Malaysia's Mahathir Widens Graft Crackdown, Seeks to Cut National Debt


MAY 24, 2018

Kuala Lumpur. Ninety-two-year-old Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad held his first cabinet meeting on Wednesday (23/05) as officials widen a probe into corruption linked to the previous government with raids on sites linked to the head of a Muslim pilgrimage fund.

Mahathir led an opposition coalition to a shock victory in elections this month after campaigning on rising living costs and a promise to clean up corruption and on Wednesday vowed to cut the national debt of 1 trillion ringgit ($251 billion).

He has barred former premier Najib Razak and his wife, Rosmah Mansor, from leaving the country, and ordered the anti-graft agency to investigate the disappearance of billions of dollars from state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).

Investigators have already searched Najib's home and several properties, seizing cash, jewelry and luxury items estimated to be worth millions of dollars.

The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) will finish taking a statement from Najib, who ruled the country for almost a decade, on Thursday.

In a separate development, police on Tuesday raided five sites linked to Abdul Azeez Abdul Rahim, the former government-appointed chairman of Tabung Haji, a fund for Muslim pilgrims to Mecca, an MACC official told Reuters.

A number of documents, jewelry and cash were confiscated, said the source, who declined to be identified due to the sensitivity of the issue. The Star newspaper reported on its website that the cash found totaled 120 million Malaysian ringgit. Abdul Azeez Abdul Rahim was not immediately available for comment.

Najib has consistently denied any wrongdoing at 1MDB.

New Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng said on Wednesday that he has asked for PricewaterhouseCoopers to be appointed for a review and audit of 1MDB.

"The directors of 1MDB confirmed that 1MDB was 'insolvent' and was unable to repay its debts," Lim said.

Lim said on Tuesday Najib's government deceived parliament over 1MDB finances and suppressed an investigation by intimidating and purging anti-corruption agents.

Mahathir, who was also prime minister for 22 years from 1981, said after his first cabinet meeting his government would try to cut the national debt, which he put at 65 percent of gross domestic product, by reviewing projects and a 10 percent reduction in cabinet ministers' salaries.

The previous government had said the national debt had been below its self-imposed ceiling of 55 percent of GDP.

Mahathir also said his government would decide "very soon" on whether to continue with the Singapore-Kuala Lumpur high-speed rail project.

Mahathir has already announced plans to revoke a controversial goods and services tax that was intended to rake in 43.8 billion ringgit this year, and reinstate fuel subsidies amid rising oil prices.