KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia's former prime minister and finance minister Najib Razak is fully responsible for the problems plaguing 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), says Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng.
In an interview with Channel NewsAsia's Conversation With, Lim said he personally believed the former advisor to 1MDB was liable for the billions of dollars of debts faced by the "insolvent" state investment firm.
He said the "nexus is clear" based on what he's uncovered so far since taking office in May.
"I would personally think that he is fully responsible," Lim said. "Only the finance minister can authorise these transactions. Of course, this is a matter for the investigative panel to decide, and if they think that charges are necessary, for the court to decide.
"So much as I feel that the buck stops at the former finance minister’s desk, we let investigation and due process take its course."
Najib is currently being investigated by anti-graft officials over allegations millions of dollars had been misappropriated from 1MDB, with police raiding residences linked to him and his family over the past few weeks.
He was cleared of wrongdoing by Attorney-General Apandi Ali, who was recently dismissed, but investigations were revived when the Mahathir Mohamad-led Pakatan Harapan government came into power on May 9.
Lim, however, denied there was any personal vendetta driving him or Mahathir - a fierce critic of his former protege, Najib, even when they were still in the same party.
"If there is a personal vendetta, he would have been arrested immediately. There are a lot of laws that would allow us to arrest him immediately but that has not been done," he said.
"Because we want to follow due process, we want to follow rule of law. And if there's any evidence that he should be charged, he would go to court."
"WE NEVER EXPECTED IT TO BE THAT BAD"
1MDB has been blamed for contributing to Malaysia's debt and liabilities exceeding US$251 billion - higher than what was disclosed by Najib's government, according to Mahathir's administration.
Lim said: "To be frank, I thought things would not be that good but we never expected it to be that bad.
"You know, the first file that they gave to me to sign was to pay 1MDB debts. Then I was thinking I was signing something that would benefit ordinary people. Instead, I have to sign the debt payment by the Malaysian government on behalf of 1MDB.
"Then I said, 'I'm not going to do that' ... The first document or the first approval that I sign, I don’t want it to be 1MDB. But I signed that later, of course."
The former Penang chief minister said he then discovered that the Malaysian government had already paid RM7 billion (US$1.7 billion) on behalf of 1MDB and up to RM50 billion is due in the years to come.
The new government is now focused on fiscal reform and anti-corruption measures, with many senior officials facing the sack or resigning in the process, including central bank governor Muhammad Ibrahim.
"We should feel fortunate that we are able to change the government now," Lim said.
"If the previous government is given another term, I think the RM1 trillion - that will become easily RM3 trillion. So by that time, nothing we do will be able to save the country.
"I would even think that we would be beyond salvation then."
Lim told Channel NewsAsia another major scandal "related to the finance ministry" would soon be unveiled to the public.
"We hope to uncover all these within a hundred days. So after that we can move on," he said.
"And I think that’s where the cleaning up begins ... once the stock-taking is done, the cleaning up is done, the detoxification is completed, Malaysia can get back on track again."
Watch the full interview on Conversation With, Thursday, Jun 21, at 9.30pm (SIN/HK).