PETALING JAYA - Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak has admitted that the nation was cheated by fugitive businessman Low Taek Jho, also known as Jho Low, but accused investment bank Goldman Sachs, lawyers and auditors for failing to protect the country's interests in the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) scandal.
In an interview with Sinar Harian, the former prime minister was asked whether he ever saw, from an early stage, the possibility that Low would cause the country to lose billions of ringgit.
"Action must be taken if it's clear that he committed an offence.
"At that time we had appointed lawyers, auditors and Goldman Sachs, a renowned global investment bank.
"The responsibility of this bank and all the rest was to protect Malaysia's interests.
"If they failed to protect Malaysia's interests, how would I know?" said Najib, who was finance minister and chairman of 1MDB at the time.
He added that Goldman Sachs, lawyers and auditors involved in 1MDB should have informed the government that "something was not right".
"They clearly failed in carrying out their responsibilities, for example Goldman Sachs. It's proven.
"The system we created to protect our interests - investment banks, auditors, lawyers and all, they have not played their true role," said Najib.
Asked whether this meant that he now admits that Malaysia had been cheated by Low, Najib replied: "Yes, that is the conclusion if we take into account what we know today."
Asked about his ties to Low, Najib said the businessman has become a controversial person, but was previously a consultant with the Terengganu Investment Authority (TIA).
He added that before 1MDB, Low was seen as someone with close ties to the Middle East, especially to the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.
"He brought in investments with the co-operation of certain parties, an investment into RHB Bank from Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank and some other companies.
"He had a track record of ties with UAE and Saudi Arabia," he said.
Najib said he had seen Low from that perspective.
"If we could use his back-channels with these countries, we could enhance economic and diplomatic relations with them," he added.
Najib said that he had no knowledge of Low's personal habits.
"I only knew later that he had a big yacht and an aeroplane, had parties - I was not involved, I did not know at all what he did as we now know.
"My relations with him was professional, because I saw he could bring value to investments and enhance economic and diplomatic ties with the Middle East.
"But if he committed wrongdoing, and committed breach of trust, he did something against the law and action must be taken against him," he said.
Najib also denied that the 1MDB issue was the major reason for Barisan Nasional's defeat in the 14th general election in May.
He said it was one of many factors, and while the issue resonated with many urban voters, other factors influenced voters in rural areas.
"I don't deny 1MDB was a factor but there were others, such as the sweet promises made by Pakatan Harapan," Najib said.
In March, 2015 however, Najib said that Low had no involvement with 1MDB and that all decisions and transactions were made by the company's management and board of directors, which he chaired.
"Low Taek Jho has never worked in 1MDB, and all decisions and transactions are made by the company's management and board of directors," Najib said in a written reply to Wangsa Maju MP Datuk Dr Tan Kee Kwong in Parliament.