Malaysia: Najib Retracts Request for Land, House despite Cabinet OK

Iskandar Zulkarnain and Muzliza Mustafa
Kuala Lumpur
2021-11-19
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Malaysia: Najib Retracts Request for Land, House despite Cabinet OK Former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak (center) arrives at the Kuala Lumpur High Court for the verdict in the first of his corruption trials linked to the 1MDB financial scandal, July 28, 2020.
S. Mahfuz/BenarNews

Najib Razak backed off Friday on his request to be given land and money for a house, but only after critics claimed that Malaysian lawmakers had approved a $24 million allocation for the ex-prime minister, who has been convicted of massive corruption tied to a financial scandal.

Najib made the announcement on the eve of a state legislative election in Melaka, where he was campaigning for candidates from the Barisan Nasional coalition and his United Malays National Organization, the party back in charge of Malaysia’s federal government.

“I have decided to reject the offer, although principally, the application was made based on my eligibility as former prime minister,” Najib told reporters in Melaka. “I’m aware that the people are facing tough times, where the country’s priority should be on the people.”

He also denied that lawmakers had approved the request, while stressing that he did not ask the government to fork out the 100 million ringgit (U.S. $23.9 million) as a gift.

“The government asked me to choose (from three plots of land), so I decided what’s best for me,” he said.

“I’m not aware of the value. I came to know after it was publicized because I was not involved with the evaluation,” said Najib, adding that he put in the application in 2018 after being voted out as prime minister.

The UMNO-led Barisan bloc crashed out of power then under a wave of popular criticism over revelations about the scandal, where billions of dollars were allegedly looted from 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), a sovereign wealth fund which Najib had founded as PM. 

Under the Government Act enacted in May 2003 during Mahathir Mohamad’s tenure as prime minister, former leaders are entitled to housing after they leave office. Five months later, Mahathir stepped down and was succeeded as prime minister by Abdullah Badawi.

Najib succeeded Abdullah in 2009 and led the government for nine years before his party and coalition were upset in the 2018 general election by a coalition led by Mahathir and Anwar Ibrahim. Both men spoke out against the deal for Najib.

Speaking to reporters on Friday, Najib called on Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob to review similar deals offered to his predecessors, if necessary.

Later, in a Facebook posting, Najib said he was baffled about the outrage.

“Now I have decided to withdraw my application for the residence because I do not want this issue to be used as a tool in Melaka state election campaign,” he said.

Special committee

A statement from Law Minister Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar, however, contradicted Najib’s claim that the government had not approved his application for land and funds to build a home.

“In principle, the cabinet has agreed to grant the former premier his request on the ground of his right under law. However, I must stress that this decision is not final and is subject to further deliberation and final approval by the government,” he said.

On Friday, Wan Junaidi said the cabinet had decided to establish a special committee to look into Najib’s request.

“The committee’s role will be to review the proposed guidelines for the fulfilment of the request, including rates, conditions and maximum limits … for the provision of land and residential houses, under the Former Prime Minister’s Remuneration Schedule, for future implementation,” he said in a statement.

Fahmi Fadzil, communications director for the Pakatan Harapan opposition bloc, said transparency was needed.

“If this issue was not revealed, if this issue was not raised in parliament, if the people were not enraged, would Najib still accept it,” Fahmi asked in a message on Twitter, accompanied by side-by-side screenshots of news reports about statements issued by Wan Junaidi and Najib.

Opposition lawmakers speak out

The gift caused an uproar in the Lower House on Thursday when Mahathir, Najib’s former mentor-turned-nemesis, called on Finance Minister Tengku Zafrul Aziz, who was discussing the 2022 budget, to clarify the matter.

“The finance minister should have explained this in the budget and there is one particular item that was not mentioned in the budget. This is regarding a gift to former Prime Minister Najib Razak,” Mahathir said. “He is to be awarded with 100 million ringgit worth of land and residence purportedly because of his contributions to the country.

“All we know is that he is a convict who was found guilty and was sentenced to a 12-year jail term and fined 200 million ringgit – he was supposed to pay but he hasn’t. Is this his contribution that the government wished to reward him for?” Mahathir said.

Najib has been convicted on seven counts including money laundering linked to SRC International, a subsidiary of 1MDB. He is also standing trial on 25 counts including abuse of power and money laundering connected to 2.3 billion ringgit ($550 million) that went missing from 1MDB.

Mahathir’s revelation led opposition lawmakers to press for an immediate answer from the government.

Tengku Zafrul replied that the application was made after the 2022 Budget was introduced for debate, so it was not included in the budget document. He said questions should be referred to the Prime Minister’s Department.

Meanwhile, opposition leader Anwar expressed shock that the cabinet had approved Najib’s application.

“This matter was never discussed or made known to us during our meeting with the government side,” he said in a statement. “At the time when the people are suffering … the cabinet move to ‘award’ land and residence to someone who was convicted by the court is clearly the most immoral decision and makes no sense.”

Singapore returns 1MDB funds

In other related news, the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission announced that Singaporean authorities last week returned 3.6 million ringgit ($865,000) acquired from Nik Faisal Ariff Kamil, a former top executive at SRC International, a subsidiary of 1MDB. The commission noted that Singapore had previously returned assets valued at 64.4 million ringgit ($15.4 million) from Cutting Edge Industries Ltd.

To date, Malaysia with the help of international law enforcement agencies had recovered about 20.5 billion ringgit ($4.9 billion) in 1MDB assets, the commission said, adding that efforts to recover assets from Switzerland, Kuwait, Mauritius, Cyprus and Hong Kong continue.

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