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Malaysia freezes 408 bank accounts; summons ex-PM's stepson in probe

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Former deputy PM Dr Ahmad Zahid was questioned for nearly eight hours by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission.

Kuala Lumpur

MALAYSIA has frozen more than 400 bank accounts as part of a probe into a multi-billion-dollar scandal at state fund 1MDB, a task force said on Monday, as the stepson of former prime minister Najib Razak was summoned for questioning.

Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who ousted Mr Najib in a shock election upset in May, has reopened investigations into 1Malaysia Development Berhad and vowed to recoup money allegedly siphoned off from the fund.

A task force looking into 1MDB said in a statement 408 bank accounts involving funds of about 1.1 billion ringgit (S$372.3 million) had been frozen, Reuters news agency reported.

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The frozen accounts included those of 81 individuals and 55 companies believed to have received funds from 1MDB and involved nearly 900 transactions between March 2011 and September 2015.

"The accounts were believed to be linked to the misappropriation and misuse of 1MDB funds," the task force said.

The task force had earlier said it had frozen accounts belonging to the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), the political party once led by Mr Najib.

Founded by Mr Najib in 2009, 1MDB is being investigated in at least six countries for alleged money laundering and graft.

Civil lawsuits filed by the US Department of Justice allege that nearly US$4.5 billion was misappropriated from 1MDB.

Mr Najib's stepson, Riza Aziz, has been summoned by Malaysia's Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) to give a statement in connection with the probe, media reports said on Monday.

An MACC source confirmed the reports, saying that Mr Riza was expected to come to the commission's headquarters on Tuesday.

"Yes, he has been called in to attend at 2pm," said the source, who declined to be identified as they were not authorised to discuss the matter.

Mr Riza is the co-founder of Red Granite Pictures, a company that US prosecutors say financed three Hollywood films, including the 2013 Martin Scorsese movie The Wolf of Wall Street, with funds misappropriated by 1MDB.

Both Mr Najib and Mr Riza have consistently denied wrongdoing. Red Granite paid the US government US$60 million as part of a settlement of a civil lawsuit in March.

Meanwhile, former deputy prime minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi has emerged from being questioned by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) for nearly eight hours.

The newly elected Umno president arrived at the commission's headquarters in Kuala Lumpur at 9.52am and only came out of the building at 6.30pm, the Star online news reported.

Dr Ahmad Zahid told reporters that he had been asked to explain a statement he made in 2015 where he claimed to have met a member of Saudi Arabia's royal family, who is said to have donated money to former Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak.

"Because that statement was only reported in the media, I was asked to explain in detail about the statement. That's why it took a while. I would like to thank the MACC for being professional in their work," he said.

On Aug 22, 2015, Dr Ahmad Zahid, who was speaking at the opening of the Sri Gading Umno division, said he had met the wealthy Arab family who donated US$700 million that was channelled into the former prime minister's personal account.

"The questioning on 1MDB is pretty much done," he said.

Dr Ahmad Zahid also said he will return to MACC on Tuesday for questioning on a separate matter related to an Islamic charity foundation of which he is chairman.

On his foundation, it was reported that Dr Ahmad Zahid would be asked to explain claims that RM800,000 in foundation funds were used to pay off credit cards belonging to him and his wife.

Records showed the foundation was registered in 1997 and its role is to receive and administer funds to eradicate poverty.