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Najib's wife denies 1MDB funds went into her account
A BANK account of Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak's wife, Rosmah Mansor, has now fallen under the scrutiny of the special task force investigating the money trail of troubled state-backed firm 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).
In a statement, the task force, which began probing the allegations of nearly US$700 million transferred to Mr Najib's bank accounts earlier in the week, said it was looking into Ms Rosmah's account and that they were aware of the account before it was reported in the media.
On Thursday, whistle-blower site Sarawak Report, citing investigation papers on 1MDB, said that between February and April 2013, some RM2 million (S$713,000) was deposited into an account allegedly belonging to Ms Rosmah at Affin Bank.
In response, Ms Rosmah's lawyers said in a statement on Friday that the account was open in 1984 while she was working at a development firm. The law firm also denied that the funds deposited into Ms Rosmah's account as reported by Sarawak Report was from 1MDB. It added that the inferences made against her were malicious, baseless and unsubstantiated. It called on the central bank to either immediately or within 72 hours conduct a probe into the apparent breach of privacy at the bank.
The task force comprising officers from the Attorney-General's Chambers, central bank, police and anti-graft agency said that the probe into Ms Rosmah's account was being carried out transparently and professionally and hoped that all parties would not question its integrity.
This marks another blow to the already embattled Mr Najib following a report by The Wall Street Journal this week that claimed that hundreds of millions of dollars were moved from entities linked to 1MDB into his personal bank accounts.
This week, the task force froze six bank accounts - none of which belonged to Mr Najib as those mentioned in WSJ were closed in August 2013 and March this year - and raided 1MDB's offices. The allegations, given the huge sums and possible impropriety at the highest level of the country, have been damning for Mr Najib's reputation and has fanned public condemnation.
Mr Najib, who is also Finance Minister and chairman of 1MDB's advisory board, has dismissed the allegations as untrue and part of a plot to topple the leadership but his vague response to WSJ allegations has exasperated the public and led to growing calls, none louder than from former leader Mahathir Mohamad, for him to step down.
Another name inextricably linked to 1MDB, despite his efforts to deny any involvement with, Low Taek Jho, reappeared in the spotlight. The Public Accounts Committee said that it would summon the Hong Kong-based entrepreneur for questioning in his capacity as special adviser to the Terengganu Investment Authority, the firm set up in 2009 that not too long after morphed into 1MDB.
This followed another expose by WSJ, this time citing correspondence between Singapore and Malaysian authorities, that US$529 million was deposited between 2011 and 2013 from a Swiss account of Good Star Ltd to an account at BSI in Singapore allegedly belonging to Mr Low.
Quoting a letter submitted by Singapore police to the Malaysian authorities, WSJ said that the letter did not indicate where Good Star got the funds from or what happened to the money and that the business account was closed in February last year.
Singapore has been assisting Malaysia in the high-profile probe into debt-heavy 1MDB and has vowed to continue to help and share information, within the full ambit of the law.
The fallout from the 1MDB scandal could spread even more to Singapore as, depending on the outcome of the probe on the money trail, it could, say lawyers, lead to prosecution here.
WSJ reported that Singapore's Suspicious Transaction Reporting Office (STRO) had inquired with Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM) in March if "proceeds of crime" were transferred to Singapore in relation to US$529 million deposited into the BSI bank account here. "If proceeds of crime have been transferred to Singapore, we would like to consider whether an offence has been committed in Singapore," Chua Jia Leng, STRO head, was quoted as saying in the letter.
STRO, Singapore's financial intelligence unit, is a central agency that analyses and disseminates raw data on suspicious transactions, cash movement and transactions to detect money laundering, terrorism financing and other criminal offences.
"Once proceeds of crime is determined, the regulators here will waste no time to freeze the relevant account(s) or assets before they proceed to take further action," said a lawyer.