Malaysia on Saturday barred former Prime Minister Najib Razak and his wife from leaving the country, amid multiple reports that they had planned to depart on a private plane for Indonesia.
The ban was announced on Facebook as Malaysian reporters mobbed the entrance to the small Subang International Airport outside Kuala Lumpur, said to be the place where the former first couple would board the jet.
“The Immigration Department of Malaysia wants to confirm that Dato Sri Najib Tun Abdul Razak and Datin Sri Rosmah Mansor have just been blacklisted from going abroad,” said a notice posted on the department's Facebook page at around 11:20 a.m. local time. The plane had reportedly been scheduled to depart at 10 a.m.
Najib said he had been informed of the decision in a tweet sent around noon.
“I respect the order and will be with my family in the country,” it said.
In a long statement posted moments earlier on his Facebook page, Najib said he would be going abroad to relax and ponder his political future.
“My family and I will be traveling abroad starting today to relax after the end of the 14th General Election,” it said.
He added that he was “fully responsible” for the outcome of the election, as president of the United Malays National Organization (UMNO) and the coalition it anchored, the Barisan Nasional (BN).
“During this period, I will decide on my position as President of UMNO and Barisan Nasional Chairman, taking into account the deterioration of the people's support for Barisan Nasional in the 14th General Election,” he said.
“Upon returning home next week, I will announce the decision and my future plans.”
Najib apologized to Malaysians and said he was “taking a break” after a long political career and bruising electoral fight, in a series of tweets earlier in the day that had a farewell tone.
“I pray that after this divisive period, the country will unite. I apologize for any shortcomings and mistakes, and I thank you, the people, for the opportunity to lead our great nation. It has been the honor of my lifetime to serve you and Malaysia.”
Resignation calls at UMNO anniversary
Najib’s government was routed in an electoral landslide Wednesday after three years of fending off corruption allegations amid international money-laundering probes linked to billions of dollars allegedly siphoned from Malaysian state fund 1MDB, which Najib had founded.
New Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad had pledged during his campaign to work to get back that money and to prosecute those who broke the law.
On Friday, a sombre Najib attended the annual celebration of the founding of UMNO, which had ruled Malaysia since the country gained independence in 1957.
Members of UMNO’s youth wing used the occasion to demand that the 64-year-old resign from the party.
“Datuk Seri Mohd Najib is the main cause of Barisan Nasional’s defeat at both the central and state levels,” Rafizal Abd Rahim, an UMNO youth leader from Penang, told BenarNews.
“He needs to appreciate what he always called his ‘big spirit’ and immediately hand over UMNO’s top leadership to a person more qualified than him.”
In a press conference on Thursday in which he acknowledged his election defeat, Najib said his government had elevated Malaysians’ quality of life, but "there are things that are not perfect in the time when we were in power."
While discussing plans for his cabinet on Friday, Mahathir told reporters that a few top government officials were facing the risk of being removed from their positions.
“Our intention is to go for people who have shown a tendency to be corrupt or who have committed known corrupt acts,” Mahathir said.
Analysts said among those in the firing line could be Attorney General Apandi Ali, who had cleared Najib of corruption allegations related to 1MDB.
The U.S. Department of Justice is trying to recover more than $1.7 billion in real-estate and other assets allegedly siphoned off through complex transactions from 1MDB, which Najib formed in 2009 ostensibly to pursue projects that would benefit Malaysian citizens through development projects.
Court documents allege that about U.S. $681 million of 1MDB funds were diverted into Najib’s personal bank accounts, but Najib said the money came as a political donation from a member of the Saudi royal family.
“At the moment the AG [attorney general] has undermined his own credibility. He has hidden evidence of wrongdoing and that is wrong under the law,” Mahathir said.
Mahathir was sworn in as Malaysia’s seventh prime minister on Thursday, a day after the coalition he led defeated Barisan Nasional, winning 113 seats of the contested 222 parliamentary seats.