KUALA LUMPUR - Hundreds of millions of dollars that ended up in the personal bank accounts of Malaysia's prime minister must be handed to the government, a lawsuit filed by his predecessor demanded Wednesday.
Najib Razak, 62, has been under fire for months over allegations that perhaps billions of dollars were stolen from a state investment company he founded, and his own admitted acceptance of a mysterious US$681 million (S$930.3 million) overseas payment.
Both Najib and the now debt-stricken company, 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), strongly deny wrongdoing and reject accusations that the money paid directly into his personal accounts in 2013 involved 1MDB funds.
The suit by Mahathir Mohamad, Malaysia's strongman leader from 1981-2003, demands that Najib compensate the Malaysian government for the US$681 million, according to a copy of the complaint.
The former leader, a prominent critic over the affair, also accused Najib of abusing his position "to undermine, subvert and compromise the various respective institutions" investigating the scandals.
It remains to be seen whether the case will have any effect against Najib, who has taken a number of heavily criticised steps to tamp down the affair.
These included sacking Cabinet members, including his deputy prime minister, who had called for transparency and replacing Malaysia's attorney-general with an appointee who abruptly halted his predecessor's investigations.
Whistle-blowers have been arrested or faced other threats, while media outlets reporting on the allegations also have come under pressure, raising growing concerns over rights and free speech.
Also named as plaintiffs in the case were two people who were booted out of Najib's ruling party after they criticised his actions and called for accountability.
Swiss authorities said recently up to $4 billion may have been stolen from Malaysian state firms including 1MDB and that they were investigating possible fraud and money-laundering.
US, British, Singaporean and Hong Kong authorities also are looking into 1MDB-related fund flows.
Najib's handpicked attorney-general in January summarily absolved him of any wrongdoing in the mysterious overseas payment, claiming it was a personal gift from the Saudi royal family, most of which was returned.
The Saudis are yet to confirm that alibi, which is widely rejected in Malaysia as implausible.
Mahathir, who has repeatedly called for Najib's ouster, quit the long-ruling United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) in disgust in February.
Earlier this month he spearheaded the formation of an unusual alliance between disaffected UMNO figures, opposition parties, and civil society groups which issued a joint demand that Najib step down.