MALAYSIAN opposition chairman and former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad on Sunday vowed to “squeeze” money out of Prime Minster Najib Razak and other high-profile associates to recoup funds allegedly misappropriated from sovereign wealth fund 1 Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).
As reported by Malaysiakini, the Pakatan Harapan coalition chairman told crowds his solution to reducing government debt at a party forum in the administrative capital, Putrajaya.
“There’s some in America, some in Singapore, some in Switzerland, and some in Luxembourg. We can ask to have the money back,” he said.
“But some of the money is with Najib, with (his wife) Rosmah Mansor, with (Jho) Low, and with (Najib’s stepson) Riza Aziz. For these people, we will squeeze them until money falls out of them.”
Najib, members of his family, and Malaysian financier Low Taek Jho, commonly known as Jho Low, have all been implicated in the 1MDB scandal. The fund is currently at the centre of money-laundering probes in at least six countries, including the United States, Switzerland and Singapore.
A total of US$4.5 billion was misappropriated from 1MDB by high-level officials of the fund and their associates, according to civil lawsuits filed by the DOJ.
Najib set up 1MDB in 2009 and previously served as chairman of its advisory board. He was found with RM2.6 billion (approx. US$700 million) in his personal account. He claims the money was a gift from the Saudi Arabian royal family and maintains there was no wrongdoing.
US Attorney General Jeff Sessions called the scandal, “kleptocracy at its worst.”
The state-owned investment fund has denied that funds have been misappropriated and insists that all its money is accounted for.
Dr Mahathir’s plan to retrieve the money from overseas could prove difficult. In March, Switzerland’s parliament rejected a bid to amend the law handling ill-gotten bank profits seized by authorities that had aimed to return more than US$100 million linked to 1MDB to the Malaysian people.
Prior to the verdict, 1MDB said the Swiss money is being claimed by banks whom financial watchdog FINMA targeted for alleged breach of Swiss laws.
“It cannot be claimed by 1MDB or the government of Malaysia as the money does not belong to 1MDB,” it said.
Activists said Switzerland could set an international precedent on how to handle confiscated assets from the 1MDB scandal, such as a luxury yacht seized in Bali last month that Indonesia is handing over to US authorities.