Earlier this week, Malaysia’s top prosecutor Attorney General Mohamed Apandi Ali cleared PM Najib Razak of any wrongdoing in connection with some $681 million that landed in his bank account back in 2013.
The money was “a personal donation” from the Saudis, the investigation found and no further information was necessary. That, we said, was unlikely to satisfy critics.
Critics like former PM Mahathir Mohamad, the “founding father” of modern Malaysia who has a series of questions about the alleged “donation” including the following:
- "It seems there was a letter by a Saudi stating that a sum of US$681 million or RM2.08 billion was a donation for the PM’s contribution to the fight against Islamic terrorists. Who is this Arab?”
- “How does he have the huge sum of money to give away?”
- “What is his business?”
- “What is his bank?”
- “How was the money transferred?”
- “What documents prove these?”
- “Just a letter from a deceased person or some non-entity is enough for the A-G?"
All good questions and questions that we suggested will likely never be answered.
As a reminder, all of this stems from multiple investigations into 1MDB, Malaysia's controversial development fund that many say functions as a slush fund for the PM and other corrupt politicians.
1MDB was set up by Najib in 2009 and owes some $11 billion thanks in no small part to a series of bond deals arranged by Goldman banker Tim Leissner, whose wife Kimora Lee is close friends with Najib's wife Rosmah Manso. Those deals were quite lucrative for Goldman. Leissner effectively bought the bonds for the bank's own books at 90 cents on the dollar. That discount amounted to a hefty underwriting fee.
This week, we learned that Leissner is taking a "personal leave" and will relocate from Singapore (through which the "donation" from the Saudis flowed) to Los Angeles.
In the latest news out of the 1MDB saga, "Switzerland's chief prosecutor said on Friday a criminal investigation into state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) had revealed that about $4 billion appeared to have been misappropriated from Malaysian state companies," Reuters reports.
The Swiss have been poking around 1MDB for months. Back in August of 2015, Swiss authorities started looking into the state entity for suspected corruption of public foreign officials, dishonest management of public interests and money laundering.
"The office of Swiss Attorney General Michael Lauber said it had formally asked Malaysia to help with its probes into possible violations of Swiss laws related to bribery of foreign officials, misconduct in public office, money laundering and criminal mismanagement at the fund," Reuters goes on to note, adding that "Lauber's office said a small portion of the apparently misappropriated money had been transferred to accounts held in Switzerland by former Malaysian public officials and current and former public officials from the United Arab Emirates."
That's not surprising. Recall that there's a convoluted series of transactions at issue with 1MDB including disputed collateral payments to a subsidiary of an Abu Dhabi sovereign wealth fund and an opaque relationship with PetroSaudi, an oil venture run by a Saudi prince.
"The four cases of suspected criminal conduct related to former 1MDB subsidiary SRC International, Petrosaudi, Genting/Tanjong and ADMIC between 2009 and 2013, it said," Reuters adds.
"The criminal investigation conducted by the Attorney General found serious evidence of embezzlement to the detriment of companies in the Malaysian state," a statement from the Swiss AG's office reads. "The amount of the allegedly misappropriated funds amounted to approximately $ 4 billion, whose purpose is the subject of further study."
Yes, the "purpose" of the $4 billion that apparently ended up in several Swiss bank accounts is "the purpose of further study," and you can be sure that the Najib government isn't likely to be especially helpful despite AG Apandi's contention that Malaysia is "keen to establish all the facts about 1MDB."
Recall that the Swiss proceedings are in connection with an investigation into "persons unknown."
Those "persons" weren't named on Friday but we'll be interested to discover whether any of the accused work for the world's most influential financial institution and more importantly, which Malaysian authorities skimmed $4 billion from an entity designed to benefit the Malaysian public.
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Full statement from Swiss AG office
As part of the proceedings initiated on 14 August 2015 criminal proceedings against two former directors and officers of the Malaysian sovereign wealth fund 1MDB (1Malaysia Development Berhad) and Unknown for bribery of foreign public officials (Art. 322septies Criminal Code), unfaithful administration (Article 314 of the Criminal Code.) , money laundering (Art. 305 bis of the Criminal Code) and unfaithful agency (Art. 158 of the Criminal Code) has asked the Malaysian authorities niches for mutual legal assistance the federal prosecutor. The cooperation of these two countries has already been discussed at the meeting in Zurich on 15 September 2015 between the Federal Public Prosecutor of Switzerland and the Malaysian Attorney General. Letters rogatory is now a concretization of the agreement in principle taken within the framework of this meeting.
The criminal investigation conducted by the Attorney General found serious evidence of embezzlement to the detriment of companies in the Malaysian state. The alleged embezzlement concerns funds which would have been determined for the economic and social development of Malaysia. So far, in this context, four criminally relevant facts (relating to Petro Audi, SRC, Genting / Tanjong and ADMIC) known in the between 2009 and 2013 there are in each case a systematic approach using a sophisticated financial construct.
The amount of the allegedly misappropriated funds amounted to approximately $ 4 billion, whose purpose is the subject of further study. So far, has already been determined that a small part of this money was transferred to accounts of various former Malaysian officials in Switzerland as well as to former or current officials of the United Arab Emirates UAE. So far, the affected Malaysian companies have, however, taken no position on the alleged damage suffered. The purpose of this request for judicial assistance is therefore to make these companies and the Malaysian government attention to the findings in the Swiss criminal proceedings to determine whether such damage has been suffered. Letters rogatory will be presented to the competent authorities in Malaysia niches the next few days.
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Full statement from Malaysia AG office
1. I note the statement issued by the Office of the Attorney-General of Switzerland, and further remarks attributed to the Swiss Attorney-General by an American newspaper, concerning an investigation into two former officials of 1MDB.
2. I and the relevant Malaysian authorities are keen to establish all the facts about 1MDB that have led to recent allegations against the company. That is why a number of investigations - including by the Public Affairs Committee, the Royal Malaysian Police, and the Auditor General’s Department - are currently on-going.
3. The Malaysian authorities, including the Attorney-General's Chambers, are committed to working with all relevant foreign law enforcement entities through the applicable international conventions and agreements. Similarly, 1MDB has from the outset cooperated with the enquiries.
4. Regarding the recent public statement by the Office of the Attorney-General of Switzerland, my office intends to take all possible steps to follow up and collaborate with our Swiss counterparts, and we look forward to receiving the findings of their investigations and materials through the normal channels. These materials will then be reviewed, alongside the findings of other relevant authorities and our own investigations, to determine the appropriate course of action.
5. Contrary to recent media reports, the investigations into donations that were made to the Prime Minister are entirely separate to those into 1MDB. The Attorney-General's Chambers exhaustively reviewed the report provided by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission and, as has been announced, found no evidence of wrong-doing and hence have instructed for the cases to be closed.
6. Any attempt by media organisations to conflate the two sets of investigations is irresponsible and prejudicial.