MalaysiaвЂ™s attorney general to go on leave pending probe
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia вЂ” New Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said Monday that the attorney general has been told to go on leave pending an investigation of his role in allegedly covering up a massive corruption scandal involving ousted leader Najib Razak.
The government also announced that the head of the countryвЂ™s treasury has been relieved of his duties.
The 1MDB state fund set up by Najib is being investigated in the United States and several other countries. Anger over the scandal helped MahathirвЂ™s alliance score a stunning election victory last week, ending the 60-year rule of NajibвЂ™s coalition.
U.S. investigators say NajibвЂ™s associates stole $4.5 billion from the fund, some of which landed in NajibвЂ™s bank account. After the scandal emerged, Najib sacked critics in his government, including the previous attorney general and a deputy premier, and muzzled the media.
His new attorney general, Mohamed Apandi Ali, cleared Najib of any wrongdoing in 2016, saying the money was a donation from the Saudi royal family and that most of it had been returned.
Mahathir, who earlier slammed ApandiвЂ™s credibility, said the solicitor general will take over ApandiвЂ™s job while he goes on leave. Mahathir said he canвЂ™t suspend Apandi until he is investigated.
вЂњThere have been a lot of complaints against the AG but no formal reports (lodged against him). On that basis, we give him a holiday вЂ¦ once investigations are carried out, then we can suspend him and prevent him from leaving the country,вЂќ he said in a televised news conference.
The government later announced that treasury head Mohamad Irwan Serigar Abdullah, who is also 1MDBвЂ™s chairman, вЂњwill not be allowed to carry out his duties as treasurer general or any matters relating to the finance ministry.вЂќ IrwanвЂ™s contract will be terminated June 14, ahead of its expiry next March, it said.
Mahathir, who has returned as prime minister after his retirement in 2003 following a 22-year rule, has promised to reopen investigations into the 1MDB fiasco, described by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions as вЂњkleptocracy at its worst.вЂќ He has warned that Najib will have to вЂњface the consequencesвЂќ if found guilty of wrongdoing.
Over the weekend, Mahathir barred Najib and his wife from leaving the country. He said Monday that several other top government officials have also been put on a travel blacklist to facilitate graft probes but declined to name them.
The head of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission, who was appointed by Najib in 2016, has resigned but Mahathir said he could also be investigated.
Also Monday, the graft agencyвЂ™s former investigations and intelligence chief lodged complaints alleging that Najib had used his position to block corruption investigations into the 1MDB fund and several other cases.
The U.S. Justice Department says stolen 1MDB money was laundered through the U.S., Singapore, Switzerland and other countries, of which some $700 million landed in NajibвЂ™s bank account. 1MDB, which is staggering under enormous debt, has sold assets to Chinese interests and is slated to be shuttered.
Mahathir said his government hasnвЂ™t asked for help from Interpol to find Low Taek Jho, named as a central figure who allegedly orchestrated the ransacking of 1MDB, but added they вЂњroughly knowвЂќ where Low is. He declined to elaborate on how they plan to bring him back.
Low, a friend of NajibвЂ™s stepson Riza Aziz, had no official role at 1MDB but U.S. investigators say he had considerable influence over its dealings and was often in contact with Najib.