KUALA LUMPUR – Saudi Arabia has for the first time publicly confirmed Malaysia’s claim that $681 million in Prime Minister Najib Razak’s bank accounts was a donation from the Saudi royal family, countering accusations that the money was siphoned from the heavily indebted state investment fund 1MDB.
Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir called the money a “genuine donation” in comments Thursday to Malaysian reporters in Istanbul after a meeting with Najib.
On Friday, Malaysia’s foreign ministry provided a video clip of al-Jubeir’s comments, which Najib’s office said vindicate the prime minister, who has faced months of pressure to resign from critics including former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.
“It is a genuine donation with nothing expected in return. And we are also fully aware that the attorney general of Malaysia has thoroughly investigated the matter and found no wrongdoing,” Al-Jubeir said. “So, as far as we are concerned, the matter is closed.”
He didn’t give details on who donated the money or why.
When the attorney general cleared Najib in January, he said the $681 million was a donation from Saudi’s royal family and that Najib had returned most of it. The explanation was met with widespread skepticism.
“This confirms what the prime minister maintained all along, and what multiple lawful authorities concluded after exhaustive investigations,” Tengku Sarifuddin, Najib’s press secretary, said in a statement. “This also proves that the wild allegations pushed by Mahathir and his anti-Najib campaign are completely false.”
Mahathir Mohamad, who stepped down in 2003 after 21 years in power, has been a fierce critic of Najib, alleging that he was corrupt and should resign.
Saudi’s confirmation may ease pressure on Najib, but he still grapples with controversy over massive debts in 1MDB, which he started in 2009.
A Malaysian parliamentary inquiry this month found massive unexplained payments and called for a police probe of the fund’s former head. The inquiry said 1MDB lacked sufficient documentation to explain a payment of at least $3.5 billion. It said the fund’s debts ballooned from 5 billion ringgit ($1.3 billion) in 2009 to 50 billion ringgit ($12.8 billion) this January.
The report did not mention Najib, but opposition politicians have said the prime minister should be held responsible as he still chairs the fund’s advisory board.
Opposition lawmaker Lim Kit Siang said al-Jubeir’s confirmation was belated and “unconvincing.” He said it raised questions, especially after the parliamentary inquiry’s finding that $3.5 billion could not be accounted for. He said 1MDB must provide overseas bank documents to allow investigators to probe where the money went.
1MDB is being investigated in several countries. Switzerland has said its investigations into the fund indicated that $4 billion earmarked for investment in development projects in Malaysia may have been misappropriated from state-owned companies.
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5