Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has questioned a recent news report claiming China had offered to bail out the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) sovereign wealth fund in 2016 in exchange for projects, saying proof was needed before his administration could look into the matter.
“There are documents I suppose, but [they] must be in our hands before we can accept the statement made. So until then we cannot take action,” the premier told reporters at a press conference earlier today.
“We need to find this document and make use of the document as proof that this thing actually happened. At the moment it is just a story in the press, that’s all. We have no documents.”
The Wall Street Journal earlier this week reported that Beijing had offered to help derail investigations into scandal-ridden 1MDB in exchange for the approval of infrastructure projects under its multibillion-dollar “Belt and Road Initiative”, which involves the construction of roads, ports, railways and pipelines in more than 50 countries.
The Journal – citing the scandal-tainted Najib Razak administration’s summary of the minutes from private, undisclosed meetings between senior officials – claimed Beijing promised to influence the US and other countries into dropping 1MDB-related probes, and also offered to spy on reporters investigating rumours of mismanagement and money-laundering within the fund.
Specifically, it reported that China’s domestic security force had surveilled the paper’s office in Hong Kong at Malaysia’s request by way of wiretapping and data retrieval.
When the story broke, Malaysian Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng said he “[did] not wish to say yes or no. I need to check the records to see if there were details explicitly mentioned.”
Meanwhile, fugitive financier Low Taek Jho, also known as Jho Low – believed to be the mastermind behind the looting of billions from the fund – has denied the report, which also claimed he had a major role to play in facilitating the China-Malaysia deal talks.
Malaysian media reported that Low had, in a statement from his spokesperson, called the Journal piece “a selection of half-truths, mixed in with fiction, to create a misleading and oversimplified narrative that has been peddled by a morally bankrupt Mahathir regime to advance its failing political cause”.
Low, who is currently on the run from several governments who want him in connection with the 1MDB scandal, said no legitimate evidence to support these claims had been provided.
Controversy surrounding the fund was a key factor in the loss of former ruling coalition Barisan Nasional when Malaysia went to the polls last May.
The United States Department of Justice believes that US$4.5 billion was misappropriated from 1MDB, and some US$700 million of that found its way into disgraced former premier Najib Razak’s accounts – funds he claimed were from Middle Eastern donors.
The rest was pumped into star-studded parties that included the likes of Jamie Foxx and Paris Hilton, the purchase of a superyacht, artwork by Van Gogh and Monet, and funding the film The Wolf of Wall Street.
The Chinese Embassy in Malaysia has also denied the report, describing the claims outlined as “groundless”.
“China never attaches political conditions on our cooperation with other countries,” it said in a statement.
This year marks 45 years of diplomatic ties between the two nations.