Pressure remains on Malaysian PM Najib over state fund scandal
The 1MDB scandal has not been laid to rest in the minds of many, and only when all doubts have been erased should Najib consider himself vindicated
Political pressure on Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak to resign over the debt-ridden state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad has eased with the attorney-general’s dismissal of corruption allegations. The US$681 million found in the leader’s personal bank accounts was explained as a gift from the Saudi royal family to cover election expenses and in no way connected to the fund’s losses. Members of Najib’s United Malays National Organisation who had doubts have now largely closed ranks and given their full support. But as much as there is a desire to put the matter aside and move on, there are those inside and outside who remain sceptical until vital questions are answered.
With all but US$61 million of the donation having been returned, the nation’s political elite considers a crisis has been averted. It is time, they contend, to focus on problems like the economy and the rise of Islamic extremism in the region. But foreign governments do not consider the matter closed; authorities in Singapore, Switzerland and the US are investigating suspicious money movements involving Malaysian firms, some linked to 1MDB. Najib has not been named in the inquiries, but he launched the company that has quasi status as a sovereign wealth fund and remains the chairman of its advisory board.
There is certainly a need to put an end to the speculation. 1MDB’s troubles and allegations of top-level corruption have scared off investors. Economic growth has slowed, almost 20 per cent has been wiped off the value of the national currency, the ringgit, and the drop in the price of commodities, particularly oil and petroleum products, has put pressure on the budget.
Najib has shown himself to be adept at overcoming political dissent. Attorney-general Mohamed Apandi Ali’s predecessor, who was investigating 1MDB, was last year removed along with outspoken senior lawmakers. Whistle-blowers were arrested and media outlets temporarily closed. But such actions do not silence critics nor answer vital questions. Why was a political donation put in the prime minister’s own account? Why was most of it returned to the Saudis and what happened to the amount that was not given back? How exactly did 1MDB’s debts come about?
Getting the economy back on track and improving security are priorities for Malaysia’s leaders. In the way, though, is the fact that the 1MDB scandal has not been laid to rest in the minds of many. The attorney-general’s decision has to be reviewed and the investigation of 1MDB has to continue. Only when all doubts have been erased should Najib consider himself vindicated.