Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia – Former prime minister Najib Razak – currently facing 38 corruption charges in an ongoing investigation into troubled state fund 1MDB that spans at least six countries – admitted things “went wrong” but insisted he wasn’t involved in any wrongdoing.
“There are things that went wrong in 1MDB,” Najib admitted in an interview with Al Jazeera’s 101 East that was broadcast on Saturday.
But he insisted even though he was prime minister and had ultimate oversight of the fund he was not aware of the transfer of hundreds of millions of dollars through offshore bank accounts around the world, and had done nothing wrong.
“My conscience is clear,” he said. “I would not receive a single cent from sources connected with 1MDB because if it’s 1MDB I would know right away it would not be the right thing to do.”
Najib has appeared in court four times since his party lost power in May’s general election amid simmering public anger over 1MDB. It was the first change in government since the country won its independence from Britain in 1957.
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This week, he appeared in court with his former treasury chief to face six counts of criminal breach of trust involving the misuse of 6.6 billion ringgit ($1.6bn) in government funds.
“It’s something he has repeatedly said even when he was in power,” said Keith Leong, head of research at KRA Group in Kuala Lumpur.
“[It] will likely be his main defence. There is such feeling against him. One doesn’t know what else he could say. Because this thing was so opaque, so mysterious.”
The former prime minister – who twice threatened to walk out of the interview – insisted the $681m found in his personal bank account was a gift from a Saudi prince, and he could not trace the source of any of the money because he “did not have access to banking secrets”.
Investigators say that money, which was deposited into the account just before the 2013 election, was given to politicians and covered shopping sprees and credit card bills.
1MDB is under investigation in at least six countries including Singapore, Switzerland and the United States.
The US Department of Justice has said more than $4.5bn was stolen by high-level Malaysian officials and their associates.
Najib insisted he didn’t deliberately close down the Malaysian investigation by suddenly replacing the country’s attorney-general in 2015, and firing ministers who questioned what was going on at the fund.
“I reject that totally because I am on record,” he told 101 East. “I’m on record to say that anyone who has done something wrong will be held accountable. No one is above the law.”
1MDB was established as a sovereign fund in 2009 with the help of a now-infamous financier commonly known as Jho Low.
Najib said he saw Low’s role in the fund as “creating value”.
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Investigators allege huge sums of money were siphoned out of the fund through a web of offshore bank accounts helping party-loving Low live a life of luxury with a private jet, a $260m ocean-going yacht, and luxury homes in New York City and Los Angeles.
They say 1MDB money also helped fund the Leonardo di Caprio movie Wolf of Wall Street, which was produced by Najib’s stepson and banned in Malaysia.
In June, Malaysian police seized bundles of cash, designer handbags, and jewellery in raids on a series of Najib’s properties around the capital.
It took three days, six cash-counting machines, and 22 officials from the central bank to add up the money found at the premises, Amar Singh, head of the commercial crime division, told reporters at the time.
The cash totalled $28.9m in 26 different currencies, including the Malaysian ringgit.