Amid global corruption probes, Malaysia PM travels overseas, stays at 5-star hotels

Amid global corruption probes, Malaysia PM travels overseas, stays at 5-star hotels


Global corruption probes and whispers behind the scenes at home may make travel unwise, but Malaysia's embattled Prime Minister Najib Razak is off to London and New York

A trip by Malaysia’s embattled Prime Minister Najib Razak to London and New York is shrouded in mystery, with a London source saying the premier and his wife, Rosmah Mansor, are already in London, staying at the five-star Dorchester in Mayfair, and editors in Kuala Lumpur being told he won’t go until Wednesday, September 23, after the weekly cabinet meeting. A source later confirmed that Najib had quietly left KL.

His overseas jaunt, which is expected to later include a trip to Milan with Rosmah for her Islamic dress fashion show, is scarred by spiraling investigations by international law enforcement agencies in New York, Switzerland, Singapore and London and domestic rumors of behind-the-scenes negotiations to replace him with a unity government — which seems unlikely now. (READ: Critics tear their hair over Malaysia PM’s wife)

The multiple probes of the prime minister’s personal finances and the operations of the debt-strapped 1Malaysia Development Bhd., which faces more than US$11 billion of unmet liabilities that could trigger a national financial crisis, have delivered up disastrous international publicity in the US’s two most respected newspapers. The prime minister was hoping for a star turn at the United Nations General Assembly and a meeting with US President Barack Obama.

Hanging on

Conversations with multiple sources in Kuala Lumpur say the prime minister is determined to hang onto his job despite the international publicity. The pressure increased on Sept. 21, when Zeti Akhtar Aziz, the respected central bank governor, broke weeks of silence to say the public deserves answers on the controversy surrounding 1MDB and the huge donation to Najib’s own bank accounts.

She said she had submitted her findings to the attorney general although others say the outcome is doubtful. Najib fired the former attorney general, Abdul Gani Patail, just about as he reportedly was to deliver indictments over the cases.

“We hear nothing here,” said the head of an economic think tank. “All the news is shut out of the local press.” That was echoed by several other sources who say that if the scandals have endangered his premiership, information hasn’t percolated to the surface.

There is the question of who would succeed him if he were to leave office. There appear few alternatives.

Who can lead?

“There is nobody else with what I characterize as the wherewithal of experience, knowledge, integrity and ability to lead,” said Dominic Puthucheary, one of the country’s most respected constitutional lawyers, in a telephone conversation.

“Go into parliament and look at them, not one has that capacity. Our electoral system hasn’t produced the best in the country. We are unfortunately in a state where the institutions are dysfunctional. Not one institution really functions – not the judiciary, not the police, not the parliament, insofar as making sure the interests of the nation really function. That gap is a very big gap and that is a result of years of mediocrity having become the ethos everywhere. ” 

Ahmad Zahid Hamadi, the man Najib picked to replace Muhyiddin Yassin, whom he fired abruptly, is considered too mercurial and too racist given the country’s delicate ethnic balance to take over. Muhyiddin, still the deputy president of the United Malays National Organization, is considered too close to Mahathir Mohamad, the former prime minister.

Mahathir has riven the party with his attempts to drive Najib from office. Muhyiddin, who has become quite wealthy despite a lifetime of public service, is also viewed as ethically challenged. –

Read the rest of the story hereThis story was first published on Asia Sentinel, a platform for news, analysis and opinion on national and regional issues in Asia. 

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