PUTRAJAYA: Malaysia's former prime minister Najib Razak will likely not be "around" for the next general election, says Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who expects him to be charged with embezzlement, corruption and a "lot of other things".
In an exclusive interview with Channel NewsAsia, the 92-year-old "comeback" Malaysian prime minister spoke of the fate that awaits his former protege now that his government is in power and is backing investigations into controversial state investment firm 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).
Asked if Najib will be there for the next polls, which have to be called five years from now, Dr Mahathir told Channel NewsAsia's Conversation With that he did not think so.
"I think whatever it is, the decision (to charge him) has to be made now."
NAJIB ANOTHER ANWAR?
The heat is certainly on the former prime minister, who has repeatedly denied wrongdoing. Since stepping down as leader of his party and coalition following their first defeat in more than 60 years, Najib has urged supporters to stay strong despite the "personal attacks".
The tale of former protege turned "persecuted nemesis" bears similarities to Anwar Ibrahim's falling out with Dr Mahathir. In the 1990s, the then-deputy prime minister was sacked by his former mentor and was sent to jail soon after on charges he blamed Mahathir for.
In Anwar's case, the perceived wrongdoings against him helped create the strongest opposition the country has ever had at the time. His former coalition, Pakatan Rakyat, was the predecessor to Pakatan Harapan which Dr Mahathir now leads.
But Dr Mahathir said he believed the allegations against Najib are different.
"The case is clearer ... the whole election was based on this accusation," he said.
“So people are not going to say, well, we are persecuting this man and all that. They know of the wrong things that he has done. Their worry is that he might escape ... good lawyers might get him off the hook.”
Dr Mahathir became a vocal critic of Najib in 2015 after news broke of his alleged involvement in the misappropriation of millions of dollars from 1MDB.
It was his disdain for the man he once backed as prime minister that pushed him to leave the United Malays National Organisation and join the then-opposition's successful but unprecedented bid for power.
"(There's been a) disappearance of huge sums of money and then the appearance of money inside his account and all that," he said on Monday.
"All these things point towards a criminal act ... but on the other hand, if you want to go to the court, you must be able to prove (this) every step of the way."
The prime minister says four agencies are looking into Najib's alleged crimes and then it is up to the new attorney-general to "make out a good case before going to the courts".
“A REPUTATION FOR CORRUPTION”
Dr Mahathir's new government says it has been plagued by the corruption of the past administration, which has contributed to debts and liabilities exceeding US$251 billion.
The new leaders have set up task forces to probe 1MDB with key officials replaced and even the central bank governor resigning for being implicated in the scandal. Thousands of "political appointees" are also facing the sack.
"Because they are at times involved in corruption and mismanagement of government funds, we need to move them out," he said.
"It's not a question of just because they may support the previous government that we are removing them ... it’s because of the wrongdoings."
Dr Mahathir admitted, however, that corruption existed during his first time in office too, between 1981 to 2003.
"I must admit that corruption is something that is prevalent in any government, including the time when I was prime minister," he said.
"But of course, the level was not so high. But when the prime minister is believed to be corrupt, then you find all down the line, people tend to be well, less careful about whether what they do is right or wrong ... So, it has happened much more during Najib’s time because he himself is known worldwide as being corrupt and has been taking government money."
What then, does Dr Mahathir believe he is known for?
"I don't know ... when I was previously prime minister, people called me a dictator, they called me by nasty names and all that," he responded.
"I never thought it was justified ... Even if it had been justified, I don’t think the opposition would then accept me as their leader.
"But normally, when you are in power, people will have to demonise you, whether you are right or wrong, they have to demonise you, in order to fight against you."
He dismissed allegations he practised cronyism too.
"If you investigate, you will find that I have a need to make corrections about the disparities within the community and to do that, I had to find people who are capable," he said.
"If you give a project to somebody who is incapable, it’s not going to succeed ... So you find people who are capable, and we give projects to them. Then of course, I was labelled as practising cronyism."
ALTANTUYA MURDER REOPENED
For Najib, however, the scandals dogging him are wide-ranging - including being linked to a Mongolian woman found dead in a jungle clearing in 2006. Altantuya Shaariibuu is believed to have been a translator on a controversial French submarine deal during Najib's time as Defence Minister.
Two former police chiefs were convicted of the crime, accused of blowing up her body with military-grade explosives - but a motive was never determined.
Malaysian police reopened investigations into this 12-year-old mystery this month but Dr Mahathir was cautious when commenting on Najib's alleged connection.
"All we know about the Altantuya, case as stated by the father, is that he thought the hearing was not fair," he said.
"Normally, when somebody says that I was instructed to do something, the next question is who instructed you. But somehow or other, the court did not stress on that.
"So, the father was dissatisfied and I think the police and the attorney-general, only if they have sufficient evidence of some failure of the legal process, then they can have another hearing."
Najib has denied any involvement in or knowledge of the case.
To watch the full interview, tune in to Conversation With on Thursday (Jun 28) at 9.30pm (SIN/HK).