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Former Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister: Najib is untouchable
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak. AP/Vincent Thian
Friday, 01 September, 2017 | 08:54 WIB
Former Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister: Najib is untouchable

TEMPO.CO, Jakarta - THE 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) scandal has changed the course of Muhyiddin Yassin`s political career. The deputy prime minister for the period 2009-2015 had suspected Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak’s role in the alleged corruption at the government-owned investment agency. “I saw US$680million (equivalent Rp9 trillion) in his personal account with my own eyes. I almost fainted,” Muhyiddin, 70, recalled.

Najib fired him shortly after Muhyiddin demanded explanation for his fat bank account although investigation into the alleged corruption continued in several countries, including the US, which Najib will visit next month. Najib had repeatedly denied the allegations.

Muhyiddin and Najib used to be good friends. Besides working side by side in the government, they both were the top elite of the United Malays National Organization (UMNO)-the largest party which is also one of the founders of the coalition party Barisan Nasional (National Front) which has continuously ruled Malaysia since independence in 1957. Najib became UMNO’s president in 2009 and Muhyiddin was his deputy until Najib sacked him following the 1MDB scandal.

After the fallout, Muhyiddin joined forces with Mahathir Mohamad-Malaysia’s longest-serving prime minister, from 1981 to 2003-and they founded Partai Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Malaysian United Indigenous Party) last year. Together with Partai Islam Amanah Negara (National Trust Islamic Party), Partai Aksi Demokratis (Democratic Action Party) and Partai Keadilan Rakyat (People’s Justice Party) they formed a new opposition coalition called Pakatan Harapan (Pack of Hope). For the first time since their open feud, Mahathir teamed up with People’s Justice Party’s leader Anwar Ibrahim, his own former deputy prime minister whom he ousted in 1998. “To save Malaysia, we put aside our ego and differences,” said Muhyiddin, who is of Bugis and Javanese descent.

During his visit to Indonesia in early August, Muhyiddin received Tempo’s Raymundus Rikang, Amanda Siddharta and Mahardika Satria Hadi at the Hotel Pullman, Central Jakarta. During the interview, he also talked about the opposition coalition’s plan for the 2018 general elections, the dates for which have not been set. “Election is the right time to depose Najib,” he added.

Are you still in contact with Prime Minister Najib after your dismissal?

We’ve never communicated again in the past two years. I guess Najib also declines to meet with other opposition leaders. They refuse to talk about the issues of the Malaysian people, particularly those related to the 1Malaysia Development Berhad. Najib wouldn’t acknowledge, not even a bit, his mistake in this debacle, although the people want to hear his explanation directly.

When did your conflict with him begin?

I didn’t keep silent when the 1MDB scandal broke out in 2015. I always raised the issue at the meetings of the cabinet or the party, as we were still in the UMNO. Najib must explain the 1MDB, because if he is really involved, then he can no longer be trusted. My stance angered Najib so he got rid of me from the cabinet.

What do you think of Najib’s leadership style?

He is too arrogant. He thinks that being a prime minister, he has power over everything. He abuses his power as a leader, so much so that police, the anti-graft institution and the attorney-general office are afraid of taking action. The people cannot rely on these law-enforcement institutions even though the purpose of these institutions are to protect the people. But they instead protect certain people such as the prime minister. This is a disgrace.

(Zahrain Mohamed Hashim, the Malaysian ambassador to Indonesia, said that the justice system in Malaysia followed the established laws. “Anyone convicted of a crime, regardless of his/her status, shall be brought to court,” he said.)

Is there any proof?

I received reports from Gani Patail, the attorney-general who was dismissed in 2015, regarding the progress of the 1MDB investigation. Gani Patail showed me Najib’s private bank account-not the prime minister account-with US$680 million (around Rp9 trillion) in it. I almost fainted looking at the figure.

(Ambassador Zahrain asserted that the Malaysian attorney-general did not find any problem in the case. “The 1MDB issue is still under investigation and we need to give room for this process so that the court can decide a ruling,” he said. Meanwhile, 1MDB has issued a written statement denying the fund flow to Najib’s private account. “After an extensive investigation coupled with confirmation from the legitimate authorities, it is found that the said fund came from Saudi Arabia.”)

