Malaysia’s embattled prime minister Najib Razak has entered negotiations for a face-saving exit from the turbulence of his nation’s politics, according to independent reports, after the anti-corruption commission referred 37 charges to the attorney-general for prosecution.
Sources told the London-based Sarawak Report and the Hong Kong-based Asia Sentinel that Najib entered talks to ensure his departure from a tenure blighted by allegations of massive corruption and three murders, including Kevin Morais, a lead investigator with the commission.
That prospect has fed social media commentators and prompted a rear-guard offensive by Malaysia’s mainstream newspapers, who are trying to convince a troubled wider world that the country remains an island of Muslim moderation amid a sea of Islamic militancy and terrorism. While this may somehow be seen as mitigating Najib’s legacy, the costs seem absurdly high given the allegations enveloping him.
The Sarawak Report, operated by long-time Najib antagonist Clare Rewcastle Brown, says the prime minister wants to keep more than US$900 million and receive full immunity for himself and his wife, the dreadfully unpopular Rosmah Mansor. Rosmah has a habit of complaining about the cost of tailors and hairdressers who make house calls.
“We have to make beautiful clothes to attend functions, but the prices are way too high. For those who can afford, it’s all right. But what about housewives like us, with no income?” she has been quoted as saying.
Her antics, however, pale when compared with her husband’s business dealings.
Horrific photos of Morais were published earlier this week by Malaysia Chronicle. He had led investigations into the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) scandal before his remains were found in a cement filled oil drum, submerged in a swamp.
This is not the first time Najib and those around him have been linked to murder.
The Mongolian model and translator Altantuya Shaariibuu, who worked on the purchase of French submarines when Najib was defense minister, was killed in 2006. A French court was expected to hear complaints of kickbacks involved in the deal.
In 2013, Hussain Ahmad Najadi – founder of AMBank and Najib’s banker –was killed. His son had complained about financial irregularities by Najib and the ruling United Malays National Organization (UMNO), which has dominated Malaysia since independence in 1957.
Laws silencing dissent and curtailing civil liberties have also been introduced, further outraging human rights advocates while damaging Najib’s credibility among an electorate long wary over an ethnic and religious divide which favors native Malay-Muslims.
Those laws follow the jailing of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim after a medieval legal process over sex and sexual preferences. A United Nations report has since urged Najib to immediately release the opposition leader, who won more votes at the last election than he did.
UMNO – the lead party in the Barisan Nasional coalition – secured victory at that poll through gerrymandering, a political reality established years earlier by the country’s longest serving leader, Mahathir Mohamad, now a trenchant critic of Najib.
Mahathir also had a colorful and controversial career at the helm. Earlier this week, he said he had not given up on his push to have Najib removed from power, particularly since the 1MDB scandal broke mid-last year.
“Najib’s administration has caused the country’s decline in economy, politics, science, technology and knowledge. All areas are declining,” he told reporters.
Najib and 1MDB have strenuously denied allegations that around US$700 million was channeled into two of Najib’s AmBank accounts. The largest tranche of US$681 million was reportedly transferred ahead of the May 2013 general election.
Najib has also accused Mahathir of stirring up trouble to suit his own political designs.
Luke Hunt can be followed on Twitter @lukeanthonyhunt