KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 19, (AFP): Malaysia’s toppled leader Najib Razak was arrested Wednesday and will be charged over allegations that $628 million linked to state investment fund 1MDB ended up in his personal bank accounts, officials said. Allegations that huge sums were looted from the investment vehicle by Najib and his cronies were a major factor in the shock defeat of his longruling coalition at elections in May to a reformist alliance headed by Mahathir Mohamad. Mahathir, 93, in his second stint as premier after coming out of retirement to take on his ex-protege Najib, has reopened probes into 1MDB that were shut down by the former government, and vowed to bring Najib to justice.
Since losing power, Najib has already been arrested and hit with seven charges related to claims he pocketed some $10 million from a former unit of 1MDB. However his arrest Wednesday related directly to one of the most damaging allegations in the long-running scandal – that huge sums from the fund fl owed into his bank accounts ahead of a hotly contested election in 2013.
The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission said in a statement that it had detained Najib as part of its investigations into the fund and “the entry of 2.6 billion ringgit ($628 million) into his personal account”. Najib will appear in court Thursday afternoon where he faces several charges related to allegedly abusing his position, the anti-corruption commission said. When reports about the bank transfers surfaced in 2015, they dramatically ratcheted up the scandal surrounding Najib and his inner circle.
The attorney-general later cleared him of any wrongdoing, saying the money was a personal donation from the Saudi royal family, and closed down domestic investigations. But as allegations related to wrongdoing at the fund multiplied, the leader lurched sharply to the right.
He sacked critics in government, jailed political opponents and introduced increasingly authoritarian laws that analysts said were aimed at silencing any opposition to his rule. Najib, his family and cronies were accused of using the stolen cash to buy everything from high-end real estate in the United States to pricey artworks.
The US Department of Justice, which is seeking to recover items allegedly bought with stolen 1MDB cash in America, estimates that $4.5 billion in total was looted from the fund. Following Najib’s election loss, police seized a vast trove of items – including expensive handbags and jewellery – from properties linked to him with an estimated value of up to $273 million.
Investigations into 1MDB have been moving swiftly. Last month, a luxury yacht allegedly bought by a playboy financier with a central role in the scandal returned to Malaysia after being handed over by Indonesia, which impounded it following a DoJ request.