Malaysian police raid ex-PM Najib Razak’s house and other properties ‘while looking for US$4.5b 1MDB corruption scandal documents’
New Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has warned that Najib could be charged soon over the 1MDB state investment fund that is tied to a huge international corruption scandal
The home of former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak was one of at least five properties searched by police early on Thursday as part of a renewed inquiry into the huge corruption scandal linked to state fund 1MDB, a police official said.
Najib’s lawyer, Harpal Singh, said that the search of the house, performed under anti-money-laundering laws, had ended after six hours at around 4.20am.
“It is a big house and they had to check every room and that's why it took so long,” he said, adding that police took “some personal possessions ... handbags and clothes ... nothing serious”.
For some in the crowd of around 100 civilians and journalists on the scene, that news may have come as a disappointment.
“If Najib is arrested tonight, I want to make sure I am here to see it,” one onlooker, Vickenesan Subramaniam, had said earlier in the evening after riding his motorcycle to the scene. He and other spectators were kept off the road by a police cordon.
As of 4.45am, police cars remained in the vicinity of Najib’s bungalow in the leafy district of Jalan Duta, near Kuala Lumpur, along with a ‘Black Maria’ – a police wagon used to transport detainees.
The scene was more dramatic at around 10pm on Wednesday, when more than a dozen police vehicles arrived at Najib’s house soon after he returned home from prayers at a nearby mosque, fuelling speculation that he may be arrested.
The national Bernama news agency cited sources as saying that the police were looking for documents related to 1MDB, and that several boxes were loaded into a police truck.
Amar Singh Ishar Singh, chief of the police commercial crimes unit, confirmed that five locations "belonging to and connected to" Najib were being targeted, The Star newspaper said. Singh characterised them as “searches”, not raids.
Bernama said the other locations being searched included the prime minister’s office and a condominium in the city belonging to Najib.
The searches are the latest development in the ongoing corruption saga, which came just a day after newly installed Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad – a mentor-turned-protege of Najib – said authorities were looking into links between Najib and 1MDB as a top priority.
US prosecutors in 2016 said that money from the fund had been funnelled to the personal account of an individual described as "Malaysian Official 1", a person widely believed to be Najib. Najib has denied any connection with the scandal.
Najib sacked dissenting ministers and senior officials, including then-attorney general Abdul Gani Patail, when the saga became public in 2015.
On Wednesday, Mahathir said Abdul Gani had told him this week that he had prepared criminal charges implicating Najib when he was removed.
A day earlier, Mahathir said authorities were close to preparing criminal charges, saying: “We think that within a short while we will have a case against [Najib], we will be able to charge him."
Mahathir's Pakatan Harapan coalition staged a stunning victory in last week's general election, defeating Najib's Barisan Nasional bloc, which had held uninterrupted power since 1957. Mahathir has not yet moved into the prime minister’s office.
Najib started the 1MDB fund in 2009, and US investigators say at least US$4.5 billion was stolen and laundered by Najib’s associates, some of which landed in his bank account.
Earlier on Wednesday, Mahathir said the government would make arrests as soon as there is clear evidence and reiterated that there will be “no deal” for Najib in the scandal.
He said an initial investigation showed the scale of wrongdoing by Najib’s administration was more serious than expected.
Gani led an investigation by multiple agencies into the scandal at the time; the inquiry was closed after Najib was cleared of wrongdoing.
Mahathir said the government would seek to retrieve billions of dollars laundered from 1MDB to repay government debts that have piled up over the years.
“The focus on corruption is important because we need to get back money which is still in Switzerland, the US, Singapore and maybe Luxembourg. For this, we will contact the governments of the countries to recover the money there,” Mahathir said.
“The money belongs to Malaysia and it came from 1MDB. We will appeal for the money to be returned to Malaysia.”
Mahathir said the government was also committed to repaying any debts linked to the fund that it has guaranteed.
Najib and his wife have been barred from leaving Malaysia. The government has also told the current attorney general, who cleared Najib of wrongdoing in 2016, to go on leave, and has relieved the country’s treasury chief, who is also the 1MDB chairman, of his duties.
Mahathir, who was prime minister for 22 years until in 2003, emerged from retirement to join hands with former political foes to oust Najib amid anger over the 1MDB scandal.
He said his new government is also seeking to cut wastage in the government, including possibly axing 17,000 political appointees.
The finance ministry said in a statement Wednesday that a 6 per cent goods and services tax introduced by Najib in 2016 to increase government revenues will be abolished June 1. The tax has been blamed for raising the cost of living and has angered many Malaysians.
After being sworn in as Malaysia’s seventh prime minister last Thursday, Mahathir moved swiftly to name new finance, home affairs and defence ministers but has not appointed a full cabinet amid horse trading among his four-party alliance for posts.
He said he hoped this week to have a 10-member cabinet before expanding it later but acknowledged that it was a challenge navigating his alliance.
“It is difficult. It is time consuming and energy consuming and I don’t get much sleep, but I have to do it because they appointed me as prime minister. I cannot complain very much,” said Mahathir, 92.
With additional reporting by Associated Press