THE US attorney-general may have described money stolen from 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) as “kleptocracy at its worst” but in the world of Malay ruling party Umno, it is baseless slander.
Party leaders and grassroots members The Malaysian Insight spoke to at the Umno general assembly today questioned whether United States authorities actually had proof that more than US$4.5 billion (RM18.3 billion) in funds from the state firm had been laundered via a complex web of transactions from shell companies and used to buy assets such as high-end properties and artwork.
Grassroots activists in Umno’s divisions said although the 1MDB scandal has captured global attention, it will have little impact on Umno’s fortunes in the 14th general election.
Some Umno Cabinet ministers such as Johari Abdul Ghani, Azalina Othman Said, Asyraf Wajdi Dusuki, refused to comment on the latest allegations, which were made by US Attorney-General Jeff Sessions yesterday.
Others such as supreme council member Idris Haron claimed that the Department of Justice (DoJ), the US authority investigating 1MDB, was being manipulated by “irresponsible parties in Malaysia”.
Idris, who is also Malacca chief minister, said party president and prime minister Najib Razak’s visit to the White House in September proved that he had nothing to do with the allegations.
“The DoJ is inconsistent. When the prime minister went to the US, no legal action was taken against him. So it’s not like what they have said before (that Najib was involved).”
Najib’s high profile but contentious visit included a meeting with US president Donald Trump where he pledged that Malaysian companies would invest in the US economy.
In July 2016, the US Department of Justice claimed that US$731 million of money siphoned from 1MDB had flowed into the accounts of Malaysian Official Number One (MO1). Minister Abdul Rahman Dahlan confirmed that MO1 is Najib.
Another supreme council member Raja Nong Chik Raja Zainal Abidin called Sessions’ comments slander.
“It is all just slander as to me there is no proof. Why has there been no action till now? No one has been taken to court on the allegations,” said the former federal territories minister.
His party colleague and Johor Menteri Besar Khaled Nordin said if there was proof, the US should bring legal charges against those accused of stealing money from 1MDB.
Another Menteri Besar, Ahmad Razif Abd Rahman of Terengganu said the prime minister had repeatedly explained that there was no truth to the DoJ’s allegations.
“The government has already explained itself before. So it’s difficult if they just want to make allegations but they don’t want to listen our explanations.”
Another supreme council member Tajuddin Abdul Rahman said there were no problems in 1MDB.
“1MDB is not a problem and has no problems. If there are problems it is problems of certain individuals in 1MDB, not the Prime Minister.”
In a conference in Global Asset Recovery, Sessions had dubbed the 1MDB scandal as “kleptocracy at its worst.”
The DoJ has claimed that US$4.5 billion is believed to have been siphoned from 1MDB ever since it was established in 2009. Much of the money has been used to buy high end property, hotels, artwork and jewelry.
The brainchild of Najib, the state firm, which was formed to invest in strategic industries such as power generation and property development, is now at the centre of investigations into money laundering and fraud in six countries.
Malaysian Attorney-General Mohd Apandi Ali has cleared Najib of any wrongdoing. Investigations by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Agency (MACC) also found no evidence of impropriety in the state firm.
Apandi, however, recently asked police to resubmit investigation papers on 1MDB to him, citing a lack of evidence.
Umno grassroots members also dismissed the DoJ’s claims, adding that it was not a big issue among older, rural voters who form Umno’s core support base.
“We’ve already had our own investigations about 1MDB and there was no proof that there was any wrongdoing,” said Bagan Wanita Umno delegate Rozi Ishak.
“So the DoJ shouldn’t just make allegations. There is no proof that any crime was committed.”
Mohd Fazly Zainuddin of Kuala Lumpur Umno said 1MDB was an issue that was being manipulated by the opposition to smear the prime minister and party president.
“The president has explained about 1MDB. 1MDB has benefitted the public,” said Fazly, of the Wangsa Maju Umno division.
“They say 1MDB has debts but these debts have been paid. We don’t know if the allegations that money has been stolen is true or not.”
Despite the fact that 1MDB continues to grab headlines, Mohd Iruan Zulkefli of Lenggong Umno is confident that it won’t make an impact in the next general election.
“People are only concerned about the price of food and whether they can feed their kids. Something like this is too difficult for them to understand.”