Malaysia Investigates Leaks Claiming to Show Transfers to Najib Razak
BANGKOK — The Malaysian police said on Monday that they were opening an investigation into whether government officials, including central bank personnel, were the source of leaked documents purporting to show the transfer of hundreds of millions of dollars into the bank accounts of Prime Minister Najib Razak and his wife.
Mr. Najib, who was already unpopular for imposing a nationwide sales tax in April to pay for large budget shortfalls, has been embroiled in a scandal over billions of dollars that his critics say are missing from a sovereign wealth fund, 1Malaysia Development Berhad, also known as 1MDB.
The leaked documents were part of an investigation into the fund and were published by The Wall Street Journal and a website, Sarawak Report, this month. They purport to show transfers of around $700 million into what are described as Mr. Najib’s personal bank accounts. Sarawak Report also reported cash deposits of two million ringgit, or around $525,000, into the account of Rosmah Mansor, Mr. Najib’s wife, this year.
Mr. Najib’s office did not respond to a request for comment on Monday, but he said in a statement this month that he had “never taken funds for personal gain.” He has also denied that money is missing from the sovereign wealth fund.
The police said on Monday that they would investigate whether leaking the documents constituted “economic sabotage against Malaysia.”
“These criminal acts are very serious and raise national security implications,” Khalid Abu Bakar, the country’s inspector general of police, said in a statement, referring to the leaks. “The Royal Malaysia Police have not eliminated the possibility of a conspiracy to subvert Malaysia’s democratic process and topple the prime minister.”
The central bank, Bank Negara Malaysia, on Sunday rejected suggestions that its officials might have given the documents to the news outlets. “Such allegations are without basis,” the bank said in a statement. The bank transfers have raised questions about how much Bank Negara knew about the transfers and whether they violated money laundering laws.
The bank said it was committed to “uncovering the truth in a fair and just manner.”
Mr. Najib’s party, the United Malays National Organization, has governed Malaysia since it gained independence from Britain 58 years ago, and numerous financial scandals have failed to dislodge it from power. But the investigation into the sovereign wealth fund has the backing of powerful politicians within the party, including former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.
The investigation has split the governing elites and even appears to have divided Mr. Najib’s family. The prime minister’s brother, Nazir Razak, a banker, praised the central bank on Monday for its commitment to uncover the truth. “Great statement — timely, firm and unambiguous,” he wrote on his Instagram account.
Ibrahim Suffian, director of the Merdeka Center, an independent polling company, said the scandal over the tangled finances of the sovereign wealth fund had been difficult for the public to follow. But Mr. Mahathir’s recent attacks on the prime minister, and the allegations of the transfers directly into Mr. Najib’s accounts, have brought more clarity and urgency to the issue and made it more dangerous for Mr. Najib than past scandals have been, he said.
“I strongly suspect that this time around it’s going to be different,” Mr. Ibrahim said. “People feel personally linked to the issue.” The imposition of the sales tax in April made Malaysians feel that they are “invested in the problem,” he said.
A law firm representing Ms. Rosmah, Mr. Najib’s wife, said in a statement that she had “not committed any criminal offense or any misappropriation of funds.” The law firm said the funds in her account had no links to the sovereign wealth fund, but it did not specify the origin of the cash.