The indebted state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad on Thursday challenged an American newspaper report alleging that money linked to 1MDB went into Prime Minister Najib Razak’s spending on lavish holidays, shopping and jewelry.
The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) on Thursday reported that Najib spent up to U.S. $15 million (58.1 million ringgit) on holidays and luxury goods at stores in the United States, Malaysia, Italy and elsewhere, based on a probe into his personal banking records.
“1MDB has consistently maintained that it has not paid any funds to the personal accounts of the Prime Minister,” 1MDB said in a statement responding to Thursday’s article in the Journal.
The state fund has been tied to financial scandals surrounding the prime minister. These have led to calls for his resignation since the Wall Street Journal first broke the story in July 2015 that nearly $700 million in 1MDB-linked money was deposited into Najib’s private bank accounts.
As of late Thursday (Kuala Lumpur time), the Prime Minister’s Office had not issued a statement in response to the article.
The money spent on holidays and shopping came out of private bank accounts in Najib’s name, into which, investigators believe, hundreds of millions of dollars were deposited since 2009 – much of it money originating from 1MDB – the Journal reported in its latest article, citing official investigative documents.
The Journal claimed Najib spent U.S. $130,625 (506,238 ringgits) at Chanel in Honolulu two days before a Christmas Eve golf match with U.S. President Barack Obama in 2014.
“The transaction in the Chanel store was paid for with a Visa card in Najib’s name, according to the Malaysian investigation documents. At first, the transaction didn’t go through and Najib, who was present, had to call his bank to approve the charge, said one of the people aware of the shopping trip,” the Journal reported.
According to its article, the money came from SRC International, a former unit of 1MDB, which Najib chairs.
“On the day Najib played golf with Obama, SRC International transferred a further U.S. $9 million (34.8 million ringgits) to the account via 1MDB’s corporate social responsibility arm. The money arrived the day after Christmas.”
In addition, the WSJ reported, documents showed that Malaysian luxury clothing retailer Jakel Trading Berhad received more than U.S. $14 million (54.2 million ringgit) from Najib between 2011 and 2014. Documents also showed a purchase U.S. $56,000 (216,834 ringgit) at a high-end car dealership in Kuala Lumpur on June 28, 2011.
Report names Najib’s brother
The WSJ report also claimed that Najib’s younger brother, CIMB Bank Chairman Nazir Razak, received U.S. $7 million (27.1 million ringgit) to be distributed among politicians ahead of Malaysia’s general election in 2013.
Nazir confirmed in a written statement that he did receive the sum, which was disbursed by the bank staff officials of the United Malays National Organization (UMNO) – the party that heads Malaysia’s ruling coalition – according to instructions from party leaders.
However, Nazir told WSJ, he believed the money was from donations that he helped raise from Malaysian corporations and individuals for the elections, but he was not sure of any other funding source.
“I had no knowledge whatsoever that these funds may have originated from any other source(s),” the WSJ report quoted Nazir as saying.
Najib maintains innocence
In January, Malaysian Attorney General Mohamed Apandi Ali announced that his office was closing investigations into the 1MDB-linked corruption scandals facing Najib, particularly one involving a deposit of U.S. $681 million into his private bank accounts before the 2013 election – as reported by the Journal in July.
Apandi said no criminal offense had been committed, that most of the money had been returned, and that it was a “personal donation” from Saudi Arabia’s royal family.
Najib has maintained he never took any of the money for private gain. But soon after news of the scandal broke in July, he sacked Abdul Gani Patail, the attorney general at the time who was heading an inter-agency task force probing that and other scandals associated with 1MDB.
On Thursday, 1MDB took a hard line against the latest Wall Street Journal report. Apart from repeating earlier denials that 1MDB never paid any money into Najib’s accounts, officials reiterated their earlier claim that the money came from Saudi Arabia.
“Despite this, the Wall Street Journal continues to repeat the same allegations, without providing any concrete evidence to justify these claims,” 1MDB said in a news release.