KUALA LUMPUR: A fresh Wall Street Journal (WSJ) report citing bank transaction records claimed Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak spent lavishly on luxury goods overseas, using funds diverted from state-investment fund 1MDB. However, his press secretary slammed the report, saying it is biased and “based on false information” fed by sources close to former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.
According to the WSJ report on Thursday (Mar 31), Mr Najib’s personal expenses between 2011 and 2014 included US$15 million spent on clothes, jewellery and a car at stores in the US, Europe and Malaysia.
WSJ alleged that the Prime Minister spent about US$14 million at one luxury Malay clothing retailer as well as €750,000 at a jewellery store in Italy. His wife Rosmah Mansor was a client of the jewellers at a different branch, the report claimed.
Ms Rosmah has a reputation in Malaysia for a purportedly high-end lifestyle, and has made the headlines over claims of excessive spending.
The report also suggested some of this spending was made using a credit card linked to one of several private bank accounts at the centre of a corruption scandal.
Mr Najib has been engulfed in an ongoing controversy after revelations that about US$700 million was deposited into his personal bank accounts ahead of the 2013 general elections.
The sum has since been described as political donations from the Saudi royal family and Mr Najib was found not guilty of any criminal wrongdoing by the country's attorney-general.
The Prime Minister has also maintained his innocence, insisting no money was used for personal gain.
However, WSJ reported the investigation documents it had obtained showed more than US$1 billion entered five accounts belonging to Mr Najib between 2011 and 2015.
In response to the new allegations, state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), whose advisory board is chaired by Mr Najib, questioned the timing of the report and the lack of "concrete evidence" provided.
"1MDB has consistently maintained that it has not paid any funds to the personal accounts of the Prime Minister," its statement read.
"Following extensive investigations, this has been corroborated by multiple lawful authorities, who have confirmed that these funds came from Saudi Arabia."
NAZIR RAZAK IMPLICATED
The latest report by WSJ also revealed that Mr Najib’s brother Nazir Razak had “confirmed” his receipt of nearly US$7 million from the prime minister ahead of the 2013 general elections.
Mr Nazir, who is also the chairperson of CIMB Group Holdings, told WSJ that the money was disbursed by CIMB bank staff to ruling-party politicians, according to the instructions of party leaders.
He said he believed the money originated "with donations he had helped raise from Malaysian corporations and individuals for the elections", the newspaper reported. It is unclear if the "he" refers to Mr Nazir or Mr Najib.
“I had no knowledge whatsoever that these funds may have originated from any other source(s),” Mr Nazir said in a statement quoted by WSJ.
“The entire amount was paid out in cash to various recipients according to the instructions of the party president and the account was closed with a zero balance.”
WSJ REPORTING BASED ON FALSE INFORMATION: NAJIB SPOKESMAN
Following the WSJ's report on Thursday, PM Najib's press secretary released the following statement:
"Today, for the first time, the Wall Street Journal has been forced to admit that at least some of the funds donated to the Prime Minister came from Saudi Arabia.
For nearly a year, the WSJ denied that the funds came from Saudi Arabia, and attacked all those who suggested otherwise.
This included the Attorney General who, after reviewing the exhaustive investigations and examining all the evidence – including wire transfers and interviews with the Royal Family – confirmed that the funds were a donation from the Royal Family of Saudi Arabia.
Neither the confirmation from lawful Malaysian authorities, nor the Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia, nor reputable outlets such as the BBC and Daily Telegraph, was enough to make the WSJ stop their attacks or denials that any of the funds had come from Saudi Arabia.
This exposed the bias in the WSJ's reporting, and made clear that their coverage was not driven by an impartial desire to cover the facts. Instead, their reporting was based on false information they were willingly fed by Tun Mahathir's Anti-Najib Campaign.
Maybe it's their embarrassment that stops them accepting the facts in full. Namely, as the Prime Minister has always maintained, the funds were a donation from Saudi Arabia – as the evidence shows.
However, today is a small step towards the WSJ admitting that they have been wrong all along – and that they were wrong to base their reporting on unnamed and anonymous sources who have never been revealed and may not even exist."
The spokesman's statement refers to a paragraph in WSJ’s latest report that mentioned “transfers from a person in Saudi Arabia and from the country’s finance ministry”.
However, the WSJ report said the two transactions worth US$200 million occurred in 2011 and 2012, contradicting the Malaysian Attorney-General's finding that the Saudi royal family made a legal donation of US$681 million to Mr Najib in 2013.