Authorities in Malaysia have set up a task force to investigate the theft of billions of dollars from 1MDB, the nation's sovereign wealth fund. Last week officials seized cash and jewelry from the homes of ex-PM Najib.
On Monday, Malaysia announced a task force to probe suspicions that billions of dollars were looted from the nation's sovereign wealth fund, 1Malaysia Development Berhad, also known as 1MDB. Officials say it was a massive system of theft and fraud overseen by the previous prime minister, Najib Razak.
Mahathir Mohamad, the newly elected prime minister, led a reformist alliance to a surprise victory at the May 9 polls over Najib's coalition, which had governed Malaysia uninterrupted for over six decades.
The ousting of the coalition was fueled by public disgust following reports of endemic corruption by the country's ruling elite — and in particular a massive scandal surrounding 1MDB.
The state fund was set up in 2009 ostensibly to promote the development of the Malaysian economy. However investigators from multiple nations are looking into whether Najib, his family and cronies looted the investment vehicle in a massive fraud that stretched from the Cayman Islands to New York. The stolen funds were used to purchase everything from real estate to artworks.
Mahathir first served as premier from 1981-2003 and came out of retirement to take on corruption-mired Najib. His campaign pledged to reopen probes into 1MDB.
Task force takes shape
The head of the special task force is Abdul Gani Patail, the former attorney general who was removed from his post in 2015 while leading investigations into 1MDB.
The task force will be charged with finding and taking back assets as well as pursuing legal action against people suspected of breaking the law in relation to the fund, the prime minister's office announced.
"The government hopes the setting up of this task force, comprising a multiagency enforcement unit, will help restore the dignity of Malaysia that has been tainted by the 1MDB kleptocracy scandal," a statement from the office read.
The task force will consist of representatives of the anti-graft agency, the police and the attorney general's office, as well as members of a previous task force set up under Najib but disbanded as speculation mounted that he would be charged.
The force will also reach out to law enforcement agencies in other countries, including the US, Switzerland, Singapore and Canada, according to a statement from Mahathir's office.
Vast sums of money from the fund are believed to have been funneled round the world in a complex web of transactions.
Najib and 1MDB have consistently denied any wrongdoing.
Earlier this month police launched raids on properties linked to Najib as they investigate the fraud. Authorities seized a huge stash of handbags and suitcases stuffed with cash, but Najib insisted at the weekend he had not stolen public money.
Crusading journalist back in Malaysia
The announcement of the task force comes just days after exiled journalist Clare Rewcastle Brown, the publisher of Sarawak Report, was allowed to return to Malaysia.
Rewcastle Brown had reported that in 2013 banks and companies linked to 1MDB transferred of $681 million (€578 million) to bank accounts held by Najib. Malaysian authorities issued a warrant for her arrest in 2015, citing activities "detrimental to parliamentary democracy."
Sarawak Report and Medium.com, a blogging platform that hosted her site, were also blocked in Malaysia.
She returned to Malaysia after learning that the sites had been unblocked and the warrant dismissed by the new government led by Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.
av/kms (Reuters, AFP)