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Thursday, 14 November 2019

Malaysia ex-PM denies graft charges in visit to home region

Reuters , Sunday 20 May 2018
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Malaysia's scandal-tainted former leader Sunday denied he stole public funds and complained of the way he has been treated since he unexpectedly lost power in a stunning election defeat.

Striking a defiant tone in the face of a deepening corruption investigation, Najib Razak urged his political party to "fight on" after it was toppled in the May 9 vote by a political coalition that had focused on the allegations against him.

"I did not steal the people's money," Najib, 64, asserted during a visit to the rural home constituency he has represented for decades, where he was welcomed by crowds of supporters of his ethnic-Malay party.

"I was prepared to hand over power gracefully. But once I did that, I was not treated properly."

Najib has been barred from leaving Malaysia as the new government investigates accusations he took part in the looting of billions of dollars from sovereign wealth fund 1MDB in a vast conspiracy of fraud and money-laundering.

Police last week seized what they called a huge trove of cash, jewels and luxury items from his home and other properties.

Najib had said little since the raids other than to complain to local media about how they were conducted.

But on Sunday he returned to his home district of Pekan in an apparent bid to seize back the narrative before a visit to Malaysia's anti-graft agency, which has summoned him to appear on Tuesday.

"I am amazed that even though I am no longer the prime minister, there are so many people at this event," he said during a ceremony opening a branch office of his United Malays National Organisation (UMNO).

"I think this is the true spirit of UMNO. Even though we are in tears... (and) power is no longer in our hands, no one can kill our spirit to fight on."

- 'Gifts from friends' -

UMNO had controlled multi-ethnic Malaysia since independence in 1957, and the country became a regional economic success story under its rule.

But long-simmering resentment over its oppressive tactics and corruption sent the party to a resounding defeat at the hands of a coalition led by 92-year-old Mahathir Mohamad, a longtime UMNO leader and former prime minister.

UMNO is now in crisis following the drubbing, which prompted Najib's resignation as its leader.

Najib's denial of wrongdoing comes despite detailed evidence that has emerged in recent years indicating that he, his family, and cronies plundered 1MDB.

These include US Department of Justice civil lawsuits seeking to seize $1.7 billion in real estate, art works and other luxuries allegedly bought with money looted from the fund.

Mahathir said last week that he expected Najib to face criminal charges soon.

"There were a lot of allegations made... I was the target because I was the prime minister and party president," Najib told supporters.

Najib has complained about the overnight police searches, and said many personal items unrelated to 1MDB were improperly impounded.

He has said the money and luxury items seized -- which police said were so vast that it would take time to tally their worth -- were gifts from friends and cash donations for his election campaign.

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