Malaysia anti-graft chief quits job early

Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak listens questions from members of the media after an event in Kuala Lumpur on July 21, 2016. Singapore said on July 21 it had seized nearly 180 million USD linked to scandal-tainted Malaysian state fund 1MDB, raising the pressure a day after Washington moved to grab more than $  1 billion in assets over "enormous" fraud. The back-to-back announcements are the clearest and most damning steps yet taken in more than a year of Malaysian tumult over 1MDB, which was founded and overseen by Prime Minister Najib Razak. / AFP / MOHD RASFAN (Photo credit should read MOHD RASFAN/AFP/Getty Images)©AFP

The head of Malaysia’s anti-corruption agency, who doggedly investigated prime minister Najib Razak’s finances along with the broader scandal around state investment fund 1MDB, is quitting his post early amid intensifying political pressure.

Abu Kassim Mohamed, chief commissioner of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission, is due to step down on Monday, more than two years ahead of the scheduled end of his term in December 2018. He will be replaced by Dzulkifli Ahmad, an official in the attorney-general’s chambers.

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Mr Kassim, who denies that the government has pressed him to stand down, has come under attack from Mr Najib’s supporters. He is among three current or former civil servants against whom a police report was filed last week by an official in Mr Najib’s ruling United Malays National Organisation.

According to local media, the police report accuses the three, who also include former central bank governor Zeti Akhtar Aziz and former attorney-general Abdul Gani Patail, of providing confidential information to foreign agencies.

The MACC leadership was praised recently by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation for its “tremendous courage”, as US officials announced they were seeking to seize assets allegedly acquired with misappropriated Malaysian state funds.

Mustafa Izzuddin, a political scientist at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore, said the Malaysian police report could be construed as a “veiled threat” to anti-graft investigators.

“It is reasonable to suggest that the Malaysian government wants a greater say, and perhaps a tighter hold, on what information is shared with foreign agencies,” he said.

As Malaysia’s government has been buffeted by allegations of corruption from overseas probes, Mr Najib has moved to strengthen his position at home.

The prime minister sacked a critical deputy prime minister last year and replaced Mr Gani Patail with a new attorney-general, Mohamed Apandi Ali.

The new attorney-general ruled in January that Mr Najib — who denies any wrongdoing — had no case to answer over $ 681m transferred into his personal bank account, ordering the MACC to close its investigation into the affair. Mr Dzulkifli, Mr Kassim’s MACC replacement, was seated next to the attorney-general at the press conference when Mr Najib was cleared.

The attorney-general also shut down a separate MACC investigation into a 1MDB subsidiary, SRC International. The anti-corruption agency appealed against both decisions.

The pressures on the anti-graft investigators are an illustration of the tensions at the top of Malaysian society over the 1MDB scandal.

Under Dr Zeti, who stepped down in April after 16 years, the central bank shone a spotlight on 1MDB’s activities, recommending criminal charges over the fund’s allegedly inaccurate or incomplete disclosures relating to assets held in the Cayman Islands. 1MDB has denied wrongdoing.

In a recent statement, the MACC said Mr Kassim had applied to end his contract early three times and had not come under pressure “from any party”.

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