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Malaysian MP Tony Pua files suit linking PM Najib Razak to $970m from wealth fund

Sydney Morning Herald - January 18, 2017

Lindsay Murdoch A civil lawsuit has been filed against Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak and his government over the country's multibillion-dollar sovereign wealth fund scandal, claiming he wrongly exercised his lawful authority.

The misfeasance in public office claim intensifies pressure on Mr Najib amid speculation he intends to call an early election, capitalising on disarray among opposition parties after a crackdown to silence his government's critics under draconian laws, including arresting dozens.

International investigators believe associates of Mr Najib siphoned billions of dollars from the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) fund that the then deputy prime minister set up in 2009 and oversaw through his chairmanship of an advisory board.

The 110-page claim filed in a Kuala Lumpur court by opposition MP Tony Pua details how $US731 million ($977 million) was transferred into Mr Najib's personal bank accounts that allegedly originated from 1MDB.

Mr Pua, the national publicity secretary of the Democratic Action Party, told Fairfax Media the claim is a "last legal resort to sue Najib to seek justice on behalf of Malaysians in the hope that the guilty will be punished".

For more than two years Mr Najib, the British-educated son of a former prime minister, has shrugged off allegations swirling around 1MDB as investigators in six countries attempted to trace huge sums of 1MDB money through foreign banks, funds and shell companies.

The Australian Federal Police are assisting international investigators as they hunt assets linked to the scandal in Australia.

The US Justice Department in July last year filed its largest ever civil forfeiture case, seeking more than $US1 billion in assets, part of what it said was $US3.5 billion allegedly embezzled from 1MDB since 2009.

"The Malaysian people were defrauded on an enormous scale in a scheme whose tentacles reached around the world," FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe said at the time.

Assets seized by the Department of Justice include luxury New York property, art and the proceeds of the Hollywood movie The Wolf of Wall Street from the alleged mastermind of the scandal, Malaysian businessman Low Taek Jho, a millionaire playboy known as Jho Low who is reportedly sailing the world in his super-yacht Equanimity.

Attempts to contact Mr Low have been unsuccessful.

The department's case refers to a high-ranking official in the Malaysian government who received hundreds of millions of dollars from 1MDB, a reported reference to Mr Najib, a close ally of successive Australian governments.

Mr Najib has denied any wrongdoing, claiming some of the money that turned up in his bank accounts was a donation from an unnamed Saudi prince. He has claimed some of the money was returned but left unexplained what happened to millions of dollars.

Mr Pua is seeking general, aggravated and exemplary damages in the claim, a copy of which has been obtained by Fairfax Media. The claim, which is set for mention in court on February 16, cites transfers to Mr Najib's accounts in 2011, 2012 and 2013.

It alleges that $US681 million was transferred to Mr Najib's account in March 2013, just before the country's general election in which his long-ruling United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) lost the popular vote but was returned to power through a gerrymandered electoral system that favours Malays in rural constituencies.

The claim alleges that Mr Najib recklessly used his influence and position to procure guarantees for 1MDB bonds and that he maliciously approved associated companies to enter into various transactions and agreements.

It alleges that Mr Najib led the unlawful misappropriation of 1MDB funds and provided misleading replies to questions in parliament about the fund.

Mr Pua said the claim is probably the most complete set of allegations, evidence and documentation of misfeasance allegedly committed by Mr Najib, who has maintained the support of UMNO powerbrokers through an entrenched system of patronage where party largesse is spread among the country's Malay majority.

"The attorney-general and other investigating agencies the police and the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission have failed the people of Malaysia by refusing to take criminal action against parties involved in the multibillion-dollar scandal, including Najib," Mr Pua said.

Mr Najib's government shut down investigations into 1MDB in 2015 which, according to The Wall Street Journal, had called for criminal charges against Mr Najib.

In early 2016 Malaysia's attorney-general Mohamed Apandi Ali, a freshly-appointed party ally of Mr Najib's cleared the prime minister of any wrongdoing.

Last November, opposition MP Rafizi Ramli was convicted of violating Malaysia's Official Secrets Act by revealing details of a 1MDB audit from an agency whose findings are normally public. He was sentenced to 18 months' jail but denies the charges and is appealing.

Last week the former branch manager of Falcon Private Bank in Singapore was jailed for 28 weeks on charges under the city-state's money laundering rules in relation to 1MDB.

Meanwhile, Mr Najib has told Malaysian civil servants in a speech that they should not take what "belongs to the people" after the arrest of several government officials on corruption charges.

Former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, a fierce critic of Mr Najib, was last year party to a separate civil claim of misfeasance against Mr Najib.

Source: http://www.smh.com.au/world/malaysian-mp-tony-pua-files-suit-linking-pm-najib-razak-to-970m-from-wealth-fund-20170118-gttjsb.html.

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