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Mahathir government eyes multiple charges against Najib over 1MDB

Mr Najib arriving at the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) in Putrajaya on May 24.

Kuala Lumpur

EMBEZZLEMENT and bribery involving government money are among the charges Malaysia is looking to bring against former prime minister Najib Razak following a probe into funds allegedly looted from the state-run fund 1MDB, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said on Tuesday.

Dr Mahathir told Reuters in an interview that Malaysian investigators already "have an almost perfect case" against the principal suspects who had defrauded 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) and misappropriated billions of dollars in public funds.

He also described Mr Najib, who had founded 1MDB, as playing a central role.

"He was totally responsible for 1MDB. Nothing can be done without his signature, and we have his signature on all the deals entered into by 1MDB. Therefore, he is responsible," Dr Mahathir said.

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Having retired as prime minister in 2003 after 22 years in power, Dr Mahathir - who turns 93 in July - came out of retirement and joined the opposition to topple Mr Najib in an election last month.

Following his stunning victory, Dr Mahathir has reopened investigations into 1MDB and Mr Najib's involvement in its operations.

As a result of an anti-kleptocracy probe, the US Department of Justice has alleged more than US$4.5 billion was misappropriated from 1MDB and that about US$700 million of that ended up in Mr Najib's personal bank accounts. Dr Mahathir has barred Mr Najib from leaving Malaysia, and police have searched properties linked to him, while anti-graft investigators have questioned both Mr Najib and his wife Rosmah Mansor.

Mr Najib has consistently denied any wrongdoing, and repeated last week that he did not take money from 1MDB.

Investigators are looking to bring "a number of charges" against Mr Najib, Dr Mahathir said, adding those charges would be based on abuse of power when he was prime minister.

They could include "embezzlement, stealing government money, losing government money and a number of other charges. Using government money to bribe. All those things," he said.

Dr Mahathir said Madam Rosmah was also being investigated in connection with 1MDB. "Some of the money is believed to have gone to her, lots of money," Dr Mahathir said. "We know about this, but finding the paper trail is a bit more difficult in this case because she doesn't sign any papers. Mr Najib signs a lot of papers."

Dr Mahathir said he expected Malaysia to make its first arrest in the 1MDB case within months and "hopefully" start a trial by the end of the year.

"We are working as hard as possible at a furious pace. We think that we already have almost a perfect case," Dr Mahathir said.

Asked to name the targets of that case, he said: "Against Najib, against Jho Low and a few others."

Mr Low is a Malaysian financier, who is also seen as a central figure in the 1MDB scandal. He is regarded as close to Mr Najib and his family.

"When we go to the courts, we will have clear evidence of the wrongdoing. We cannot afford to lose," said Dr Mahathir. REUTERS

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