Malaysia’s anti-corruption agency announced on Monday that nearly $700 million deposited in Prime Minister Najib Razak’s personal bank accounts were “donations” and did not originate from a debt-laden state fund called the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).
The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) said that the 2.6 billion ringgit ($675.15 million) transferred to Najib’s accounts was discovered to be a “contribution from donors, and not from 1MDB,” in a statement.
In early July The Wall Street Journal published an article reporting that the money came from entities linked to the 1MDB state investment fund. MACC’s findings effectively cleared the prime minister of any criminal wrongdoing, without going into details about the donor or donors to his personal accounts or how the money was spent.
Both 1MDB and Najib have denied the allegations, with 1MDB releasing a statement on Tuesday thanking the MACC.
“1MDB welcomes the clear statement from the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission, which confirms that no funds from 1MDB were transferred to the Prime Minister,” it said.
“We have always maintained that the company has never provided any funds to the Prime Minister.”
1MDB, set up by Najib in 2009 to develop new industries, has accumulated 42 billion ringgit ($10.9 billion) in debt and has been criticised for this enormous debt and lack of transparency.
Najib has denied allegations of mismanagement and corruption and has dismissed those who have challenged him. Attorney General Abdul Gani Patail was one of the four officials leading the investigation into the allegations before he was removed from office three months before he was due to retire.
Gani confirmed he received documents that linked Najib to the 1MDB fund, which could have led to a political scandal and criminal charges against Najib.
Gani wasn’t the only official dismissed in relation to the case. Last week, Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin was also axed after urging Najib to publicly respond to the 1MDB allegations.
Najib announced the removal of his deputy and four other cabinet members in a televised statement, saying “Members of the cabinet should not air their differences in an open forum that can affect public opinion against the government and Malaysia.”
Seeking to quash public discussion, the Malaysian government also sent a letter to the Edge Media Group suspending the licences of two publications reporting on the 1MDB scandal, saying the coverage was “likely to be prejudicial to public and national interest.”
Protesters seeking Najib’s resignation took to the streets of Kuala Lumpur on Saturday. Twenty nine of them were arrested for “joining an unlawful assembly” under section 143 of Malaysia's penal code, the Guardian reported. The charge carries a maximum term of 20 years.
Despite clearing Najib’s name, the statement by the MACC has brought more questions than answers.
Head of Malaysia's National Human Rights Society (HAKAM) Ambiga Sreenevasan told the Associated Press her fears..
“In my view, the statement by MACC still causes me concern as it means whoever donated such large sums is likely to expect benefit,” the lawyer said.
Rafizi Ramli, an opposition lawmaker and vice president of the People's Justice Party (PKR) who had predicted that Najib would claim the money was coming from wealthy Middle Eastern donors, told Agence France-Presse “I am sure this announcement by the anti-corruption agency sets the stage to clear Najib of any wrongdoing.”
“But it will not be able to quell public anger and mistrust over the matter,” he warned.
Rafizi maintained that the Malaysian people wanted to know where the money was coming from, and for what purpose. He said the statement by the MACC did not fully explain 1MDB’s massive debt nor give a satisfactory answer to why the money trail linked Najib’s personal accounts with 1MDB.