WASHINGTON — The problems faced by state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) have been blown out of proportion internationally by the opposition with the intention of toppling the government, charged Prime Minister Najib Razak yesterday.
Addressing the United States-Asean (Association of South-east Asian Nations) dinner at the sidelines of his visit to Washington DC, Mr Najib spoke on the 1MDB issue for the first time on US soil, where an investigation by the Department of Justice is ongoing.
“Now I know that some of you will have heard some less positive stories about the Malaysian economy, particularly about 1MDB.
“Rather than brush the issue under the rug, we ordered investigations into the company at a scale unprecedented in our nation’s history,” he said.
“And, when it became clear that there had been failings, I instructed that the company be rationalised. This process is progressing well and many of the assets formerly owned by 1MDB are thriving.”
He told the audience that they should not pay heed to the criticisms raised by some opposition politicians in Malaysia.
“I should remind you that while there were issues, certain opposition politicians in our country blew them out of proportion. Indeed, there was a campaign to deliberately sabotage the company — and undermine investor confidence in our economy — in a failed attempt to topple the government in-between election cycles,” he said.
“Don’t allow the political opposition’s noise on this matter to obscure the reality.”
In his speech, he urged American businessmen to visit Malaysia and see for themselves, especially the high-tech companies that have relocated to South-east Asia, as well as Malaysia’s homegrown companies.
Citing a PricewaterhouseCoopers report, Mr Najib predicted that Malaysia will be knocking on the door of the G20 by 2050, with a GDP higher than Australia, South Africa and Spain.
Writing on his blog yesterday, Mr Najib said Malaysia needs to beef up economic ties with the US so that trade can regain their past high-levels.
“Last year, trade between our countries amounted to nearly US$33 billion (S$44 billion). While this is an improvement on recent years, it used to be considerably more in the past.”
“Malaysia is uniquely positioned as a gateway to the Asean market of 625 million people, and to the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership which — when concluded — will cover 50 per cent of the world’s population and over 30 per cent of global GDP.”
He added in his blog posting that many in the international business community are already taking advantage of Malaysia’s strategic position, its young English-speaking workforce and business-friendly policies.
1MDB, which Mr Najib oversaw, is being investigated in at least six countries for money-laundering and misappropriation of funds.
The US Justice Department has sought to seize about US$1.7 billion in assets allegedly bought with stolen 1MDB funds. Malaysia’s attorney-general closed the 1MDB probe in January last year, and cleared Mr Najib of any wrongdoing.
On Tuesday, President Donald Trump welcomed Mr Najib to the White House, praising his country for investing in the US while steering clear of the investigation into 1MDB.
Meanwhile, the opposition has derided Mr Najib’s trip to the US. Selangor Chief Minister Azmin Ali slammed Putrajaya’s announcement that it will invest US$24 billion in America, while adding that Malaysia’s economic well-being should not be mortgaged for a photo opportunity.
“This investment is purportedly to ‘strengthen the US economy’,” noted Mr Azmin, who is from the Parti Keadilan Rakyat in a statement. “Why does Malaysia need to help out the world’s largest economy?
“Malaysia is an emerging economy, and we are doing our best to court investment from developed countries, not send our money away.” AGENCIES