Allegations may be true or false but Najib takes a hit

Allegations may be true or false but Najib takes a hit

It remains to be seen whether allegations that Prime Minister Najib Razak received over US$700 million (S$940 million) into his personal accounts are true.

Still, the damage seems to have been done for the embattled Malaysian leader, who had been enjoying a brief respite in the past few weeks.

Malaysian social media was set alight yesterday over the allegations, with some questioning the lack of an outright statement by Datuk Seri Najib that accounts in his name used to receive the money did not exist, or that the alleged transactions were fake. The Wall Street Journal, in a report yesterday, claimed that the funds were wired in two months before the 2013 general election.

The anti-government whistle-blower blog Sarawak Report carried a similar report about the alleged funds being transferred from entities linked to state investor 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).

The Prime Minister's Office instead labelled the reports as part of a "political sabotage" operation. It said the reports were aimed at ruining the country's economy and toppling Mr Najib's government, despite "successful stewardship of Malaysia's economy against global headwinds - as recognised this week by Fitch's upgrade".

"PMO insists WSJ's report is a political sabotage. If so, where is the statement that legal action will be commenced soon?" said lawyer Art Harun on Twitter, echoing the sentiments of those wondering why Mr Najib did not seem ready to sue the newspaper, as he had done with other reports he deemed libellous.

The Fitch Ratings upgrade was the latest in a string of good news this fortnight for Mr Najib. The arrest of former PetroSaudi director Xavier Justo in Thailand raised the possibility that documents used to accuse 1MDB were tampered with. And Mr Najib secured his position in Umno until mid-2018 by pushing back the Umno party election.

"The timing is disastrous. All the good news around Fitch is now not going to mean much," the chief executive of think-tank Ideas, Mr Wan Saiful Wan Jan, told The Straits Times.

Opposition politicians reacted to the claims with the expected calls for Mr Najib's resignation.

Those from his ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition, however, appeared to be split. Umno leader and Cabinet Minister Abdul Rahman Dahlan labelled the use of unnamed sources for "a very defamatory report" by WSJ as "gutter journalism".

But the Malaysian Chinese Association's youth wing called on Mr Najib to "take more concrete measures to clarify" the matter apart from the short rebuttal.

The wing's chief, senator Chong Sin Woon, also said that "1MDB should not just release a simple one-off statement denying the allegations".

There has been speculation that the documents were leaked from the Auditor-General's recently completed probe into 1MDB. The report will not be made public but will be tabled to Parliament's bipartisan Public Accounts Committee next Thursday.

Some Umno MPs feel the allegation that millions of dollars were transferred to Mr Najib in March 2013 presents the party with a real problem as it would then appear that public funds were used to help the BN coalition win the 2013 elections.

Even if the latest media claims are untrue, they could still signal dwindling options for Mr Najib.

Mr Ibrahim Suffian of respected pollster Merdeka Centre said the seriousness of the accusations means that, should they be a planned attack, the Prime Minister's "opponents are not taking half measures and are going for the kill".

This article was first published on July 4, 2015.
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