The Malaysian government has brushed aside US lawsuits seeking to seize US$1 billion in assets allegedly linked to money laundered from 1Malaysia Development Berhad ( 1MDB ) amid renewed calls for Prime Minister Najib Razak to resign over his role in the troubled state fund.
“We have to establish the facts first. This is a civil action, this is not a criminal action. It is limited to the names mentioned in the DOJ [US Department of Justice] report,” Najib said, adding that those named in the suits, including his stepson Riza Aziz, have the right to legal process in the US.
His press secretary earlier stressed the Malaysian authorities “have led the way” in investigating 1MDB and investigations “found that no crime was committed”.
Attorney-General Apandi Ali pointed out that his US counterpart did not name Najib as a defendant in the civil suits filed in California on Wednesday or allege any criminal wrongdoing against the PM.
“There has been no evidence from any investigation conducted by any law enforcement agencies in various jurisdictions which shows that money has been misappropriated from 1MDB [or] criminal charges preferred against any individuals for the offense,” the attorney-general said in a statement.
Media reports in July last year said US$681 million linked to 1MDB had been found in Najib’s personal accounts. Early this year,Apandi cleared the Prime Minister of any wrongdoing, declaring the money to be a political donation from the Saudi royal family.
Although the DOJ filing did not name Najib, it referred repeatedly to “Malaysian Official 1”, a high- ranking government official who had control over 1MDB and had received US$681 million and is a close relative of Riza.
The DOJ also outlined businessman Low Taek Jho’s alleged involvement in siphoning up to US$3.5 billion from 1MDB. Low is known to be a close associate of Riza and his stepfather. Police chief Khalid Abu Bakar said a police probe was ongoing and asked for time for investigators to do their job.
Mainstream newspapers controlled by the government ignored the US action, with the New Straits Times running a commentary online accusing US investigators of “taking the easy way out” by filing a civil suit instead of a “criminal indictment if the DOJ had solid evidence of the wrongdoings”.
The opposition and former premier Mahathir Mohamad, who has spearheaded a campaign to unseat Najib, claimed their calls for him to step down have been vindicated.
“I believe the Malaysian people want Datuk Seri Najib to go on leave as prime minister so as not to create the perception of abuse of power or process to halt or hinder a full and transparent investigation,” opposition leader Wan Azizah Wan Ismail said in a statement.
Mahathir pushed for an independent tribunal and referendum on Najib’s leadership if the latter refused to leave office.
“This is an indictment of the involvement of the prime minister and his government in the mismanagement and, well, stealing… of money that belongs to the people,” he said. “The time has come when the nation must demand for the removal of the prime minister.”
Despite the latest pressure, Najib’s political position in Malaysia is seen as secure. He still has the support of his party while opposition parties are in disarray.