By Praveen Menon and Joseph Sipalan
LANGKAWI, Malaysia (Reuters)
Former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak says he shouldn’t be blamed for the multi-billion-dollar 1MDB scandal, and declares he knows nothing about money from the state fund appearing in his personal account
He does, though, have explanations for the vast sums of cash, luxury handbags and jewellery recently seized from his homes by the Malaysian authorities.
Speaking to Reuters in his first sit-down interview since his shock May 9 election defeat, Najib said his advisors and the management and board of 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), had wrongly kept the alleged embezzlement of funds a secret from him.
Newly-elected Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad told Reuters on Tuesday that the authorities have “an almost perfect case” against Najib on charges of embezzlement, misappropriation and bribery linked to 1MDB.
The 64-year-old politician lost the election after a decade in power at least partly because of the 1MDB scandal, which U.S. Attorney-General Jeff Sessions has described as “kleptocracy at its worst”.
Najib, in some of his most extensive comments yet on the 1MDB scandal, said he did not know if hundreds of millions of dollars that moved through his personal account was from 1MDB, and if money from the fund was eventually laundered to acquire assets globally, including yachts, paintings, gems and prime real estate.
“I’m not party to the yacht, the paintings…I’ve never seen those paintings whatsoever,” said Najib. “I was not aware of these purchases. This was done without my knowledge. I would never authorize 1MDB funds to be used for any of these items. I’ve been in government so long, I know what’s right and what’s wrong,” Najib said in the interview held at a luxurious sea-facing private villa in a five-star hotel on the Malaysian holiday island of Langkawi.
He blamed 1MDB’s board, saying it was incumbent upon them to tell him if something was wrong.
Relaxing in a black t-shirt and brown pants, Najib said he was enjoying golf, food, and time with his family.
The family booked the villa to celebrate Eid holidays together. Najib’s children, including stepson Riza Aziz, a Hollywood film producer, were with him for the week, his aides told Reuters.
Malaysian investigators looking into 1MDB say they believe that Najib and his wife Rosmah Mansor have amassed vast amounts of wealth and property using funds from the state fund. Rosmah briefly appeared at the interview but Najib said she would not take questions.
Nearly 300 boxes of designer handbags and dozens of bags filled with cash and jewellery were among the items taken away by police in raids at properties linked to Najib’s family. Items included Birkin handbags from the luxury goods maker Hermes, each worth up to hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Najib said the public seizure of handbags and other luxury items created a negative perception but most were gifts given to his wife and daughter and had nothing to do with 1MDB.
“Yes these were gifts, particularly with my daughter’s they were tagged, they were actually labelled: when, by whom,” adding that a lot of them were wedding presents.
Najib said his son-in-law Daniyar Nazarbayev, the nephew of Kazakstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev, also gifted many of the handbags to Rosmah.
“People might find it hard to understand, but my son-in-law for example, he gets Birkin from his source, five or six at one go,” he said.
“His family has got some means, so it has nothing to do with 1MDB if it comes from Kazakhstan.”
He also said 114 million ringgit found at his family home in Kuala Lumpur were party funds belonging to the United Malays National Organisation, of which he was president until he stepped down shortly after the poll. UMNO was part of the Barisan Nasional coalition that lost the election.
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