UNITED STATES President Donald Trump plans to meet Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak in September despite Najib’s alleged involvement in a billion-dollar corruption scandal.
They will meet at the White House on Sept 12, senior US officials said on Wednesday.
According to a White House statement announcing the visit, Trump looks forward to “discussing ways to strengthen and broaden our bilateral relationship and expand regional cooperation with one of America’s closest partners in Southeast Asia.”
The invitation represents a boost to Najib’s international standing at a time when he is under mounting scrutiny for his dealings with state-owned development fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).
In July, the US Justice Department filed a civil complaint in a money-laundering case outlining how Najib, identified as “Malaysian Official 1,” received US$731 million from the government fund he oversaw. Investigators around the world are tracking the money trail to his bank accounts.
In civil lawsuits, the Justice Department has sought to seize a total of about US$1.7 billion in assets it says were bought with misappropriated 1MDB funds.
The Wall Street Journal, which first reported the planned meeting, said Najib had been eager to emphasise his friendship with Trump and will likely use the White House visit to play down the possibility of further investigations.
This will not be the first time the two leaders have met. The pair are old golfing buddies and Najib is known to have a photo of him and Trump in his office, signed with the words “To my favourite Prime Minister.”
Najib also joined Trump at a summit in Saudi Arabia in May aimed at countering global extremism and terrorism and can be seen hovering in the background of the now infamous “supervillain photo”.
Elina Noor, of the Institute of Strategic and International Studies Malaysia, told the New York Times Najib’s visit to the White House “would underline Najib’s stature as a respected leader and statesman warmly welcomed in the United States at the highest level, simultaneously quashing controversial allegations against him.”
Additional reporting by Reuters