The United States Department of Justice has filed a lawsuit against some individuals accused of using an investment firm owned by the Malaysian government to steal more than $1 billion.
The lawsuit also mentioned a certain “Malaysian Official 1,” prompting many to ask if it refers to Prime Minister Najib Razak since he has control over the 1Malaysian Development Berhad (1MDB) investment firm and his stepson is one of the accused.
The lawsuit aims to recover some 17 assets in the United States, which have been allegedly acquired through 1MDB funds.
U.S. officials said the lawsuit is the “largest single action ever brought under the Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative.” They vowed to return the funds to the Malaysian people.
“The Department of Justice will not allow the American financial system to be used as a conduit for corruption. With this action, we are seeking to forfeit and recover funds that were intended to grow the Malaysian economy and support the Malaysian people. Instead, they were stolen, laundered through American financial institutions and used to enrich a few officials and their associates,” an excerpt of the statement issued by the U.S. DOJ reads.
“The United States will not be a safe haven for assets stolen by corrupt foreign officials,” said Deputy Director Andrew McCabe. “Public corruption, no matter where it occurs, is a threat to a fair and competitive global economy.”
Najib is suspected by many to be the “Malaysian Official 1,” who is cited 36 times in the 136-page lawsuit. It’s not the first time that his name has been implicated in a corruption scandal. Previously, he has been accused of pocketing more than $600 million dollars through anomalous transactions. He didn’t deny ownership of these dollar bank accounts but he claimed the funds were a political donation from a royal family in Saudi Arabia.
If more hints are needed about the identity of “Malaysian Official 1,” many Malaysians believe the text of the lawsuit provides enough evidence.
For example, paragraph 28 of the report describes “Malaysian official 1” as “a high-ranking official in the Malaysian Government who also held a position of authority with 1MDB.”
Paragraph 29 names Najib’s stepson: “Riza Shahriz bin Abdul Aziz (‘Aziz), a Malaysian national, is a relative of Malaysian Official 1.”
Paragraph 39 details some of the powers of the prime minister. “Malaysian Official 1 had the authority to approve all appointment to, and removals from, 1MDB’s Board of Directors and 1MDB’s Senior Management Team. In addition, any financial commitment by 1MDB, including investments, that are likely to affect a guarantee given by the Government of Malaysia for the benefit of 1MDB or any policy of the Malaysian Government, required the approval of Malaysian Official1.”
Former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who is calling for the resignation of Najib, urged the United States to name Najib in the lawsuit.
“If the U.S. really believes in eradicating corruption and money laundering which involves their country, they should not be shy about naming names and letting due process to take place,” he wrote in his blog.
“Merely seizing the stolen money does not nullify the crime. The only logical sequence to the seizures of stolen money is the criminal charge against the thieves. How is the DOJ of the USA going to charge the Malaysian Official 1 without naming him?” Mahathir added.
Interestingly, Najib’s camp is challenging the Malaysian citizens named in the lawsuit to clear their own names. Najib’s supporters are also asserting that there is no need for the prime minister to present counter evidence since his name is not mentioned in the report.
There seems little debate about the identity of “Malaysian Official 1.” For majority of Malaysians, it’s none other than Najib. Hopefully, the U.S. DOJ report will help Malaysians retrieve the stolen funds and assets; and more importantly, seek justice against the well-entrenched kleptocrats.