Spotlight on Najib over Anwar, debt payments

Spotlight on Najib over Anwar, debt payments

KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak is facing mounting scrutiny for cracking down on opponents, troubles in a strategic development fund and questions over his family assets, with even ruling-party conservatives questioning his leadership.

The 61-year-old leader took the helm of the country's long-ruling regime in 2009, promising to soothe racial tensions and bolster democracy.

But he is under fire from progressives for abandoning such pledges and from ruling-party hardliners over 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), a development vehicle he launched that is believed to be in a precarious state.

"People are beginning to doubt whether he is the sort of leader who can address Malaysia's problems," said Wan Saiful Wan Jan, head of Malaysian think-tank Ideas.

Malaysia also drew international criticism after opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim was jailed for five years last week on a sodomy conviction widely considered politically motivated, the latest in a crackdown on Mr Najib's opponents.

Meanwhile, 1MDB has missed repeated deadlines to pay down billions of dollars in debts, according to Malaysian media reports, with questions swirling around the whereabouts of huge sums.

1MDB said a US$560 million (S$758 million) loan payment was finally made last week, after a Malaysian billionaire was reportedly drafted in to stump up the cash.

Last week, a New York Times investigative report detailed multi-million-dollar purchases of luxury United States real estate by a close Najib family associate, financier Low Taek Jho, whom various reports have linked to 1MDB.

It also said documents showed millions of dollars in jewellery purchases for Mr Najib's wife, Rosmah Mansor, who is widely ridiculed in Malaysia for her luxurious tastes.

In a statement to Agence France-Presse, Mr Najib's office said the report raised "false allegations".

"The Prime Minister does not have, nor has he ever had, a financial interest in, or any sort of agreement related to, the properties mentioned in the article," it said.

It added that "no purchases by the Prime Minister or his family involved funds from 1MDB".

In a separate statement, 1MDB denied missing any debt payments and said it has no links with Mr Low.

Leading criticisms of 1MDB is Mahathir Mohamad, who was premier from 1981 to 2003, and still casts a long shadow at 89.

That is potentially worrisome for Mr Najib - Dr Mahathir engineered the ouster of his own chosen successor, installing Mr Najib.

Dr Mahathir wrote on his widely read blog last week that "there is something rotten" in Malaysia, and on Thursday suggested that Mr Najib should resign.

"The country is facing a lot of problems, but the government is not admitting it. It is in denial," he said.

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