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Probe into 1MDB allegations cranks up, offices raided

Najib's lawyers ask WSJ to confirm that it has alleged he misappropriated US$700m of 1MDB's funds

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The high-stakes, high-profile probe into claims by TheWall Street Journal (WSJ) that billions of ringgit were moved from companies linked to troubled 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) into bank accounts allegedly held by Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak took many riveting twists and turns on Wednesday.

Singapore

THE high-stakes, high-profile probe into claims by TheWall Street Journal (WSJ) that billions of ringgit were moved from companies linked to troubled 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) into bank accounts allegedly held by Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak took many riveting twists and turns on Wednesday.

And it was the talk of the town. "Everywhere, in every coffee stall in the country, everyone is talking about this," remarked a top business executive.

The event-packed day began with the embattled premier seeking clarification from the publisher of The Wall Street Journal to state its position within two weeks on whether its articles had alleged that he had misappropriated US$700 million belonging to 1MDB.

The letter issued by Mr Najib's lawyers - acting on his behalf in his personal capacity - said the two articles published this month contained "a plethora of convoluted, scurrilous and vague allegations against our client".

"You will no doubt appreciate the seriousness of the allegations. This confirmation is sought to enable us to advise our client on the appropriate legal recourse," said the letter issued by law firm Hafarizam Wan & Aisha Mubarak.

Later in the day, Mr Najib reiterated in a statement that he had never taken 1MDB funds for "personal gains" and that the allegations in WSJ were aimed to "incite malice" and backed by certain quarters in the country to topple him.

"The investigation needs to take into account the authenticity of the documents that were published to support the newspaper's allegations," said the 61-year old leader, a day after WSJ published documentary evidence to back up its report.

It is understood that at a longer- than-usual Cabinet meeting on Wednesday, Mr Najib again stressed that he had done no wrong. Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin said the Cabinet members are united and not pressuring Mr Najib to step down, choosing instead to wait for the task force to finish its probe.

An insider said: "It's not a simple decision to make. There are so many layers, and the concern is the big picture: what will happen to Umno?"

Also on Wednesday morning, police officers assigned by a special task force investigating the money trail that allegedly led to Mr Najib's private bank accounts raided 1MDB's offices and seized documents and materials after an eight-hour search at the troubled firm's head office in Kuala Lumpur.

1MDB confirmed news that a number of officials from the task force had visited its offices on Wednesday, reiterating its full cooperation with lawful authorities in their probe.

The special task force comprising officers from the attorney-general's chambers, central bank, police and anti-graft agency has been very busy. On Tuesday, it froze six bank accounts to probe allegations of fund transfers to Mr Najib's accounts.

This followed a raid last Friday at three firms which were implicated in the allegations in WSJ's article.

The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) also weighed in following media queries that it was providing full assistance and sharing information with the Malaysian authorities in the probe but could not provide more details.

Malaysian Attorney-General Gani Patail - the man in the hot seat, whose every move and impartiality is being closely scrutinised by the Malaysian public - clarified that none of the accounts that were frozen belonged to Mr Najib, contrary to some news reports.

He expressed "strong concern" that ongoing investigation documents had been leaked and vowed to throw the book at anyone found to have disclosed such information.

Meanwhile, Malaysia's former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad - Mr Najib's mentor-turned-foe whom the Malaysian leader has accused of plotting to overthrow him with these allegations - rebuffed the sabotage claims in an interview with BBC.

Dr Mahathir instead urged Mr Najib to prove the allegations wrong.

"It is very easy for him to prove that it is not true. Let's see the accounts. When people charge him (Najib) over something, he says 'it is a plot, it is nonsense, it is not true'," said the fiesty Dr Mahathir, who will turn 90 on Friday.

Nevertheless, pressure continues to mount on Mr Najib to step down.

"Najib's reputation is already badly damaged, and the fear that the BN (Barisan Nasional coalition) led by him will most likely not secure enough votes to stay in power, is strong," said a political analyst.

Opposition politicians - emboldened by the controversy which has shaken the Malaysian public's faith in the country's public institutions - are calling for a caretaker government and fresh elections next year.

Bersih, an electoral reform movement which in the past has garnered strong support from the masses for its rallies, issued a threat to Mr Najib to go on leave pending the investigations and come clean on the controversy by August - or be prepared for Malaysians to protest.

"That's a big worry given the groundswell of disenchantment right now. It's a delicate situation - one that has to be managed urgently," said an observer.