Malaysia’s Najib Considers Legal Action Over WSJ Report

By Praveen Menon 8 July 2015

KUALA LUMPUR — Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak has instructed his lawyers to consider action against the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), which reported that investigators probing debt-laden state fund 1MDB had traced nearly US$700 million to bank accounts in his name.

Law firm Hafarizam Wan & Aisha Mubarak said in a statement on Wednesday that since last week’s article involved several parties, they were instructed to consider what kind of action to take, “in the event evidence shows a conspiracy against our client.”

“Once our client has obtained all necessary facts and the position of WSJ is ascertained, we have strict instructions to immediately exhaust legal avenues and remedies,” it said.

The Wall Street Journal did not respond immediately to a request from Reuters to comment.

The prime minister was expected to hold a regular cabinet meeting on Wednesday, the first since the WSJ report sparked a political crisis that has contributed to a fall in the ringgit currency to a 16-year low against the dollar.

Opposition lawmakers have asked cabinet ministers to seek an explanation of the allegations from Najib and ask him to go on leave until the probe is completed.

Members of Najib’s party, the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), have closed ranks behind the prime minister, who had already been on the back foot over alleged mismanagement of 1MDB and his handling of the economy.

Najib has denied taking any money from 1MDB or any other entity for personal gain.

1MDB has described the allegations as “unsubstantiated,” saying it never provided funds to the prime minister.

Reuters has not independently verified the WSJ report.

Accounts Frozen

A task force investigating 1MDB said on Tuesday it had frozen half a dozen bank accounts in relation to the allegations, suggesting that it was taking the report seriously, but did not specify whose accounts they were or the banks.

The team, which includes Malaysia’s Attorney-General, the central bank governor, the Inspector-General of police and the head of the anti-corruption commission, also took possession of documents related to 17 accounts from two banks to help with investigations.

1MDB, a property-to-energy group whose advisory board is chaired by Najib, has debts of around $11 billion.

Even before the WSJ 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 report, citing documents from a government investigation, said there were five deposits into Najib’s account.

It said the two largest transactions, worth $620 million and $61 million, were made in 2013 from a company registered in the British Virgin Islands via the Singapore branch of a Swiss private bank.

Singapore’s central bank said on Wednesday it was in contact with financial institutions in relation to Malaysia’s probe and would provide assistance.