A prominent Malaysian minister has confirmed to the media that the country’s prime minister, Najib Razak, is the anonymous official linked to the American money-laundering investigations which have brought waves of protest in recent months.
By Holly Reeves
“If we don’t speak out, who else will push them, the authorities, to arrest a criminal who has given us so much grief?,” said student representative Anis Syafiqah Md Yusof in her address to street protesters this weekend. People came out in numbers to wave placards and push a dummy of Prime Minister Najib behind the bars of a cardboard jail.
Today we know what many have been saying for months. The Malaysian Official One (MO1) from the American Department of Justice’s (DOJ) money laundering investigation is indeed none other than Najib himself. “Can we send MO1 to jail and bring that person to face justice?” Anis asked the crowd in the protests leading up to this revelation. They responded with chants of “tangkap MO1,” meaning “arrest” in Malay. The mood seems ugly; exactly how far must Najib fall to follow the fate of his protest dummy?
The long-awaited confirmation
The American investigation has been the subject of headlines around the world for months. In a nutshell, allegations swirl around the operations of the 1MDB strategic development fund where billions of dollars of investments are currently unaccounted for, bonds have gone unpaid, and various players in its financial administration have faced arrest.
Five people are named. The other major player in the report is the shadowy MO1, found to be involved but not indicted. And now Abdul Rahman Dahlan, a senior government minister in Mr. Najib’s cabinet, said “I agree that ‘MO1’ is the prime minister.”
In his bombshell interview with the BBC, he added “I’ve said it openly. Obviously if you read the documents, people say it is the prime minister.” He continues with a qualifier, “But when I have been asked this question, I always ask back: why didn’t the DOJ name him by his proper name? That reason is because he is not part of this investigation.”
No reply from Najib so far. Or an act of retribution or retaliation against Rahman Dahlan which suggests he has stepped out of line. After months of allegations and denials, Najib’s political enemies can smell blood. “Confirmed, Malaysian Official 1 (MO1) is the PM. Money in his account, Arab donation or 1MDB funds?” asked Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) deputy president Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man, in a statement.
Referring to the millions of dollars found in Najib’s account which were attributed to a political donation from Saudi Arabia, Tuan Ibrahim added “The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) must reopen its investigation into 1MDB and the ‘donation’ into the PM’s personal account and investigate the DOJ claims so that we can avoid foreign interference in our internal matters,” he continued.
A question of credibility
It would be a surprise to know that Najib was not aware that committed United Malays National Organisation (Umno) man Rahman Dahlan was going to make such a high-profile statement. The problem is that it seems to fly directly in the face of Najib’s previous denials. “I want to say that what was done by the DOJ recently does not involve me, or the Malaysian government, or 1MDB directly,” the Prime Minister told Indonesian television station Metro TV. So what happens now?
In recent statements, Najib has been actively promoting his track record as a successful leader. And taunting his rivals to make a challenge. “If I am to be toppled, then contest in the Umno elections but don’t destroy Umno,” he said to loud applause when opening the Cameron Highlands Umno divisional assembly this week.
In a brave statement considering the political mayhem about to be unleashed he rallied, “Under the old constitution, anyone wishing to contest for the presidency must receive the support from 56 Umno divisions. (Do you) think it’s easy to get that, even one (division) is difficult.” He seems to be relying on the considerable support he and his party have enjoyed for many years, but that was before his position became so obviously exposed.
His comments in recent days would paint him as a noble statesman, focused only on the good of the country over infighting and accusations. “If we wish to see Malaysia remain independent, sovereign, peaceful and respected the world over as a glittering eastern star, moments of unity should be cherished and promoted,” Najib said in his National Day Message at the Putra World Trade Centre on Tuesday.
Against this backdrop, his allies are pulling out a new weapon in the arsenal of media-driven politics. Najib is not to blame for the current unrest, say his friends. Instead, he is the victim of a foreign conspiracy to remove him from power. It is not a new script; the bad guy in the story used to be Mahathir who was seeking to settle a score. Now it is the Americans.
Is Prime Minister Najib a victim of foreign agitators? Or just hopelessly caught in a web of lies and mistruths? The puzzle goes deeper and deeper; how much further before Malaysia’s politics hits rock bottom?