Malaysia's anti-graft agency yesterday released voice recordings purportedly of former prime minister Najib Razak conspiring with senior officials to cover up the 1MDB scandal, including asking United Arab Emirates leaders to do the same in a dispute over US$6.5 billion (S$8.8 billion) in debt payments to Abu Dhabi's International Petroleum Investment Company (IPIC).
The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) played several clips from 2016 allegedly showing an attempt to manipulate investigations and other fraudulent acts aimed at concealing missing funds from 1Malaysia Development Berhad, the state investment firm under the then Premier's control.
Najib, whose Barisan Nasional coalition government lost power in the May 2018 election, is facing 42 graft charges related to 1MDB which his legal team has dismissed, claiming he was a victim of fugitive financier Low Taek Jho, said to be the central figure in the scandal. Low has denied this, insisting the allegations against him are politically motivated.
MACC chief Latheefa Koya did not reveal the source of the nine recordings - all of which appeared to be phone conversations - but said they were received all at once.
"The recordings show a clear case of abuse of power, conspiracy, fabrication of false evidence and leaking of state secrets," she told a press conference, adding that the material would be shared with other enforcement agencies.
The MACC believes that among those recorded are Najib's wife Rosmah Mansor (who is facing separate graft charges), former MACC chief Dzulkifli Ahmad and prominent Abu Dhabi figures, including Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed Zayed Al-Nahyan and the chief executive officer of the emirate's sovereign wealth fund, Mubadala Development Company, Khaldoon Khalifa Al-Mubarak.
In a recording of an alleged conversation on Jan 5, 2016 between Najib and Tan Sri Dzulkifli, the former MACC chief described the situation as "very bad" but told him not to worry as "we can handle this and let Apandi make the decision".
The then Attorney-General Apandi Ali cleared Najib of wrongdoing later in the same month.
Central to the alleged discussions with Abu Dhabi individuals was the US Department of Justice (DOJ) announcement in July 2016 that it was seizing over US$1 billion in assets out of the US$3.5 billion siphoned from 1MDB. It named Najib's stepson Riza Aziz as a "relevant individual" in its inquiry.
Najib purportedly sought the help of the Crown Prince to arrange a "loan agreement" for Mr Riza to show it was a "legitimate financing package" and that there was "no money laundering" in funding the latter's film-making business which spawned the 2013 movie The Wolf Of Wall Street.
However, the recordings do not show if the Abu Dhabi figures acceded to these suggestions.
The 1MDB-IPIC dispute largely stemmed from the fact that the Malaysian fund said it had deposited US$3.5 billion with the Abu Dhabi firm. But the firm denied ever receiving the amount.
Another recording allegedly had Rosmah telling Najib "you are the prime minister, you should take charge" to get IPIC to retract its decision to bring 1MDB to arbitration, as well as "sort out the problem" for her son, Mr Riza.
Reacting to the clips' airing, Najib said he was "shocked", and had referred the matter to his lawyer.
Without commenting on the veracity of the recordings, he said: "This has never happened in our nation's history... I will study from the legal perspective what I can do. At the time, I was head of government." Rosmah also did not confirm or deny whether the recording of her discussing the 1MDB situation with her husband was genuine, merely saying that her lawyers "will take care of it".
'Darling, you are the prime minister. You should take charge'
Excerpts of the recordings:
Rosmah directs Najib on how to manage the 1MDB scandal
Rosmah: I don't like this. Darling, you are the prime minister. You should take charge, not anybody else.
Najib: Yup, I understand.
Rosmah: And you've got goons around you to advise you. Because I told (Najib's former political secretary) Shahlan (Ismail), if you want to help, why didn't you help last week, the moment the thing happened? You should have come approach me, 'Datin, how can I help?'
Najib seeks UAE Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed Zayed Al-Nahyan's help on a loan for his stepson Riza Aziz
Najib: I have this personal request, Your Highness. That relates to Riza, my son. His movie.
The problem is relatively small if there can be an agreement with Sheikh Mansour (Zayed al Nahyan, UAE deputy prime minister) to have a loan agreement signed and he will pay back according to the schedule. That will show that it's a legitimate financing package and not money laundering, you see.
We are worried about him, in case they (the American authorities) make him the scapegoat.
Tan Sri Dzulkifli Ahmad, then with the Attorney-General's chambers, tells Najib about an investigation paper (IP) he received which he believed referred to the former premier
Dzulkifli: I have the IP. Tan Sri A-G (Attorney-General Apandi Ali), he is very good, he is like-minded. I just want to update Datuk Seri (Najib) about what was proposed by the MACC themselves.
Najib: That's not right.
Dzulkifli: That is what we are really worried about. On the legal side, we can handle. Apandi can handle it. I can handle it.