COMMENT Money, large sums of money, cannot be moved without leaving a trail.
And so it is with the RM2.6 billion (or US$681 million) which The Wall Street Journal reported was in Najib Abdul Razak’s secret private personal account in Ambank.
The first reaction of Najib was to deny but later he admitted to having this money in his secret personal account. People suspect it was from 1MDB. That would be stealing. Najib needed to make some explanation. He claimed it was a gift. People simply laughed. Then it was a donation by some Arab who wanted him to win the 2013 election. The Arab it seems thought he was such a good Muslim leader that he must continue to be Malaysia’s PM.
To verify this, the newly-appointed deputy prime minister (DPM) stated that he has seen the Arab.
But who is this Arab he saw? No name. Anonymous. US$681 million cash is not something just anyone can have or people give away easily. The donor must be extremely rich. Rich people can be rich through inheritance or through business.
Where did he get so much money? Business? Nothing is known about this very successful businessman, not even in the oil and gas (O&G) world. Who is his banker? There must be a banker or banks. You cannot keep US$681 million under your pillow. In fact, even banks do not have such big amounts of cash in their strong-rooms.
The money would be in the form of entries in the books of the banks. Paying out would be by cheques or electronic transfer. No one has been given sight of entries in bank book, nor any cheque stubs, or cheques presented to the bank.
Did Ambank receive cash amounting to US$681 million or RM2.6 billion? Or is it a cheque or electronic transfer? Whatever, it must be entered in the books of the bank. The bank must submit this account for internal and external audit. As the sum is huge, a report needs to be made to the central bank for approval. This is to ensure the money is from legitimate source and is not being laundered.
Today we are worried about money-laundering. If you deposit or you take out any sum more than RM50,000 you must get the approval of Bank Negara. For RM2.6 billion deposited in a Malaysian bank, lots of questions have to be asked by Bank Negara about the origin, ownership, and transfer of money.
Bank Negara subsequently lodged a report to the attorney-general (AG). We don’t know the contents of the report. But the AG dismissed the report. Najib is not guilty of any wrongdoing, said the AG. Just the AG’s words. No documentary proof. Malaysians just don’t believe the AG any more.
Then there is the income tax to be paid by the owner of the money. If no tax has to be paid, the Inland Revenue Board (LHDN) must give a statement that the money was not taxable. No confirmation from LHDN.
In the meantime, the donor has increased from one Arab to two. Then it is said to be from a Saudi prince. And finally it is claimed that the late Saudi king donated the money.
Now a Saudi minister denies there is any record that the US$681 million was a gift. He claims that it was an investment. He did not think the sum was so big.
The AG then claims that U$620 million was returned to the Saudis in 2013. Exactly when? What proof? Previously the money was said to have been moved from Ambank to Singapore banks and the Singapore government had frozen it. So how did Najib return the money if it is frozen? What banks were involved? What is the proof that the money was frozen? How much?
How long can a government freeze an account? The freezing is to enable the Monetary Authority of Singapore to investigate the possibility of the money being laundered. We heard nothing from Singapore.
‘Is it in Singapore banks, frozen stiff?’
So where is this money now? Is it in Singapore banks, frozen stiff? Or is it with the Saudis? Is it the Saudi government’s or Saudi prince’s or individuals? Was it returned to the donor? What proof? Is it in the reports by Bank Negara or the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC)? No proof. Just the AG’s words. Sorry, I do not believe the AG.
Now the Swiss AG claims that it is not RM2.6 billion but RM4 billion was in Najib’s account. The Swiss AG seeks cooperation of the Malaysian AG. Immediately the Malaysian AG claims that it is not about the US$681 million in Najib’s private accounts. There is nothing wrong there.
But he himself said that he dismissed the MACC report because the evidence was not sufficient. If it is not sufficient, shouldn’t further investigation be carried out until it is sufficient?
But Mohamed Apandi Ali exceeded his authority and ordered MACC to stop investigating the RM2.6 billion in Najib’s private personal account at Ambank. The MACC is an independent institution. Even the PM cannot stop its investigation. But clearly Apandi is scared that more evidence would be found.
And now he wants to strengthen the Official Secrets Act (OSA) so he can jail leakers for life. Why? Could it be that he is hiding evidence? What does the law say about people who hide evidence about crimes?
Laws are not made to hide crimes. Laws are made to prevent crimes and punish criminals. Could it be that his attempt to keep the reports out of reach of the Swiss AG stems from his desire to hide evidence? That could be a criminal act.
Najib is strongly supported by Umno division heads, Umno members of Parliament, and his cabinet ministers. They are prepared to accept the billions he has in his private accounts as normal.
When he tried to explain to the Umno supreme council where he got so much money and why he did not tell Umno, one council member said there was no need for him to explain. Just give RM5 million to him for the next election and he would win. Whether the money was stolen or not is not important to supreme council members. They seem to be prepared to accept stolen money. Can we trust such people to govern Malaysia?
Money cannot be hidden. A few thousand ringgit as cash can be hidden but not billions of ringgit. If you keep such huge sums of money in the bank, a lot of people who have to handle it and the accounts will know. But banking secrecy means that they will not tell what they know.
The MACC would be toothless and useless if they cannot get information because of banking secrecy. I don’t think they are subject to the banking secrecy act. If they are, let’s forget about fighting corruption. We should legitimise corruption instead.
DR MAHATHIR MOHAMAD is a former prime minister of Malaysia. This article first appeared on his blog http://chedet.cc/