Joseph Sipalan & A Ananthalakshmi –
The police kept watch close to a holiday villa where Najib Razak this week gave his first sit-down interview since his shock election defeat last month, a reminder for the former Malaysian prime minister that he may not have much more time to relax.
He is under investigation for corruption, has been labelled a crook by his successor, is banned from travelling overseas, and has watched while his family’s homes have been raided and luxury goods hauled away by officers.
Only hours before — also in an interview with Reuters — his mentor-turned-tormentor, the new Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, reeled off the charges he is looking to bring against Najib for his alleged role in a scandal that saw billions of dollars go missing from state fund 1MDB. They included embezzlement, bribery, losing government money.
“People would expect a former prime minister to be treated with decorum. Instead, I’ve been subjected to raids and all the other things,” said Najib.
Plain clothes officers from the police’s special branch intelligence arm were an obvious presence in and around the five-star hotel where he and his family were staying.
No criminal charges have been brought against Najib, and he said he did not know if hundreds of millions of dollars that moved through his personal account was
Instead, Najib said 92-year-old Mahathir, the veteran leader who once helped engineer Najib’s political ascent before turning on him, appears to be being vindictive.
Since his defeat in a May 9 general election, nearly 300 boxes of designer handbags and dozens of bags filled with cash and jewellery were among the items taken away by police in 1MDB-related searches at properties linked to Najib’s family.
“I never in my wildest dreams expected something like that to happen,” said Najib. “Even my grandchild’s shoes were taken away. In my son’s apartment, his assistant, his ‘Man Friday’ if you like, who does everything for him, even his cheap watches were taken away. What’s that got to do with 1MDB?”
“They wanted to tarnish my image in the court of public opinion,” he added.
Najib’s insistence in the interview that he should not be blamed for the multi-billion-dollar scandal at 1MDB, a fund he had founded in 2009, triggered scorn across the country from some politicians and members of the public on Thursday.
“Najib always assumes that people are stupid,” Mahathir told the Malay Mail in an interview on Thursday in reference to Najib’s comments.
Mahathir, who previously ruled the country from 1981-2003, is seen as the father of modern Malaysia.
And that is especially the case in Langkawi, a tourist island near the Thai border, which Mahathir developed during his previous tenure and which is now his constituency after he won it from Najib’s coalition in the election last month.
Najib said he also helped upgrade Langkawi during his reign and has a close affinity with the island, but when images of his family arriving for their holiday with dozens of suitcases started circulating on social media over the weekend, some people said they thought he was trying to flee.
He has denied he has ever had plans to flee, saying he wants to clear his name and doesn’t want to be a fugitive.
Najib, who was in power for about a decade, said that like so much of the good he did in government, his legacy has been tainted by the attacks from Mahathir and the winning coalition of parties.
“It was a hate campaign… They came up with very scurrilous allegations to defame me and the government. Unfortunately after a period of time, it changed public opinion,” Najib said.
Najib faced criticism himself ahead of the election for the last-minute redrawing of electoral boundaries that was allegedly meant to favour his Barisan Nasional coalition, the introduction of a “fake news” law just weeks before polls, and the decision to hold the vote on a Wednesday, which made it very difficult for some Malaysians to return to the places where they were registered to cast their ballots.
Speaking from Najib’s vast former office in the administrative capital of Putrajaya, Mahathir said that he has no doubt Najib is “totally responsible” for the 1MDB scandal. — Reuters
Joseph Sipalan & A Ananthalakshmi –