Parliament panel summons officials for 1MDB probe

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has summoned top government officials for a highly anticipated hearing on the debt-laden 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) later this month.

The PAC, a bipartisan parliamentary committee, is going ahead with its own probe of the troubled state investment agency, despite the Cabinet's instructions for the panel to wait for the findings of the Auditor-General.

Several sources told The Straits Times that top civil servants and 1MDB executives to be questioned from May 18 include the Secretary-General of the Ministry of Finance (MOF) and the Director-General of the Economic Planning Unit (EPU), which comes under the Prime Minister's Office. They report to Prime Minister Najib Razak, who is also Finance Minister and chairs 1MDB's advisory board.

1MDB has been mired in controversy since the end of last year after it was revealed that it had racked up RM42 billion (S$15.5 billion) in debt - over a third of which is guaranteed by taxpayers. A close associate of Mr Najib has been accused of siphoning off close to RM4 billion from 1MDB.

"Just begun calling the EPU and MOF. After that, it will be Shahrol and Arul Kanda," a source told The Straits Times. Datuk Shahrol Halmi was the chief executive of 1MDB from 2009 to 2013 and now sits on its board, while Mr Arul Kanda Kandasamy has been running the company since January as president and executive director.

Recent local media reports said auditors who verified 1MDB's accounts and even central bank officials may have to testify.

In March, Auditor-General Ambrin Buang was instructed to investigate 1MDB over reports of abuse of public funds and its inability to pay debts, despite claiming RM51 billion in assets. Tan Sri Ambrin said on March 10 that he had begun his audit, but offered no deadline.

The PAC, made up of both government and opposition MPs, is given free rein to conduct investigations and demand testimony related to the use of public funds.

Amid growing pressure from critics, including former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, Mr Najib has insisted that any abuse of power in the company would be punished.

This article was first published on May 6, 2015.
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