KUALA LUMPUR -- The head of Malaysia’s anti-graft agency gave an explosive account on Tuesday of how witnesses disappeared and officers were purged and intimidated after they tried in 2015 to charge ex-premier Najib Razak for siphoning funds from a state fund.
Describing the lengths taken to suppress the earlier investigation, Mohd Shukri Abdull, who was restored to the agency by Malaysia’s new government following Najib’s election defeat on May 9, said that on one occasion a bullet was sent to his home.
Shukri was addressing a news conference after Najib arrived at the headquarters of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC), which has ordered him to explain a suspicious transfer of $10.6 million into his bank account.
Shukri said he had called Najib into the agency to record a statement, not to arrest or charge him.
The MACC action is just the beginning of a new investigation into the alleged theft of billions of dollars from 1MDB, a scandal that dogged the last three years of Najib’s near-decade-long rule and was a main reason why voters deserted him.
Shukri said his agency had been poised to launch a case in 2015 against Najib but had been stopped in its tracks by the sacking of the attorney-general. Recounting events then, Shukri gave the most revealing account to date of the cover-up.
“We had our own intelligence sources, that I would be arrested and locked up, because I was accused as being part of a conspiracy to bring down the government,” Shukri said, shedding tears briefly as he made his opening remarks.
“I was sent a bullet to my house. I never told my wife or my family. I never even made a police report.”
He went on to describe how he got police protection during a visit to the United States after suspecting that he was being followed by Malaysian security officials.
“We wanted to bring back money that was stolen back to our country. Instead we were accused of bringing down the country, we were accused of being traitors,” Shukri said.
Several hours later, Najib emerged from the MACC headquarters and spoke briefly to reporters, saying he would be returning to complete his statement on Thursday.
Najib said he had amplified on a statement made to the agency in 2015 “with verification of documents and several more complete details”.
This month’s shock election result upended Malaysia’s political order. It was the first defeat for a coalition that had governed the Southeast Asian nation since its independence from British colonial rule in 1957.
Malaysia’s new leader, Mahathir Mohamad, who at the age of 92 came out of political retirement and joined the opposition to topple his former protege, has reopened investigations into 1MDB and has set up a task force to recover funds.
Since losing power, Najib and his allegedly shopaholic wife, Rosmah Mansor, have suffered a series of humiliations, starting with a ban on them leaving the country, and then police searching their home and other properties.
U.S. says to pursue 1MDB probe
Najib has consistently denied any wrongdoing since the 1MDB scandal erupted in 2015, but he replaced an attorney-general and several MACC officers to shut down an initial investigation.
Najib has said $681 million of funds deposited in his personal bank account were a donation from a Saudi royal, rebutting reports that the funds came from 1MDB.
The initial focus of the MACC’s new investigation is on how 42 million ringgit ($10.6 million) went from SRC International to Najib’s account.
SRC was created in 2011 by Najib’s government to pursue overseas investments in energy resources, and was a unit of 1MDB until it was moved to the finance ministry in 2012.
MACC has been able to track the money trail from SRC more easily because transactions were made through Malaysian entities, whereas most other transfers of 1MDB funds went through foreign banks and companies.
The new 1MDB task force will liaise with enforcement agencies in the United States, Switzerland, Singapore, Canada and other countries, which are also looking into the affair.
The U.S Department of Justice (DoJ) said on Tuesday it would continue to pursue investigations into 1MDB and looked forward to working with Malaysian authorities.
“The Department of Justice is committed to ensuring that the United States and its financial system are not threatened by corrupt individuals and kleptocrats who seek to hide their ill-gotten wealth,” a DoJ spokesperson said in an email statement to Reuters.
“Whenever possible, recovered assets will be used to benefit the people harmed by these acts of corruption and abuse of office,” the department said.
The DoJ filed forfeiture complaints in 2016 and 2017 seeking to recover more than $1.7 billion in assets traceable to funds allegedly misappropriated from 1MDB.
These complaints alleged that more than $4.5 billion was diverted from 1MDB and laundered through a web of shell companies and bank accounts in the United States and elsewhere.