A fugitive financier wanted for questioning in the 1MDB graft scandal apparently eluded authorities for a second time by fleeing Macau just days after doing the same thing in Hong Kong, the Malaysian police chief said Wednesday.
Police Inspector-General Mohamad Fuzi Harun told reporters that Macau police sent him an email two days ago confirming that Low Taek Jho (better known as Jho Low) had left the Chinese special administrative region for an undisclosed destination.
“I was not told about the date and the destination. However, Jho Low is on Interpol’s red notice,” Fuzi said.
On Tuesday, Fuzi said he had contacted Macau officials after Jho Low apparently fled Hong Kong, but had not received a response.
That day, Malaysian Immigration Department Director General Mustafar Ali told national news agency Bernama that Jho Low might be using a passport from another country because his Malaysian one was cancelled last month.
Identified as a close confidante of embattled former Prime Minister Najib Razak, Jho Low is believed to hold key information related to a massive scandal into 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), a state investment fund established by Najib in 2009.
Najib previously said Jho Low had a significant role in 1MDB because of his strategic relationship with several members of Middle East royalty. He told Reuters news agency that Jho Low had a special relationship with the late King Abdullah Abdul Aziz Al-Saud of Saudi Arabia and his family as well as several monarchs in United Arab Emirates.
‘I am an ordinary citizen too’
Last week, Najib was charged in a Kuala Lumpur court with three counts of criminal breach of trust and one count of abuse of power for his alleged part in a scandal involving a former 1MDB subsidiary, SRC International Sdn Bhd. He could face up to 80 years in prison if convicted.
The former prime minister allegedly used his position to solicit a bribe of 42 million ringgit (U.S. $10.6 million) to influence the decision of Malaysian government to guarantee loans totaling 4 billion ringgit ($1.01 billion) to SRC International
Najib lawyer Badrul Abdullah said the charges against his client last week were premature because authorities had not questioned Jho Low and an SRC International managing director Nik Faisal Ariff Kamil Nik Othman about 1MDB.
Badrul said Jho Low had full knowledge of the 1MDB dealings while Nik Faisal was given the authority to sanction deals, so no charges should be brought against Najib until after Malaysian officials could question the duo. Officials cannot locate Nik Faisal who had been identified as being in Indonesia in May.
Since being voted out of office in May, Najib and his wife, Rosmah Mansor, have been the subject of interrogation by the Malaysia Anti-Corruption Commission regarding 1MDB.
A search of residences and other properties linked to couple yielded 117 million ringgit ($29 million) in cash along with jewelry and other luxury items bringing the total value of cash and items to 900 million ($225 million) to 1.1 billion ($273 million) ringgit. It also led to the government freezing Najib’s bank accounts.
In a Facebook post Wednesday, Najib pleaded to have his accounts unfrozen and thanked the government for unfreezing his children’s accounts.
“The authorities need to realize that I am an ordinary citizen too. As the head of my household, I too have bills to pay, medical bills to attend to and a household to run,” he said in the posting. “The authorities freezing my bank account has caused me hardship and difficulties in performing this role.”
“Like any other citizen I deserve to be given access to my personal freedom until my trial is completed. I am pleading with all concerned to stick to the rules of a fair and impartial investigation.”
Veera Kumar, another attorney representing Najib, told BenarNews that the Federal Commercial Crime Investigation Department unit had breached its standard operating procedure when it raided residences and an office linked to the former prime minister.
“Money found must be counted inside the premises and not somewhere else. A witness must also be present. That is according to the law, but that didn’t happen,” the lawyer said.
On June 30, Najib filed lawsuit applications against the police for their alleged lack of professionalism and against Attorney General Tommy Thomas and MACC chief Mohd Shukri Abdull for conflicts of interest. The applications are to be heard on July 16.
“We will reply in the affidavit. I am not going to comment more about it in public,” Fuzi said when asked about the potential lawsuits.
After being charged last week, Najib was released on 1 million ringgit bail – half of which he paid that day and the second half on Monday. Because his accounts are frozen, Najib said he relied on donations from United Malays National Organization (UMNO) members – the political party he led while serving as prime minister – to pay the bill.
On Wednesday, UMNO announced it had hired lawyers to petition the government to return about 116.7 million ringgit ($28.9 million) seized during the search of Najib’s properties.
It also called for silence regarding its action.
“The UMNO headquarters counsel’s team hopes that no party will make any unjust speculation on this matter,” it said at the end of the news release.