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Malaysia review panel asks anti-graft agency to continue PM Najib probe

[KUALA LUMPUR] Malaysia's anti-graft agency on Wednesday said an external review panel had asked it to continue investigations into a donation of US$681 million received by Prime Minister Najib Razak, despite an order by the country's top lawyer to close the case.

Last month, Attorney-General Mohamed Apandi Ali closed all investigations of Najib, after reviewing investigation reports from the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) into debt-laden state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) and the transfer of US$681 million into Najib's personal bank account.

Apandi said the funds transferred into Najib's account were a donation from Saudi Arabia's royal family, and added that no further action needed to be taken.

Najib has been buffeted for months by allegations of graft at 1MDB and revelations of the transfer, adding to a sense of crisis in a country under economic duress from slumping oil prices and a sliding currency.

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Najib has denied any wrongdoing, saying the funds were a political donation and he did not take any money for personal gain. The scandal had been "an unnecessary distraction", he said, after being cleared by Apandi last month.

MACC sought a review of that decision, and on Wednesday it said the review panel had recommended it continue investigations into the transfer of funds, as they were "still incomplete".

"Since MACC's investigation into the alleged RM2.6 billion donation case is still incomplete, the panel recommended to MACC that it continues its investigation on the case," the agency said in a statement.

It did not say if it would act on the recommendation, and gave no further details.

Apandi had no immediate comment, a spokesman for the attorney-general's office told Reuters in a text message. A spokesman for the prime minister's office declined to comment when contacted by telephone.

The eight-member review panel includes former civil servants, corporate figures, academics and lawyers. The panel monitors MACC investigations, but lacks the power to enforce its recommendations.

The panel also advised the anti-graft agency to seek the help of the attorney-general in obtaining mutual legal assistance to get further evidence and documents from banks overseas.

The anti-graft agency said the panel also recommended that investigation papers on SRC International, a 1MDB subsidiary investigated for alleged misappropriation of funds, be resubmitted to the attorney-general for review.

MACC has not revealed its findings or indicated whether any wrongdoing was involved, saying any decision to take further action would be up to the attorney-general.

Najib enjoys the backing of most of the powerful division chiefs in his ruling United Malays National Organisation party, and most of his critics concede that he cannot be unseated.

In moves that were widely seen as stamping out dissent last year, he sacked his critical deputy prime minister, replaced the former attorney-general with Apandi and cracked down on opposition leaders and academics.

Najib has said his reshuffle was necessary to maintain government unity.

REUTERS

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