Wrapping up a controversial visit to Washington, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Rajak accused his political opponents of exaggerating the problems of scandal-ridden state fund 1MDB and even of sabotaging it as part of a failed attempt to topple his government.
Najib made the allegations hours after his first visit to the White House, where he and U.S. President Donald Trump discussed a range of bilateral issues including the North Korean nuclear threat, cooperation in counter-terrorism, and the Rohingya refugee crisis in Myanmar and Bangladesh.
“I know that some of the audience will have heard some less positive stories about the Malaysian economy, particularly about 1MDB,” Najib said during a speech on Tuesday night to Southeast Asian and U.S. business executives in the American capital.
“[W]hile there were issues, certain opposition politicians in our country blew them out of proportion.”
The prime minister was alluding to a multi-billion dollar corruption and financial mismanagement scandal linked to 1Malaysia Development Berhad, which he founded in 2009 as a vehicle for attracting investments and spurring economic growth in his country.
The 1MDB affair has beleaguered Najib since July 2015 and led to calls back home for his resignation, but the issue did not come up during his meeting with Trump, according to the White House press office.
The Trump administration was criticized in Malaysia and the United States for inviting Najib to the White House despite a criminal investigation by the U.S. Justice Department into allegations that businessmen associated with 1MDB had diverted and laundered $4.5 billion from the fund.
Najib has been implicated because nearly $700 million of money linked to 1MDB was deposited into his private banks accounts in 2013. He has denied any criminal wrong doing, saying this money was donated by the Saudi royal family and not used for his personal gain.
“Indeed, there was a campaign to deliberately sabotage the company – and undermine investor confidence in our economy – in a failed attempt to topple the government in-between election cycles,” he said, without providing details.
He did not name his political rivals.
While in Washington, Najib and his entourage stayed at the at the ritzy Trump International Hotel, a 263-room hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue that Donald Trump owns through a trust, according to American newspaper reports.
No place for WMDs
Prior to their closed-door meeting at the White House, Najib talked at length about Malaysia’s counter-terrorism efforts, and Trump praised the prime minister for playing a “major role” in supporting international efforts to stop IS and other groups from spreading extremism.
On Wednesday, the third and final day of his U.S. visit, Najib acknowledged in a speech to a Washington think-tank that IS had succeeded in carrying out one attack on Malaysian soil – a grenade blast that injured eight people at a nightclub in the Kuala Lumpur area in June 2016.
But, he noted, Malaysian authorities had also thwarted “at least 13 major terrorist attacks” since 2012.
In his remarks to the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), he also said that he and Trump had discussed North Korea’s recent test of a hydrogen bomb.
The communist state, which has been under U.N. sanctions since 2006 over its missile launches, tested what it claimed was an H-bomb on Sept. 3, just days after it tested a ballistic missile that flew over the Japanese island of Hokkaido.
“President Trump and I discussed this at length yesterday, and Malaysia offers its full support and assistance in resolving the current very dangerous tension over North Korea,” Najib told the audience at the CSIS.
“Let me be very clear – there can be no place for the use or proliferation of WMDs,” he said, referring to weapons of mass destruction. “Asia must not be held hostage over the prospect of either a WMD or conventional war breaking out in our midst. The stakes are simply too high.”
Trump welcomed Najib’s commitment to go beyond the U.N. resolutions, including through a review of its diplomatic relations and business links with North Korea, according to a joint statement issued by the White House, which also said the two leaders discussed the need to end the humanitarian crisis in Myanmar.
In addition, the two leaders touched on a flare-up of violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, which followed attacks by Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) insurgents on Myanmar border police posts last month, the statement said.
The violence has unleased an exodus of at least 380,000 Rohingya Muslims into neighboring Bangladesh, according to the United Nations.
The White House statement said Trump and Najib urged the Myanmar government to end the “violence against innocents” and ensure that humanitarian relief reached the victims immediately.
The Rohingya people “have had their community identity denied for decades” and been forced to flee their homes in Myanmar to flee persecution and brutal attacks, Najib told his CSIS audience, according to a transcript posted on his website.
“Many have said that the atrocities committed against them could be rightly described as constituting ethnic cleansing or genocide." Najib said.
“I believe the world is almost completely united in being appalled by the latest wave of violence – which also has the potential to radicalize desperate young people enraged by their government’s treatment of them,” Najib said.