Malaysian authorities barred ousted Prime Minister Najib Razak and his wife from leaving the country on Saturday, amid reports that the government was reopening investigations into a multi-billion-dollar graft scandal at a state fund he founded.
The order by immigration authorities came minutes after Najib announced in a Facebook post that he and his wife, Rosmah Mansor, were taking a week-long holiday overseas to rest after his thumping defeat inÂ Wednesdayâ€™sÂ general election.
â€œThe Malaysian Immigration Department would like to confirm that Najib Razak and Rosmah Mansor have just been blacklisted from leaving the country,â€ the agency said on its official Facebook page. It gave no reason.
Moments later again, Najib said in a Twitter message that he would respect the decision and would remain in the country.
Questions about Najibâ€™s whereabouts were answered when he appeared at a meeting of his United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) to announce that he was stepping down as the partyâ€™s president and as chairman of the Barisan Nasional, the alliance dominated by UMNO that has ruled Malaysia for six decades.
â€œWe all feel sad about what happened but as a party that upholds democratic principles, we accept the peopleâ€™s decision,â€ he said, adding that his former deputy Ahmad Zahid Hamidi would take over as head of UMNO.
Two sources told ReutersÂ on FridayÂ that new Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad planned to reopen investigations into a graft scandal at state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) that has plagued Najib since 2015.
Mahathir would appoint a finance ministry adviser to â€œrestart the 1MDB probe and bring back the moneyâ€, said one source, who worked closely with his campaign team. The second source, a lawmaker, said the announcement could be madeÂ on SaturdayÂ when Mahathir names members of his new cabinet.
Earlier, dozens of people – mostly journalists – gathered at an airport near Kuala Lumpur from where Najib and his wife were reported to be leaving for the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, and tried to look into cars entering the complex.
Reports widely circulated on social media and local media said the couple were named on the flight manifest of a private jet scheduled to depart for Jakarta atÂ 10:00 a.m.Â (0200 GMT).
But police later said there was no flight due to leave the Sultan Abdul Aziz Shah Airport with Najib.
Najib, 64, lost this weekâ€™s general election to an alliance headed by Mahathir, his mentor-turned-rival, at least partly because of popular disgust over the 1MDB scandal.
Mahathir, who was the countryâ€™s premier for 22 years and was sworn in again as prime ministerÂ on Thursday, said he would not be looking for a scapegoat in the scandal.
â€œWe are not seeking revenge,â€ he said. â€œWhat we want is to restore the rule of law … if the law says that Najib has done something wrong, then he will have to face the consequences.â€
News broke in 2015 that about $700 million allegedly stolen from 1MDB had made its way into Najibâ€™s personal bank accounts.
He denied any wrongdoing and was cleared by Malaysiaâ€™s attorney-general, even as US authorities alleged 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.
US Attorney-General Jeff Sessions called the 1MDB scandal â€œkleptocracy at its worstâ€ 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 US Justice Department in a civil lawsuit indicated nearly $30 million of the money stolen was used to buy jewellery for Rosmah, including a rare 22-carat pink diamond set in a necklace.
In a Twitter messageÂ on Friday, Najib said he was praying that, â€œafter this divisive periodâ€, Malaysia would unite.