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[KUALA LUMPUR] Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak slammed a report that said close to US$700 million was wired to his personal account from banks, government agencies and companies linked to the debt-laden state fund 1MDB, claiming this was a "continuation of political sabotage." The Wall Street Journal's report, if true, would be the first time the beleaguered prime minister has been directly linked to accusations of corruption surrounding the fund.
Reuters could not independently verify the report. "There have been concerted efforts by certain individuals to undermine confidence in our economy, tarnish the government, and remove a democratically elected prime minister," Mr Najib's office said in a statement on his Facebook page. "These latest claims, attributed to unnamed investigators as a basis to attack the prime minister, are a continuation of this political sabotage," it said.
The statement said documents cited in the report should not be accepted as genuine unless verified by appropriate authorities. It pointed to reports about criminal leaking of documents, doctoring and extortion related to 1MDB that has been recently published in the media. "In reference to media reports published earlier today, 1MDB wishes to make clear that the company has never provided any funds to the prime minister," 1MDB said in a statement.
"To suggest otherwise, as some media outlets have done, is highly irresponsible and a deliberate attempt to undermine the company." Two opposition parties called on Mr Najib to take a leave of absence while the allegations are investigated.
Mr Najib, himself the son of a former primer minister, has been weakened by attacks from the opposition and from within his own party by charges of graft and mismanagement. However, he retains support within the long-ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition.
Former leader Mahathir Mohamad, who was once Mr Najib's patron and remains highly influential, has previously called for the prime minister to step down over the 1MDB furore.
Malaysia's longest-serving prime minister, Dr Mahathir withdrew his support for Mr Najib after the BN coalition fell short of a popular majority in 2013 elections but retained power.
Mr Najib, now in his second term, has also been under pressure over his management of the economy and a scandal arising from the high-profile killing of a Mongolian model nine years ago.
He says he had nothing to do with the murder of Altantuya Shaariibuu, and has even sworn an oath to that effect on the Koran in a mosque. Two officers who were part of Mr Najib's security detail at the time were found guilty of her murder.
The Wall Street Journal report, which cited documents from a government probe, claimed that there were five deposits into Mr Najib's account.
The two largest transactions, worth US$620 million and US$61 million, through a chain of companies linked to 1MDB were done in March 2013 during the election campaign in Malaysia, it said.
1MDB described the allegations as "unsubstantiated" and said the existence and authenticity of the documents had not been publicly verified.
Mr Najib has previously denied any wrongdoing in connection with 1MDB and has accused opponents of spreading misinformation.
Two opposition groups, the Democratic Action Party and the People's Justice Party (PKR), called on Mr Najib to take leave immediately to allow an unfettered probe into the allegations. "In order to protect whistleblowers and allow a free and independent investigation, he cannot hold the post of prime minister," PKR lawmaker Tian Chua said. "He must set himself aside; it would show that he is confident of his innocence. If he refuses, there will be suspicion that someone is trying to cook the books."
1MDB has faced a storm of criticism over its debt of nearly US$11.6 billion and financial mismanagement. Mr Najib chairs the fund's advisory board.
The fund is facing separate investigations by the country's central bank, auditor-general, police force and the parliament's Public Accounts Committee.
The auditor-general will present an interim report on its probe during a briefing with the Public Accounts Committee on July 9, The Edge financial daily said on Friday.