Malaysia’s new Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad made good his campaign pledge when he set up a task force to probe allegations that billions of dollars were looted from sovereign wealth fund 1MDB in an audacious fraud overseen by ousted ex-leader Najib Razak.
Mahathir led a reformist alliance to a shock victory at the May 9 polls over Najib’s coalition, which had governed Malaysia uninterrupted for over six decades.
A major reason for their success was public disgust at allegations of endemic corruption among the country’s ruling elite, and in particular an explosive scandal surrounding state fund 1MDB.
The fund, 1Malaysia Development Berhad, was set up in 2009 ostensibly to promote the development of the Malaysian economy.
But it is alleged that Najib, his family and cronies looted the investment vehicle in a massive fraud stretching from the Cayman Islands to New York, with stolen funds used to buy everything from real estate to artworks.
Mahathir — who first served as premier from 1981-2003 and came out of retirement to take on corruption-mired Najib — had pledged to reopen probes into 1MDB.
The special task force will be charged with seizing back assets and pursuing legal action against those suspected of breaking the law in relation to the fund, said the prime minister’s office.
“The government hopes the setting up of this task force, comprising a multi-agency enforcement unit, will help restore the dignity of Malaysia that has been tainted by the 1MDB kleptocracy scandal,” said a statement from the office.
The task force will include representatives of the anti-graft agency, the police and the attorney-general’s office, as well as members of a previous task force set up under Najib but disbanded as speculation mounted he was due to be charged.
Heading the body is Abdul Gani Patail, the former attorney-general who was removed from his post in 2015 as he was leading investigations into 1MDB.
Its work will include reaching out to law enforcement agencies in other countries, including the US, Switzerland, Singapore and Canada, according to a statement from Mahathir’s office.
Huge sums of money from the fund are believed to have been funnelled round the world in a complex web of transactions.
Najib and 1MDB have consistently denied any wrongdoing.
Police have already launched raids on properties linked to the toppled leader as they probe the fraud, seizing a huge stash of handbags and suitcases stuffed with cash, but Najib insisted at the weekend he had not stolen public money.