MALAYSIA’S Prime Minister Najib Razak on Tuesday admitted the government’s weaknesses involving the multi-billion dollar state fund scandal dogging his leadership but asked investors to put the issue behind them amid the country’s improved economic outlook.
According to Reuters, Najib, in a speech during a conference with fund managers, industrialists and investors, insisted that Malaysia was now “stronger than ever” following the International Monetary Fund’s move to upgrade its 2017 growth forecast for the country from 4.5 to 4.8 percent.
The upgrade came amid better-than-expected first quarter annual growth of 5.6 percent, the quickest in two years, despite Najib being implicated in the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) scandal, which saw more than US$700 million reportedly deposited into his personal account.
“At 1MDB it is now clear there were lapses in governance,” Najib said during the Invest Malaysia conference in Kuala Lumpur.
“However, rather than bury our heads in the sand, we ordered investigations into the company at a scale unprecedented in our nation’s history.”
In June, the United States Department of Justice (DoJ) launched a third civil suit to recover about US$540 million in assets that authorities say were stolen by financiers associated with 1MDB.
US investigators have traced the US$700 million to bank accounts that were allegedly siphoned from 1MDB into Najib’s personal account. The leader, however, has denied taking money from 1MDB or any other entity for personal gain.
Apart from the DoJ, investigators from at least six other countries, including Singapore, Switzerland, and Australia are looking into the 1MDB case. However, the scandal is not being investigated domestically.
Malaysia’s economy had slumped in the last two years owing to a slowdown in China, the plunge in global oil prices and investors nervous about the 1MDB scandal.
However, the country made a turnaround from having the third worst performing Asian currency to becoming one of the better performers following a growth in energy exports and other commodities.
“All of this can point to only one conclusion – our economy continues to prosper, and we are stronger than ever as a result of the reforms and the programs the government has put in place,” Najib was quoted as saying.
Since the scandal surfaced in July 2015, Najib has been under fire from Malaysia’s opposition members who have called for him to step down. The scandal also turned one of his major proponents, the influential former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad into his harshest critic.
At the investor’s conference Najib warned investors to “beware” of misinformation spread about the country’s economy, Channel News Asia reported.
“There has in fact been a concerted campaign to send such misinformation overseas to damage Malaysia’s economy for their own selfish political objectives,” Najib said.
Najib also took a swipe at the Pakatan Harapan (hope’s pact) opposition bloc for appointing Mahathir as its chairman amid uncertainties as to who would be appointed prime minister should the opposition win the next election due in 2018.
“The latest leadership structure that the opposition announced is farcical, sounding like a return-to-work programme for old age political pensioners,” he said, adding the opposition had dished out “barefaced lies” about the nation’s economy.
“There has in fact been a concerted campaign to send such misinformation overseas to damage Malaysia’s economy for their own selfish political objectives,
So if you receive these smears, or if you read it in publications that do not check the facts properly, please beware,” Najib said.
“It is not fair to the Malaysian people and it is not fair to the business community both at home and abroad.”
Meanwhile, the opposition said Najib’s statement on their leadership revealed his “desperation to cling on to power.”
“Najib Razak’s shameful tirade this morning at the Invest KL 2017 against the Pakatan Harapan leadership reveals his desperation to go to any level to discredit the Federal Opposition,” Pakatan Harapan president, Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, said in a statement.