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Malaysia sets up task force to probe looted wealth

Updated May 22, 2018

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PUTRAJAYA: Malaysia’s newly-elected Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad (second right) addresses civil servants on Monday.—AFP
PUTRAJAYA: Malaysia’s newly-elected Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad (second right) addresses civil servants on Monday.—AFP

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia on Monday set up a task force to probe allegations that billions of dollars were looted from sovereign wealth fund 1MDB in an audacious fraud overseen by ousted leader Najib Razak.

New Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad led a reformist alliance to a shock victory at the May 9 polls over Najib’s coalition, which had governed Malaysia uninterrupted for over six decades.

The fund, 1Malaysia Development Berhad, was set up in 2009 ostensibly to promote the development of the Malaysian economy. But it is alleged that Najib, his family and cronies looted the investment vehicle in a massive fraud stretching from the Cayman Islands to New York, with stolen funds used to buy everything from real estate to artworks.

Since Najib’s ouster, Malaysians have been gripped by a series of police raids on properties linked to the ex-leader, which have yielded a stash of hundreds of luxury handbags believed to belong to his despised wife Rosmah Mansor, as well as suitcases stuffed with cash and jewels. Mahathir had pledged to reopen probes into 1MDB.

The new task force will be charged with seizing back assets and pursuing legal action against those suspected of breaking the law in relation to the fund, said the prime minister’s office.

“The government hopes the setting up of this task force, comprising a multi-agency enforcement unit, will help restore the dignity of Malaysia that has been tainted by the 1MDB kleptocracy scandal,” said Mahathir’s office.

The task force will include representatives of the anti-graft agency, the police and the attorney general’s office. Some of those on the body were part of previous probes into the controversy but were pushed out by Najib’s regime as he moved to shut down domestic investigations.

Huge sums of money from the fund are believed to have been funnelled around the world in a complex web of transactions, and the task force’s remit will include reaching out to law enforcement agencies in other countries, including the US, Switzerland, Singapore and Canada, according to Mahathir’s office.

Published in Dawn, May 22nd, 2018