KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — New Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said on May 14 that the attorney general has been told to go on leave pending an investigation of his role in allegedly covering up a massive corruption scandal involving ousted leader Najib Razak.
The 1MDB state fund set up by Najib is being investigated in the United States and several other countries. Anger over the scandal helped Mahathir’s alliance score a stunning election victory on May 9, ending the 60-year rule of Najib’s coalition.
U.S. investigators say Najib’s associates stole $4.5 billion from the fund, some of which landed in Najib’s bank account. After the scandal emerged, Najib sacked critics in his government, including the previous attorney general and a deputy premier, and muzzled the media.
His new attorney general, Mohamed Apandi Ali, cleared Najib of any wrongdoing in 2016, saying the money was a donation from the Saudi royal family and that most of it had been returned.
Mahathir, who earlier slammed Apandi’s credibility, said the solicitor general will take over Apandi’s job while he goes on leave. Mahathir said he can’t suspend Apandi until he is investigated.
‘‘There have been a lot of complaints against the AG but no formal reports (lodged against him). On that basis, we give him a holiday … once investigations are carried out, then we can suspend him and prevent him from leaving the country,’’ he said in a televised news conference.
Mahathir, who has returned as prime minister after his retirement in 2003 following a 22-year rule, has promised to reopen investigations into the 1MDB fiasco, described by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions as ‘‘kleptocracy at its worst.’’ He has warned that Najib will have to ‘‘face the consequences’’ if found guilty of wrongdoing.
The weekend immediately following the election, Mahathir barred Najib and his wife from leaving the country. He said that several other top government officials have also been put on a travel blacklist to facilitate graft probes but declined to name them.
The head of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission, who was appointed by Najib in 2016, has resigned but Mahathir said he could also be investigated.
Also, the graft agency’s former investigations and intelligence chief lodged complaints alleging that Najib had used his position to block corruption investigations into the 1MDB fund and several other cases.
The U.S. Justice Department says stolen 1MDB money was laundered through the U.S., Singapore, Switzerland and other countries, of which some $700 million landed in Najib’s bank account. 1MDB, which is staggering under enormous debt, has sold assets to Chinese interests and is slated to be shuttered.
Mahathir said his government hasn’t asked for help from Interpol to find Low Taek Jho, named as a central figure who allegedly orchestrated the ransacking of 1MDB, but added they ‘‘roughly know’’ where Low is. He declined to elaborate on how they plan to bring him back.
Low, a friend of Najib’s stepson Riza Aziz, had no official role at 1MDB but U.S. investigators say he had considerable influence over its dealings and was often in contact with Najib.