Updated at 12:15 p.m. ET on 2018-09-19
Former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak was detained by the national anti-corruption agency on Wednesday and expected to spend the night in custody while authorities prepared to charge him on Thursday with alleged abuse of power, officials said.
The former UMNO party president was taken into custody at 4:13 p.m. Wednesday after he went to Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) headquarters in Putrajaya, according to officials.
“The MACC will meet with the Royal Malaysian Police to record Najib’s statement before he is taken to the court tomorrow, to facilitate police investigations under the Anti-Money Laundering, Anti-Terrorism Financing and Proceeds of Unlawful Activities Act 2001,” officials said in a statement.
He is expected to face several charges for alleged abuse of power related to the 2.6 billion ringgit (U.S. $628 million) found in his personal bank accounts. Authorities allege the money came from the sovereign fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), which he created in 2009 ostensibly to pursue projects beneficial to Malaysians.
MACC officials said the Attorney General’s Chamber approved filing the latest round of charges.
Najib has maintained that he received a “gift” from Saudi Arabian sources and denied taking money for personal gain.
In Facebook postings last week, Najib presented letters from a Saudi prince promising him “gifts” of millions of dollars to encourage him to continue promoting Islam to the world. Najib claimed the Saudi gave him 2.6 billion ringgit in March 2013, but he later returned the money because it was not needed for that year’s general election.
The court appearance will be Najib’s third to face charges.
Najib, who pleaded not guilty to charges filed during his first two court appearances, is scheduled to stand trial in February 2019 on seven counts including criminal breach of trust, abuse of power and money laundering.
Those charges are related to allegations that 42 million ringgit ($10.3 million) were illegally funneled electronically into his private bank accounts from SRC International, a former 1MDB subsidiary.
In addition, his lawyer Shafee Abdullah was charged last week with money laundering and tax fraud involving 9.5 million ringgit ($2.3 million) he received from Najib. Shafee called the charges political and baseless.
Supporters speak out
Lokman Noor Adam, president of the NGO Pemantau Malaysia Baru, told BenarNews that his group would gather in front of the MACC headquarters on Wednesday and at the Kuala Lumpur court on Thursday to show solidarity with Najib.
“We condemn the action taken by MACC which we believed was part of the agenda to break the spirit of United Malays National Organization members,” he said.
Najib’s two children, Ashman and Nooryana Najwa, both expressed their feelings about his detention on Instagram.
Nooryana said she sent a photo with her son wishing her father all the best. She said it pained her that she was not in the country to be with him.
“Praying for you and the rule of law in our country, daddy,” she posted.
Ashman posted a photo of Najib and a brief comment at the bottom stating his fear of what may come.
“I can’t imagine the kind of tribulation that you are facing in there. Praying that you are given fair treatment,” he said.
The probe into 1MDB reopened after the new government of Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad came into power in May after defeating Najib’s Barisan Nasional coalition in the general election. Previous Attorney General Apandi Ali, who served under Najib, cleared the then-prime minister of wrongdoing in the case.
United States prosecutors filed a series of lawsuits alleging at least $4.5 billion (18.6 billion ringgit) were stolen from 1MDB and diverted through acquisitions of real estate, artwork and luxury properties by Najib and his associates. Switzerland and France also are investigating 1MDB.
The announcement that Najib will face additional charges comes as UMNO, the political party he led, saw two high-ranking members announce their resignations this week, according to media reports.
Former Foreign Minister Anifah Aman announced his resignation on Wednesday, one day after Supreme Council member Mustapa Mohamed left the party, according to the reports. They join three other party officials who have resigned since the May election.