Malaysia’s Najib goes quietly, sunk by scandal
11 May 2018

In the end, Najib Razak gave up without a fuss, the first prime minister of Malaysia ever to lose a general election.

After a bruising campaign in which he traded barbs and insults with his former mentor, Mahathir Mohamad, Najib’s Barisan Nasional coalition was trounced in Wednesday’s poll.

“Of course there will be a change,” the 64-year-old said while conceding defeat at a news conference on Thursday, his voice catching with emotion. “My friends and I are fortunate to have led the country this far.”

Najib is the son of Malaysia’s second prime minister and a nephew of the third. He himself was the sixth leader of the Southeast Asian nation since it gained independence from Britain six decades ago.

An England-trained economist with a penchant for well-tailored suits and pocket squares, Najib may however be remembered most for a multi-billion-dollar scandal at Malaysia’s state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).

News broke in 2015 that about $700 million allegedly stolen from 1MDB had made its way into his personal bank accounts. He has denied any wrongdoing and has been cleared by Malaysia’s attorney-general even as U.S. authorities allege that over $4.5 billion was stolen from the fund in a fraud orchestrated by a financier known to be close to Najib and his family.

U.S. Attorney-General Jeff Sessions called the 1MDB scandal “kleptocracy at its worst” and the fund is the subject of money-laundering investigations in at least six countries, including Switzerland, Singapore and the United States.

Filings by the U.S. Justice Department in a civil lawsuit indicated nearly $30 million of the money stolen was used to buy jewelry for the prime minister’s wife, Rosmah, including a rare 22-carat pink diamond set in a necklace.

Other assets bought with the misappropriated funds included a Picasso painting that was given to actor Leonardo DiCaprio and the rights to two Hollywood films.

The scale of the scandal, and other corruption linked to Najib, was a major factor in his defeat, political analysts said.

– By Praveen Menon, additional reporting by Rozanna Latiff; Reuters, 10 May 2018

Link to Reuters.

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