US President Donald Trump plans to meet Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, who is embroiled in a corruption scandal at home, on September 12 at the White House, officials from both countries confirmed on Thursday.
The US Justice Department has been conducting a criminal inquiry into 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), a fund founded by Najib, which is facing money-laundering investigations in at least six countries, including the United States, Switzerland and Singapore.
In civil lawsuits, the Justice Department has sought to seize a total of about US$1.7 billion in assets it says were bought with misappropriated 1MDB funds. The Malaysian leader has denied any wrongdoing.
Malaysia’s foreign ministry said in a statement that Najib will undertake the visit following an invitation from Trump.
The United States sees Najib as a key partner in its fight against radical Islamists.
But that image has been damaged recently after Najib was linked to the 1MDB scandal, and his party overtly supported right-wing groups for political gains ahead of the polls that must be held by mid-2018.
Trump looks forward to “discussing ways to strengthen and broaden our bilateral relationship and expand regional cooperation with one of America’s closest partners in Southeast Asia,” said a White House statement announcing Najib’s visit.
The men share a close bond. Najib is reportedly Trump’s “favourite prime minister” and are “golfing buddies”.
Relations between Malaysia and the United States soured last year after the Justice Department filed lawsuits in connection with the 1MDB scandal and Najib sought to strengthen ties with China.
US relations with Malaysia, which the United States sees as an important partner in standing up to China’s extensive territorial claims in East Asia, had improved under former President Barack Obama, who in 2014 became the first US president to visit the country in 50 years.
Najib was a key ally in Obama’s strategic pivot to Asia, and was part of the collapsed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) pact.
Chinese President Xi Jinping is also expected to visit Malaysia in the coming months, local media reports said, although this has not been officially confirmed.