Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak is no stranger to media attention and is not usually one to shy away from cameras.
But his highly-touted meeting with US president Donald Trump at the White House yesterday appeared to be rather short when it came to camera time.
Unlike Trump’s other meetings with heads of governments, there was no handshake photo-op with Najib before the media, perhaps to avoid journalists shouting pesky questions.
The only images of Najib in the US president’s office appears to be from the official White House media.
Likewise, the duo also opted not to have a customary joint press conference at either the East Room or the Rose Garden.
Instead, a joint press statement was made following their meeting at the Cabinet Room, in which journalists were not allowed to ask questions.
Malaysiakini understands that the White House press corps was informed before Najib’s arrival that there would be no press conference following the meeting.
The controlled media exposure of the meeting was likely to avoid any awkward questions from the media on the US investigations into the 1MDB scandal.
Najib’s critics believe the prime minister had sought a meeting with Trump to ease pressure from the probes led by the US Department of Justice (DOJ) as well as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
Despite the lack of media access and scathing US press coverage before and after the meeting, Najib may have still pulled off a successful public relations coup.
He can return home with a White House photo of him and Trump shaking hands with smiles all around to show Malaysians that despite his alleged involvement in one of the world’s biggest financial scandal, he was welcomed by the US president.
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At a press conference after the meeting, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told journalists that she was “unaware” whether the DOJ probe was discussed at the meeting.
Sanders was also asked whether it was appropriate for Najib to stay in Trump International Hotel, which is owned by US president, when the Malaysian prime minister is under investigation by DOJ.
“We certainly don’t book their hotel accommodations, so I couldn’t speak to the personal decision they made about where to stay here in DC,” she said.
The DOJ has alleged that billions in 1MDB funds had been stolen and misappropriated.
Among the allegations include an unnamed Malaysian Official 1 (MO1) receiving US$731 million diverted from 1MDB.
Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Abdul Rahman Dahlan last year confirmed that MO1 was Najib.
However, he stressed the fact Najib was not named in the DOJ filing showed that the prime minister was not a subject of investigation.
Najib has denied misappropriating public funds for personal gain, and attorney-general Mohamed Apandi Ali has cleared him of any wrongdoing related to 1MDB.