Najib appears out but what about UMNO?
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia – With the freezing on July 6 of 6 bank accounts linked to Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak and the reported seizure of 17 other accounts at two other banks by a special task force investigating the 1Malaysia Development Bhd scandal, it appears likely that the prime minister is toast although definitive statements are always dangerous.
The seizures follow reports by the Sarawak Report and the Wall Street Journal that US$700 million from companies linked with 1MDB was deposited into Najib’s personal bank accounts at AmBank. That information has spilled into a torrent of statements by other officials suggesting he step aside while the investigations are completed. Although Najib’s name wasn’t tied to those accounts, those statements and the freezing of the accounts are an indication that his Teflon has worn thin.
He may not go immediately, one knowledgeable political analyst said – that he could last until the end of the year, although it is unlikely. And while former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad isn’t linked directly to the reports by the two news organizations, Najib’s now almost inevitable departure represents a victory for the former premier after months of bitter warfare to drive Najib from office. There is likely to be a bloodletting that may claim such loyalists as Khairy Jamaluddin, one of Najib’s closest allies.
But Mahathir’s crusade to drive Najib out is not from a desire to reform the system. It is a desire to preserve it as what amounts to a cash register filled with billions of dollars for the benefit of the top officials and warhorses of the United Malays National Organization. The alleged diversion of hundreds of millions of dollars into Najib’s accounts, apparently used by Umno in the 2013 general election, followed the alleged diversion of a €114 million kickback on the purchase of French submarines to a company controlled by Najib’s best friend was passed back to Umno, according to French investigators.
“My sense is that the corrupt power elites that run Malaysia are now deeply concerned that the Wall Street Journal exposé could spin out of control and have decided to ditch Najib and try to regain mastery of the situation,” a senior diplomat told Asia Sentinel. “Najib will be offered a deal – go quietly and be protected against any charges or be taken down. Najib has little choice and will step down. The new man will promise to clean up the mess, track down the money, etc. but nothing will be done. Jho Low, Najib’s tycoon friend who helped him start 1MB, and perhaps Arul Kanda [the executive director] will take the fall and in time, the whole matter will be forgotten as have so many other scandals in the past.”