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FBI investigates PM Najib Razak

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The US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has launched an investigation into allegations of money-laundering at troubled Malaysian state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).

Both the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) and the New York Times (NYT) have separately reported that the FBI and the US Justice Department were now scrutinising the flows, adding to investigations by Swiss, British, Singaporean and Hong Kong authorities.

1MDB’s advisory board is chaired by Prime Minister Najib Razak.

NYT on Monday (Sept 21) said the Justice Department was also investigating multi-million-dollar US property purchases by companies linked to Najib’s stepson and by a close family friend, citing people with knowledge of the probe.

Neither the FBI nor 1MDB responded to a request for comment by AFP.

The FBI investigation comes shortly after a former member of Malaysia’s ruling party was arrested just before travelling to the United States where he planned to make a police complaint and urge US authorities to look into the allegations of money-laundering at 1MDB.

Men walking past 1MDB billboard in Kuala Lumpur. PHOTO: REUTERS  

The fund has been dogged by controversy over its $11 billion debt and alleged financial mismanagement.

A series of international investigations are underway as the scandal surrounding the fund widens.

Swiss authorities said this month they had frozen funds in Swiss banks amid investigations into 1MDB.

Hong Kong authorities also said they were investigating a complaint related to the firm.

For now though, the prospect of foreign charges against Najib remains remote. Experts said that would require unlikely cooperation from Malaysia’s government in the highly complex investigations, experts said.

But the scrutiny further tars the image of Najib who has been reaching out to overseas.

Former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad has been a constant critic of Najib Razak. PHOTO: AFP

“He has been welcomed overseas with open arms. Now he is going to be shunned. That’ll be hard to swallow,” said John Malott, a former US ambassador to Malaysia.

WSJ had reported in July that investigators looking into 1MDB had found that nearly US$700 (S$995 million) was transferred into the personal bank account of Najib.

Both Najib and 1MDB deny that the firm’s funds were diverted to his accounts.

The government calls deposits to Najib’s accounts “political donations” from unspecified Middle Eastern sources.

He alleges a conspiracy to unseat him, increasingly blaming Mahathir Mohamad, Malaysia’s no-nonsense leader from 1981-2003 who has bitterly split with Najib over recent ruling-party election setbacks.

The scandal has provided fresh ammunition to critics who accuse the ruling United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) of corruption, abuse of power, and a culture of impunity, which the opposition says has worsened under Najib.

Najib took office in 2009 already tainted by an earlier scandal over alleged kickbacks from French submarine purchases when he was defence minister.

Najib denies any wrongdoing.

Malott said one 1MDB casualty could be the warming relationship between Najib and US President Barack Obama, who has touted Malaysia as a key partner in regional issues, including South China Sea security.

The pair famously bonded over a round of golf last December in Hawaii, but it unlikely to be as pally come the regional summit hosted by Najib in November, Malott said.

“For sure, there won’t be any golf games in November,” he said.

Source: AFP. Reuters

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