Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has defended the country’s anti-corruption agency’s decision last week to release audio recordings of former prime minister Najib Razak allegedly conspiring with senior Malaysian officials to cover up the 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) scandal.
Dr Mahathir’s comments come after questions were raised over whether it was unethical for the anti-graft chief to release the nine clips of conversations last Wednesday which the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) believes identified Najib along with his wife Rosmah Mansor, former MACC chief Dzulkifli Ahmad, and Najib’s former principal private secretary Shukry Mohd Salleh.
Najib is facing 42 graft charges related to 1MDB. He has pleaded not guilty, with his legal team claiming he was a victim of fugitive financier Low Taek Jho, allegations Low has denied.
Speaking to reporters on Saturday (Jan 11) night, Tun Dr Mahathir said the decision by the MACC chief commissioner Latheefa Koya was no different to the public display of personal items that were seized from premises linked to Najib in 2018 following police raids that took place not long after his shock election defeat on May 9 that year.
Malaysian police had said then that the items that were taken from six premises linked to Najib were valued between RM900 million (S$304 million) and RM1.1 billion (S$371 million), making them the biggest seizure ever made by the police in the country’s history. The items included hundreds of luxury handbags and dozens of bags filled with cash and jewelry.
“It’s the same (as making public the recordings), no difference… We do not hide from the public until there is a trial,” Dr Mahathir was quoted saying by the Bernama news agency.
MACC has faced criticism that it had acted unprofessionally in releasing the recordings.
Pakatan Harapan MP and lawyer Ramkarpal Singh said in a statement on Thursday that what Ms Latheefa did could be seen as a trial-by-media of those implicated in the recordings.
Najib’s lawyer Shafee Abdullah said they were contemplating contempt proceedings against the MACC and Ms Latheefa for releasing information that was sub judice – under judicial consideration and prohibited from discussion.
The clips, which date back to 2016, had allegedly showed an attempt to manipulate investigations and other fraudulent acts aimed at concealing missing funds from 1MDB, the state investment firm under the then Premier’s control.
Ms Latheefa, who released the clips, has said they were made public so that there would not be any more attempts to undermine independent bodies, The Star reported.
She has alleged that the audio conversations pointed to “serious power abuse, criminal conspiracy, obstruction of justice and compromising national security”.
But Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, president of the Parti Keadilan Rakyat which is part of Dr Mahathir’s ruling Pakatan Harapan alliance, has called for a further explanation from Ms Latheefa, saying the issue had highlighted privacy concerns, The Star reported.
“I think she should explain further because there are concerns about privacy and confidentiality in telephone conversations between a husband and wife,” he said, referring to a recording involving Rosmah and Najib, where she was heard expressing her displeasure over a certain matter related to MACC investigations.
Mr Anwar, however, added that the arguments that justice needed to be done and the information revealed in the conversations, also had to be taken into account.
He said the matter should be handed over to the police and referred to the court if it was indeed admissible.