MALAYSIA’S former premier Dr Mahathir Mohamad has sought the palace’s intervention to oust Prime Minister Najib Razak who is tangled in graft allegations involving billions in sovereign state funds.
Dr Mahathir’s son and aides said the nation’s monarch, Sultan Abdul Halim Mu’adzam Shah, granted a rare audience Thursday to the country’s longest serving former prime minister to discuss Najib’s removal.
Reports said the king met with the statesman for over an hour at his palace in Kedah, a northern state.
During the meeting, Dr Mahathir was said to have handed over a petition signed by over one million Malaysians calling for Najib’s removal over allegations of money laundering and misappropriation of funds from state-owned 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).
Despite the allegations, Najib and his administration have vehemently denied any wrongdoing in their handling of 1MDB, from which hundreds of millions dollars were found deposited in the prime minister’s personal bank accounts.
Khairuddin Abu Hassan, a former senior member of the ruling Umno party and close supporter of Dr Mahathir, told a local news portal that he had accompanied the statesman to the palace for the so-called “historic meeting”.
“It was just between the two of them. So whatever was discussed inside, I will let Tun Mahathir reveal it,” Free Malaysia Today quoted Khairuddin as saying.
Dr Mahathir’s son Mukhriz, a former Chief Minister of the Kedah state and once a senior member in Umno, on Thursday confirmed that the meeting was held at in the palace at about 4.45pm.
“We honestly thought it’s going to be a short meeting, probably 30 minutes, but it lasted one hour and 15 minutes,” Benar News quoted Mukhriz as saying.
“Now that we have submitted the declaration, at least we can now tell the people that we have done our part. …[T]he ball is no longer in our court. The appeal made by 1.4 million Malaysian signatories have now been passed to the King.”
The meeting yesterday, Benar News noted, was not reported in the mainstream media.
Dr Mahathir had in May attempted to submit the same petition to the king but later complained he had not been able to because the country’s rulers were allegedly placed under house arrest. His comment landed him in trouble with local authorities who summoned him for questioning in a criminal defamation investigation.
The 89-year-old Sultan Abdul Halim, is currently serving as Malaysia’s ‘Agong’ under a unique rotational system introduced toward the end of British colonial rule in the 1950s’ in which nine sultans take turns to become the constitutional monarch for a period of five years.
1MDB, an investment company fully owned by the Malaysian government, was created in 2009 by Najib to promote economic development projects. U.S. prosecutors said fund officials have diverted more than US$3.5 billion through a web of shell companies and bank accounts abroad.
Anti-government dissidents in Malaysia have been campaigning long and hard against Najib, who they believe is corruptly involved in the scandal. One of them is pro-democracy group Bersih 2.0, also known as the Coalition for Free and Fair Elections, which is planning to hold a mass rally in Kuala Lumpur on Nov 19 to demand Najib’s resignation.
In July, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a lawsuit seeking the seizure of more than US$1 billion in assets allegedly bought with money siphoned from 1MDB.
The lawsuit only named “Malaysian Official 1” and did not directly mention Najib but the prime minister’s critics believe it refers to him. Abdul Rahman Dahlan, a key leader in Najib’s ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition, recently told a BBC interview that “MO1” refers to Najib.