KUALA LUMPUR: A special task force, formed to probe allegations that millions of dollars were channelled into Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak's bank accounts, announced on Tuesday (Jul 7) that a freeze order was issued for six accounts linked to the case.
On Saturday (Jul 4), Malaysia’s Attorney-General Abdul Gani Patail confirmed the receipt of documents linked to allegations US$700 million was channelled into the suspected personal bank accounts of Prime Minister Najib, through entities linked to state investment firm 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).
In a joint statement, the task force, consisting of the Attorney-General, Malaysia’s central bank Bank Negara, the Royal Malaysian Police Force and the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission, stated it had ordered that six accounts be frozen.
It also seized documents from 17 accounts at two banks to aid investigations and seized documents linked to the banks' non-compliance with Bank Negara regulations.
The special taskforce has 6 bank accounts frozen,documents related to 17 accounts from 2 banks seized to facilitate investigations #1MDB— Sumisha Naidu (@sumishanaidu) July 7, 2015
The statement did not specify whose bank accounts were frozen.
Former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, who was once Mr Najib's patron and remains highly influential, weighed into the scandal on Tuesday, saying Mr Najib had shamed Malaysia. "Truly, the one who shamed the country is Najib with his 1MDB. Prior to this, the country has never been insulted by unanswered allegations, unlike now," Mahathir said in a blog.
Malaysia's longest-serving prime minister has repeatedly demanded Mr Najib account for the disappearance of billions of dollars borrowed by state fund 1MDB, or resign.
Prime Minister Najib is also facing mounting pressure to take a leave of absence pending the investigations, including from opposition members of parliament and civil society groups, who had called for an emergency meeting on Tuesday.
Opposition lawmakers accused authorities of blocking the planned meeting in parliament to discuss the allegations against Mr Najib, which threaten to become the biggest political crisis in the country's history.
About 100 lawmakers, activists and lawyers were prevented from entering a meeting room in parliament, and were left sitting on the steps outside the building in downtown Kuala Lumpur. Officials said the room had been double booked, and was being used by the Youth and Sports Ministry.
"It's fairly obvious what the authorities are doing. They are in cahoots to stop any discussion about the allegations the prime minister is facing," said Tony Pua, a lawmaker from the Democratic Action Party (DAP).
Democratic Action Party stalwart Lim Kit Siang called for a Royal Commission of Inquiry into the matter, while fellow opposition figure Lim Guan Eng demanded 1MDB and Mr Najib’s assets be frozen immediately.
Also in attendance was electoral reform activist Ambiga Sreenevasan, who urged the prime minister to step aside immediately in order to facilitate investigations. "The reason why a leave of absence is important is because you have an ongoing investigation. You cannot have the subject matter as the leader of the country, you will not get an impartial investigation," said former bar council president Ambiga Sreenevasan.
She also called for the set-up of a caretaker government pending a national election to be held within a year. Others were less patient - they wanted to rally the people to take to the streets in a bid to remove the prime minister.
Hishammuddin Rais, a political and social activist, said: "We must take action! The streets are our only way. Before we head for elections, we go to the streets first."
Meanwhile, opposition parliamentary chief Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail wants the central bank governor and the attorney general to come clean. She is seeking a special sitting in parliament so that they can explain to lawmakers.
"Bank Negara's governor must come and explain to the Attorney-General as well. Even though he's appointed by the prime minister, he is answerable to the nation," she added.
A group of student leaders earlier urged Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin to pressure Mr Najib to go on leave, saying Mr Muhyiddin should take over until investigations into corruption allegations against Mr Najib are complete. The call came from the student council of the International Islamic University Malaysia.
Meanwhile, members of Mr Najib's party, the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), have closed ranks behind the prime minister, who had already been on a back foot over the mismanagement of 1MDB and his handling of the economy.
1MDB, whose advisory board is chaired by Mr Najib, has debts of nearly US$11.6 billion. Even before the Wall Street Journal report, it was the subject of separate investigations by the central bank, auditor general, police and the parliament's Public Accounts Committee.
The Wall Street Journal, citing documents from a government investigation, said there were five deposits into Najib's account. It said the two largest transactions, worth US$620 million and US$61 million, were made in 2013 from a company registered in the British Virgin Islands via a Swiss bank.
Mr Najib has called the allegations "political sabotage", and he is still considering suing the paper.
On Monday, Mr Najib said he would "strive to seek the truthful path" to rebut all allegations against his leadership. He said he was thankful for the support given by UMNO leaders and PAS spiritual leader Haron Din who dismissed allegations on several issues relating to 1MDB as absurd.
"I did not betray the people, I will find ways to uphold the truth. Be calm, the truth will prevail," he said when opening Sekolah Menengah Imtiaz Yayasan Terengganu Besut and launching the Al-Syahadah Al-Ulya Ulul Albab programme.
Mr Najib urged the people to be calm and united in refuting all allegations against the government and the country's leaders despite their different political affiliations. According to him, to build a progressive civilisation, the people of a country should not be divided.
Meanwhile, he said the developed nations would not belittle the country if the people had the strength in their faith and piety to lay the foundation for an even greater civilisation. He said to produce an 'ulul albab' (thinking) generation in the country not only required a generation of physical strength but also mental capability.
"We should not only be individually strong but there must be strength from the faith to produce a great civilisation on par with countries more developed than us today," he said.