1MDB probe shows Najib spent millions on luxury goods

© FAZRY ISMAIL/EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Wall Street Journal

HONOLULU, Hawaii—On Christmas Eve 2014, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak stepped onto Hawaii’s 18-hole Kaneohe Klipper course for a round of golf diplomacy with U.S. President Barack Obama.

Off the fairways, another side of Mr. Najib’s time in office was on display. Two days earlier, the prime minister’s credit card was charged $130,625 to Chanel in Honolulu, according to Malaysian investigation documents. A person who works at a Chanel store in the upscale Ala Moana Center recalls Mr. Najib’s wife shopping there just before Christmas.

The credit card was paid from one of several private bank accounts owned by Mr. Najib that global investigators believe received hundreds of millions of dollars diverted from a government investment fund set up by the prime minister in 2009. The fund, 1Malaysia Development Bhd., or 1MDB, today is at the center of corruption probes by authorities in Malaysia and at least five other nations.

The Malaysian investigation documents, viewed by The Wall Street Journal, contain bank-transfer information that provides the most complete picture to date of the money that flowed through the prime minister’s accounts over a five-year period, the majority of it, investigators say, originating from 1MDB.

They show for the first time how some of the money in Mr. Najib’s accounts allegedly was used for personal expenses. That included $15 million in spending on clothes, jewelry and a car, according to the bank-transfer information, involving stores in the U.S., Malaysia, Italy and elsewhere.

The disclosures appear to undermine key claims Mr. Najib and his allies have made in his defense, including that none of the money went toward personal expenses. They also detail how Mr. Najib used the funds to operate a large political machine, with money flowing from his accounts to politicians, think tanks and lawyers during a close election in 2013.

Mr. Najib, who was seen by Washington as a liberal, Western-friendly leader when he first came into power in 2009, didn’t respond to requests for comment. He has strenuously denied wrongdoing.

A lawyer for Mr. Najib’s wife, Rosmah Mansor, declined to comment. The 1MDB fund also didn’t respond to questions. It has denied sending money to Mr. Najib’s accounts or other wrongdoing and said it is cooperating with probes.

In all, the documents show over $1 billion entered five accounts belonging to Mr. Najib at AmBank Bhd., a Malaysian bank, between 2011 and 2015.

As previously reported, $681 million was transferred via a web of entities in March 2013, money which investigators in two countries believe originated with 1MDB, the government fund. Malaysian investigators believe another set of transfers in 2014 and 2015, totaling $25 million, came from an entity known as SRC International Bhd., a company that originally was controlled by 1MDB but was transferred to the Finance Ministry in 2012. Mr. Najib also is the finance minister. 

After the Journal first reported those transfers last July, Mr. Najib wrote a post on Facebook saying: “Let me be very clear: I have never taken funds for personal gain as alleged by my political opponents—whether from 1MDB, SRC International or other entities, as these companies have confirmed.”

Malaysia’s attorney general in January cleared Mr. Najib of wrongdoing, saying $681 million that entered his accounts in 2013 was a legal donation from Saudi’s royal family, and that most of it was returned. Mr. Najib’s defenders have said any money spent in Malaysia went for political purposes, which they say is permissible.

Malaysian authorities haven’t commented on the other money alleged to have entered Mr. Najib’s accounts.

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