Where did the money come from?

Najib told me that it was a gift from a Saudi sheikh. I pressed him for the name of the sheikh, but he couldn’t give me the name. He also refuted the allegation that the money in the account came from 1MDB. He clearly was lying.

What makes you sure that Najib was lying?

There was a subsequent investigation report issued by the US Department of Justice, which I read, that said money from 136 accounts went missing and was believed to have been taken by someone using the Malaysia Official 1 (MO1) code.

To whom does that code refer to?

A senior cabinet minister belonging to UMNO, Abdul Rahman Dahlan, admitted that the code was for Najib.

How do you ascertain the validity of the report?

The attorney-general brought it to me so I trust these documents are authentic. Besides, I was again shown another account containing 42million ringgit (equivalent to Rp130 billion). The money went to another account belonging to Najib. The money was allegedly taken from the transaction on behalf of SRC International, a mining and mineral institution founded by the finance minister who is none other than Najib himself.

Amid these evidences, why did the investigation stall?

The investigation was launched but did not proceed due to intervention by powerful forces. Law enforcement in our country is not working properly. Perhaps they are scared of meeting the same fate as Muhyiddin if they persist.

Are there indications pointing to such intervention?

Quite strong. In Singapore, two people were convicted in cases related to 1MDB. How is it possible that 1MDB cases were tried at a Singapore court whereas in Malaysia they never see daylight? Loretta Lynch, the US attorney-general under the Barack Obama administration, had issued a statement that US$3.5 billion from the 1MDB project was stolen. After a probe, it came to light that the Najib clan had also received the money, besides the MO1 code referring to the prime minister.

Other indications?

The Swiss attorney-general wrote to Mohamed Apandi Ali, our attorney-general, who succeeded Gani Patail, to assist with the investigation already underway in Switzerland. They found US$4 million missing from 1MDB in their data. But the Malaysian attorney-general office refused to cooperate with the Swiss government.

What kind of abuses were committed?

Former attorney general Gani Patail informed Najib about the 42million ringgit. Najib denied. But Gani firmly asserted that his data came from the investigation. Amid ongoing investigations, Najib fired Gani and replaced him with Mohamed Apandi whom he had chummy ties with. The near-completion investigation was then taken over by Apandi who eventually declared that there was nothing wrong with transactions in Najib’s account. He also announced that there should not be any problem if the prime minister stashed away funds coming from various sources.

(Ambassador Zahrain said that the attorney-general was appointed by King Muhammad V on the advice of the prime minister and in accordance with the law. “Appointment of high-ranking officials in line with the laws must be respected,” he added.)

Stashing away money from various sources including corruption?

If they are in line with the laws, the attorney-general’s rulings cannot be challenged. The opposition will keep on pressing to resolve this problem and to take it to the court. Let the court judge.

When will the 1MDB case really be tried?

When the Najib government is terminated. As long as he’s in power, Najib will not allow himself to be investigated by any institution whatsoever. In Malaysia, he is untouchable. He once said he was innocent. OK, if you are innocent, please go to the court and testify. Let the judicial mechanism work. If you are innocent, we will not punish you.

Are you saying it is not possible to take Najib to court while he’s still in power?

When the elections are held, it is the right moment to overthrow and remove Najib. Malaysia’s image has been really badly smeared by this scandal. As long as Najib sits in the prime minister’s seat and holds the power, there’s no hope of ever resolving this case.

How about the people power option?

There are two ways we can exercise people power. The first is through the elections. The public should go to voting booths to choose their leaders of choice. The second is through massive demonstrations amid poor economic conditions. I wouldn’t recommend the second option.

Why?

I don’t want a revolution in Malaysia. As a leader, I don’t want to be accused of driving the revolution. But the masses-who have been protesting about rising prices of basic commodities-must stand against the tyranny. Malaysia needs a better cabinet that can create employment opportunities and more decent pay.

Read the full interview in this week's edition of Tempo English Magazine



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