Malaysian graft buster: Voice clips show cover-up by ex-PM

Former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, center, walks out from the courtroom at the court house in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia for his corruption trial Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2019. Razak has started his defense Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2019, in his first corruption trial linked to the multibillion-dollar looting of the 1MDB state investment fund, that helped led to his downfall last year. (AP Photo)

Malaysia’s Anti-Corruption Commission on Wednesday released a series of audio recordings allegedly showing former Prime Minister Najib Razak seeking help from Abu Dhabi’s crown prince and colluding with a former prosecutor to conceal wrongdoings linked to a massive corruption scandal.

The voice clips marked a new blow to Najib, who has denied any misdeeds in the multimillion-dollar looting of the 1MDB investment fund and is on trial for graft after his shocking election defeat in May 2018.

Commission chief Latheefa Koya said the nine phone conversations, recorded from January to July 2016, revealed a “clear cover-up and criminal conspiracy” by Najib to stifle investigations, fabricate false evidence and obstruct justice in the 1MDB scandal.

The agency has verified that the clips were genuine but she declined to say how it obtained them. She said the clips will be given to police for further action.

In a July 26, 2016, conversation, Najib purportedly called Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed to seek an urgent meeting to resolve an “impasse” over payment between 1MDB and Abu Dhabi’s International Petroleum Investment Co. That came just days after the U.S. Department of Justice filed lawsuits to seize allegedly ill-gotten assets linked to 1MDB and said at least $3.5 billion were misappropriated from the fund by people close to Najib.

Najib also allegedly asked Mohammed to forge a loan agreement to help his stepson and Hollywood producer Riza Aziz, who was named in the U.S. lawsuit. Najib said a loan agreement would show the 1MDB money to Riza’s production firm Red Granite came from a legitimate source. “”I don’t want him to be a victim when he was totally unaware of the source of money,” Najib told the prince, according to the phone recordings.

Red Granite later paid US$60 million to drop the U.S. lawsuit but Riza was charged in Malaysia last year for money-laundering.

“We can confirm their absolute authenticity. The contents are shocking; it’s a cover-up and subversion of justice,” Latheefa said. Najib couldn’t be immediately reached for comment.

Najib started the 1MDB fund ostensibly for economic development shortly after taking power in 2009, but it accumulated billions in debts and sparked investigations in the U.S. and other countries.

In another recording in Jan. 5, 2016, then-public prosecutor Dzulkifli Ahmad allegedly told Najib that the 1MDB investigation outcome was detrimental but that he and then Attorney-General Apandi Ali can handle the matter on the legal side. On Jan. 26 that year, Apandi held a news conference to clear Najib of any wrongdoing. Dzulkifli was promoted to anti-graft agency chief in August 2016.

Another conversation between Rosmah and Najib revolved around plans to invite representatives from the UAE to settle a financial dispute between 1MDB and IPIC without arbitration.

Latheefa said the agency decided to make the clips public as it is of national interest and said that it wouldn’t be prejudicial to Najib’s ongoing trials.

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