Guilty or not, Najib clearly weakened by 1MDB scandal, Forbes writer says


(Malay Mail Online) – Allegations linking Datuk Seri Najib Razak to funds from 1 Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) could overwhelm his leadership that is already weakened by Umno infighting and the struggling economy, journalist Chris Wright suggested today in Forbes magazine.

The award-winning London-based journalist said in an opinion piece that even if Najib is proven innocent of the claims made last week in the Wall Street Journal, the damage to his standing and image was palpable.

“Malaysia is a place where reputation matters enormously and where bad press sticks,” Wright wrote in the article titled, “Can Najib Survive 1MDB scandal?”

“Even if the attorney general does not feel the evidence is strong enough to prosecute, there is a very strong sense that Najib has been weakened regardless.”

The writer said even ruling Umno is facing internal turmoil as a party that now knows it can no longer expect easy electoral victories.

In Election 2013, Barisan Nasional (BN), of which Umno is the lynchpin, ceded seven more federal seats than in 2008 to the loose opposition alliance comprising parties PKR, PAS and DAP.

The outcome saw the ruling pact lose its customary two-thirds parliamentary majority to the opposition for the second time running.

Exacerbating matters for Umno, Wright said, is the question whether Najib is the right person to lead the party in the current political environment.

“Malaysia’s economy is struggling, particularly in an era of falling commodity prices; the country is one of the few in Asia to be a net exporter of commodities,” he pointed out.

“And Malaysia’s elder statesman, Mahathir Mohamad, who led the country for 22 years and was something of a mentor to Najib, has turned against him.

“He has called for Najib to step down over the fund’s behaviour, and even beforehand was angry with Najib’s leadership,” Wright continued.

Former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad has been leading the attacks against Najib, repeatedly urging for the latter’s early resignation and warning that his continued leadership would likely see the fall of BN in the next federal polls.

Last week, when allegations surfaced in WSJ that some US$700 million (RM2.6 billion) had been channelled into Najib’s personal accounts, Dr Mahathir spoke out again, urging this time for the Inland Revenue Board to state the amount of taxes that 1MBD executives as well as personalities linked to the firm have paid and to examine what he categorised as their lavish lifestyles.

Najib retaliated by accusing his mentor-turned-critic of orchestrating the latest attack against him and warning that all those guilty of making false claims would face the full force of the law.

But according to Wright, the allegations have likely already wreaked some damage on Najib’s image.

He noted that last Saturday, Attorney-General Tan Sri Abdul Gani Patail had confirmed kicking off investigations on the alleged transfer of 1MDB’s millions into Najib’s accounts.

According to the country’s top lawyer, a special team of investigators raided the offices of three companies that had been affiliated with 1MDB on Friday, the same day WSJ ran its explosive report.