Transparency urges foreign pressure on Malaysia over scandal

KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia is lurching toward autocracy as the government moves to silence allegations of massive graft linked to the prime minister, Transparency International said Tuesday, calling for international pressure to prevent a cover-up.

"Transparency International is concerned that Malaysia is moving rapidly towards autocracy and disregarding its international commitments to fight corruption," the global anti-graft group's Asia-Pacific director Srirak Plipat said in a statement.

Prime Minister Najib Razak has faced months of pressure over allegations that vast sums had been pilfered from state firms, and for accepting a mysterious US$681 million (S$953 million) sum described as a "personal donation".

He responded by sacking his attorney general and other critics in his leadership, bringing Malaysian investigations to a halt.

The current Najib-appointed attorney general last month abruptly cleared his boss over the "donation" and said recently he would seek to tighten laws to prevent leaks of "state secrets".

Malaysian anti-corruption crusaders allege that perhaps billions of dollars were skimmed off complex overseas transactions centring on 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), a now debt-strapped investment company founded by Najib.

Authorities in the United States, Britain, Switzerland, Singapore and Hong Kong are reported to be investigating.

"We need the international community to come together to ensure that Malaysia responds to the ongoing investigations into the misappropriation of government funds... and does not try to cover up any wrongdoing," Plipat said.

Plipat added that foreign probes may be the only way "to shine a desperately needed light on what has really gone on in the case".

The Swiss attorney-general's office last month said it believed US$4 billion had been looted from Malaysian state companies, and called for Malaysian government help in investigations.

Singapore recently announced it had seized a "large number of bank accounts" linked to the scandal.

Najib is not yet known to be implicated in any overseas probes.

He and 1MDB strongly deny that the US$681 million came from 1MDB and deny any wrongdoing.

His current attorney-general, Mohamed Apandi Ali, says the payment was a legal "personal donation" from the Saudi royal family, an explanation widely ridiculed in Malaysia.