[KUALA LUMPUR] Funds of more than US$600 million that turned up in Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak's private bank accounts were donations and not from a troubled state investment company, the government said Thursday in an explanation to parliament.
The much-awaited statement to lawmakers largely repeated prior remarks from ministers about the scandal, which has dogged the ruling coalition for more than four months and led to periodic drops in stocks and the ringgit.
Investigations are ongoing and it would breach the law to comment further, Deputy Prime Minister Zahid Hamidi said in the address made on Najib's behalf. Lawmakers including some from Najib's own party have sought an explanation for the funds that appeared in the premier's accounts before general elections in 2013. The speaker of the house said after Zahid's statement that no questions were allowed.
Najib is facing his biggest crisis since coming to power in 2009, hit by the funding imbroglio and alleged financial irregularities at debt-ridden 1Malaysia Development Bhd. whose advisory board he chairs. The scandals have sparked political tensions within the ruling United Malays National Organisation and led thousands of anti-government protesters to rally in the capital in August.
"It is not the content of the information" alone that's frustrating Malaysians, said Fui K. Soong, a director at the Centre for Strategic Engagement in Kuala Lumpur. "The fact is that people are not satisfied with the overall governance of the country." Najib, 62, has said the funds were political donations from the Middle East rather than public money, an initial conclusion also reached by the anti-corruption commission. The money was to meet the needs of the party and the community and not a new practice, Najib has been cited as saying. He has denied taking money for personal gain.
"In a democracy, the practice of receiving donations is allowed for political parties," Zahid said. "It has never been stated that political donations must be declared."
"The prime minister says it is for UMNO," former premier Mahathir Mohamad, who has been on a public campaign to oust Najib, wrote on his blog Thursday. "According to the Societies Act, UMNO must report all financial transactions. There is no evidence that it has done so." The anti-graft agency has identified the individual who donated the money, Zahid said, without elaborating.
"The government is guided and advised by the Attorney- General," Azalina Othman, a minister in the Prime Minister's Office, told reporters Thursday. "This is an ongoing investigation, investigated by the relevant agencies. A person is innocent until proven guilty."