 billion, all his signature. If he doesn't know, it must be that he doesn't understand what a signature means."
The RM42 billion (S$14.3 billion) referred to by Dr Mahathir was the debt carried by 1MDB at one point after it issued bonds and borrowed funds to buy assets, including power plants.
Dr Mahathir was responding to claims by Mr Najib in an interview with Reuters that he did not know what went on in 1MDB.
Mr Najib had told Reuters: "I didn't benefit from 1MDB because I believe that the 1MDB was created to do something good for the country. If I knew there was going to be misappropriation of funds, if that was my knowledge, I would have acted."
Mr Najib, who started 1MDB in 2009 soon after he became prime minister, was also Malaysia's finance minister. He headed 1MDB's board of advisers until 2016.
He had also claimed that some US$681 million (S$925 million) transferred into his personal bank account was, from what he knew, a donation from the late king of Saudi Arabia.
Mr Najib had said he had no knowledge of any transactions involving his personal account, as he had appointed Mr Nik Faisal Ariff Kamil, then director of SRC International, a former 1MDB unit, to manage it. Malaysia's anti-graft agency has issued an arrest warrant for Mr Nik Faisal, but his whereabouts are unknown.
Dr Mahathir told Malay Mail that it was ludicrous for someone to direct RM2 billion - he was referring to the US$681 million - to be transferred into his account, but refusing to know the money's origins.
"This cannot be. Because I have to sign to use the money. To use the money, I have to issue cheques. Najib always assumes that people are stupid," Dr Mahathir added.
The Prime Minister claimed there are documents proving the opposite of what the former leader had said. "We have all those. We know how much money goes into his account," Dr Mahathir said.
Social media lit up with the claims of innocence by Mr Najib. Media columnist R. Nadeswaran wrote: "Shouldn't he have asked his officers why he was required to approve millions in payments to third parties and issue numerous letters of guarantee and undertaking?"
Mr Nadeswaran wrote in Malaysiakini: "Did it ever cross his mind to ask his stepson, Riza Aziz, where he got the funds to start a film production company?... Where did the money come from to buy upmarket property in London and New York?
"It is hard to believe that Najib, his advisers or his communications team had not read the report from the US Department of Justice (DOJ)."
The DOJ alleged that US$4.5 billion of 1MDB funds were misappropriated. Mr Riza was a partner in a company that produced The Wolf Of Wall Street, among other movies. The DOJ alleged that Mr Riza bought upmarket homes in the United Kingdom and New York.
Many who posted comments in cyberspace found it hard to believe that Mr Najib did not look closely at 1MDB's accounts or the millions that flowed into his bank accounts.
Demi Rakyat wrote: "How can a person have little knowledge of his own possessions, let other people manage his personal affairs and do not take note of what is happening, especially when hundreds of millions of ringgit (was) transacted through his personal accounts."
Lawyer Art Harun said on his Twitter account: "We have a prime minister... who did not know that billions were being embezzled and millions ended up in his account, but who knew that his chocolates in the fridge went missing. Classic!"
He was referring to a claim by Mr Najib that police who raided his home last month took chocolates from his fridge.