1MDB issue 'nothing to do with Sarawak'

Mr Adenan says his policies involve all ethnic groups in the state, and they are all equal.
Mr Adenan says his policies involve all ethnic groups in the state, and they are all equal.

With polls in April, the state's Chief Minister distances himself from Najib's financial affairs

KUCHING • Sarawak Chief Minister Adenan Satem has put some distance between himself and the financial issues facing Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak.

Tan Sri Adenan, who is to lead the Sarawak Barisan Nasional coalition in the state elections expected in April, told Sin Chew Daily newspaper in an interview that issues surrounding federal state investor 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) and the US$681 million (S$960 million) found in Datuk Seri Najib's bank accounts had nothing to do with him or Sarawak.

"The opposition always likes to associate these issues with Sarawak, arguing that supporting Adenan is akin to supporting Najib. As a matter of fact, these issues have nothing to do with Sarawak, or me, in any way," he told the Chinese newspaper's editors. "I don't even know what exactly is going on there!"

Mr Adenan's comments came as Mr Najib remains in the international spotlight over allegations that some of the funds from 1MDB were funnelled into his bank accounts.

The government has said the US$681 million in those accounts was from a "donation" from the Saudi royal family, with the bulk returned to the Middle-Eastern kingdom.

But Switzerland's chief prosecutor said at the end of last month that a criminal investigation into 1MDB revealed that about US$4 billion appeared to have been misappropriated from Malaysian state companies. And the Singapore authorities said early this month that they have seized a "large number" of bank accounts over possible money-laundering and other offences linked to 1MDB.

Mr Adenan understandably wants no part of the scandal, analysts have said. He is determined to show his administration is a breath of fresh air. He took over as Chief Minister two years ago. Before that, Sarawak was led for 33 years by Tun Abdul Taib Mahmud, whose latter years at the helm were tainted by accusations of corruption.

Malaysia's biggest state by land size, Sarawak - like neighbouring Sabah - is considered a staunchly Barisan Nasional state.

With Mr Adenan's straightforward way of doing things, analysts expect Barisan Nasional to improve on its 2011 election showing.

Unlike Malaysia's other 12 states, Sarawak holds its state polls separately. It is also the only Malaysian state where Barisan Nasional's biggest party Umno, with its overt race-based policies, is not present.

"We are different from West Malaysia. Here we have many different ethnic groups, but we are all equal. My policies involve all ethnic groups in the state, not any particular one," Mr Adenan, 72, said.

Opposition parties won 15 seats in 2011 in the state's 71-constituency legislature. Mr Adenan's Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu leads the state Barisan Nasional in Sarawak. Barisan Nasional has 45 seats, with another 10 held by the Barisan Nasional-leaning Teras party and one vacant seat. In this year's polls, 11 new seats are to be added to the 71.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 18, 2016, with the headline '1MDB issue 'nothing to do with Sarawak''. Print Edition | Subscribe