KUALA LUMPUR: Former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad's backing for his once bitter foe Anwar Ibrahim is motivated by his desire to escape criminal prosecution, said Prime Minister Najib Razak in an official statement on Friday night (Jul 7).
Najib's statement was in response to Dr Mahathir's interview with the Guardian in which he called for the release of jailed opposition leader Anwar, and added that he would have no objection to him becoming prime minister.
According to Najib, Mahathir's support for Anwar is driven by his "deep concern" about the government's decision to form a Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) set up to investigate a multi-billion-dollar foreign exchange scandal when Dr Mahathir was premier.
"As Mahathir knows well, Anwar cannot legally contest, so this U-turn is not about the coming general election ... Mahathir knows that the RCI findings could lead to criminal prosecution, so he cannot afford to have individuals highly relevant to the case such as Anwar testifying against him," said Najib.
A Malaysian goverment taskforce said last month that it had found evidence of a possible cover-up when two decades ago, Bank Negara Malaysia suffered losses during a foray into currency trading.
Najib added that it was "ironic that Mahathir now needs Anwar, the man he sacked and jailed".
He added that Dr Mahathir's endorsement of Anwar comes after 20 years of Mahathir "vilifying him and using every possible means at his disposal to eliminate Anwar from the political process, including arresting him under the now-repealed Internal Security Act, prosecuting and jailing him and a sustained campaign to attack his moral character".
Anwar was once a protege of Dr Mahathir, and the rising star of Malaysian politics, but they fell out in the late 1990s.
Soon afterwards, Anwar was jailed for the first time on charges of sodomy and graft, after being sacked as the deputy prime minister. He denied the charges, dismissing them as politically motivated.
MAHATHIR 'OBSESSED' IN MAKING HIS SON PM: NAJIB
Najib added that Mahathir's "crusade" is motivated by "selfish personal interest" and that he is"obsessed" in making his son Mukhriz Mahathir prime minister.
"Mahathir demanded Tun Abdullah Badawi resign as prime minister, now demands my resignation, and will demand my successor resigns until his son becomes prime minister – whatever the cost to Malaysia," said Najib.
Mukhriz, who was former chief minister for Kedah, was sacked in June 2016 from Malaysia's ruling party UMNO after calling for Najib to resign following allegations of graft and mismanagement at scandal-hit state fund 1 Malaysia Development Berhad.
The fund has become the subject of money laundering investigations in the United States, Singapore and at least four other countries.