KUALA LUMPUR, July 4 — Attacked by Putrajaya, US daily Wall Street Journal has insisted that its latest report on a money trail of some US$700 million (RM2.6 billion) from 1 Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) into the personal bank accounts of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak are based on “solid” and “reliable” documents known to top government officials investigating the state investor’s finances.
WSJ’s Hong Kong bureau chief Ken Brown told US broadcaster CNBC’s Street Signs in an edited 2.43-minute phone interview uploaded last Thursday that its reports were based on documents that “had been shared with the Malaysian attorney-general, with others in the government so they’ve been seen by all and also the prime minister”.
Brown did not disclose how WSJ sighted the documents but stressed that his reporting team took a very serious view of the story that concerns the fate of Malaysia’s top leader and the huge sum of public money.
He acknowledged that the ongoing national-level scrutiny of 1MDB’s accounts have turned into a “highly-politicised story”.
“We are very careful and we believe the investigation and the documents we have are very, you know, solid and come from a very reliable investigation and not a political investigation.
“And if the evidence shows money had forwarded into his accounts, personal accounts and government deals, it’s hugely dramatic,” he said in the video, under questioning from the show’s anchors.
In an explosive report yesterday, WSJ claimed some US$700 million were moved among government agencies, banks and companies before it ended up in Najib’s personal accounts.
These documents, the international business paper claimed, include bank transfer forms and flowcharts put together by investigators to shed light on 1MDB’s cash flow.
The paper said this is the first time a direct connection to Najib has been established in the probe on 1MDB.
The allegations however had first been highlighted by controversial London-based whistleblower site Sarawak Report.
Brown noted that the Prime Minister’s Office had been dismissive of the money trail link when WSJ approached it for comment.
“They basically said the prime minister is not taking any funds for personal use and they’re accusing political opponents of coming up with this story and that’s the kind of stuff they said from our earlier story about 1MDB and the money; the fund was used in the last election campaign by the prime minister,” he told CNBC.
Questioned for his view on the origins of the money, Brown said one batch came from a unit in the Finance Ministry while another was “from this private bank that’s affiliated with Abu Dhabi, which as you know has very close ties with Malaysia and in fact some of these 1MDB bonds and stuff like that”.
“Where the money went, we don’t know. Basically, the trail we have ends at the bank account that has the prime minister’s name on it,” he said.
Critics have been pestering the federal government to disclose its opaque deals with International Petroleum Investment Company (IPIC) for a questionable loan to debt-riddled 1MDB ever since Second Finance Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Husni Hanadzlah announced that the state-owned investment firm would receive a US$1 billion injection from Abu Dhabi-based IPIC and its subsidiary Aabar Investments.
The sum was meant to help 1MDB pay off a US$975 million loan that was being recalled ahead of its due date by a consortium of international bank lenders due allegedly to the controversy surrounding the firm.
The repayment eliminated the risk of a cross default on the entirety of 1MDB’s RM42 billion in debts had the consortium declared the state-owned strategic investment firm to be delinquent.
In his Facebook post last night, the embattled Najib pointed out that all the attacks against him and 1MDB were not been backed by evidence, adding that they part of a concerted campaign to sabotage and remove him as country’s democratically-elected prime minister.
The 61-year-old also accused former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad of spearheading the attacks in a bid to undermine his leadership.
In the latest development today, the prime minister’s political secretary Datuk Muhammad Khairun Aseh was also reported by Malay daily Sinar Harian that Putrajaya will take legal action against WSJ for what he described as “malicious and unsubstantiated” reports based on “weak and dubious sources”.