Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak must come clean on graft allegations

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 14 July, 2015, 1:29am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 14 July, 2015, 1:29am

The rough and tumble of Malaysian politics means that whoever is in charge is bound to have a bumpy ride. Prime Minister Najib Razak's term of late has been especially tough, with predecessor and powerbroker Mahathir Mohamad for the past year lobbying for his removal and now a foreign newspaper accusing him of embezzling almost US$700 million. The allegation and his tardy denial have rocked confidence in the economy, heightening calls for his resignation. For the sake of his nation, the sooner he clears the matter the better.

The pressure from Mahathir and The Wall Street Journal's allegations stem from the 1Malaysia Development Berhad, commonly known as 1MDB, a state-owned investment fund Najib established six years ago that has fallen into more than US$11 billion in debt. The US newspaper reported earlier this month that investigators looking into the fund had traced money from it to the prime minister's personal bank account. His denial and threat of legal action to clear his name came slowly; a task force probing 1MDB said last week it had frozen half a dozen accounts, but did not reveal who they belonged to.

The independence of the investigation is being questioned as it is headed by the attorney general, who was appointed by Najib. His opponents have called for an independent audit and for him to give details of his wealth. Mahathir, who was instrumental in forcing the resignation of Najib's predecessor, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, last Wednesday increased the pressure, saying that the claims could easily be disproved by the prime minister making his bank accounts public. With the difficulties in so politically charged an environment of ensuring an inquiry will be unbiased, that may be the most viable option.

Najib has faced a slew of criticisms and allegations, among them mismanaging the nation's finances and corruption. But the latest scandal is affecting the country's image and economy. Putting a swift end to the matter is in his interests, those of his people and public institutions like the central bank and inquiry task force, whose reputations have taken a battering.