World News

Defeated Malaysian Prime Minister Is Barred From Leaving Country

Posted May 12, 2018 12:10 p.m. EDT
Updated May 12, 2018 12:11 p.m. EDT

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Malaysia’s new prime minister, Mahathir Mohamad, on Saturday barred his predecessor, Najib Razak, and wife from leaving the country as a leaked flight plan stirred suspicion they were planning to flee.

The travel ban increases the likelihood that Najib will be investigated on corruption accusations over the misappropriation of billions of dollars from a state investment fund, including $731 million that the U.S. Justice Department says was deposited into his accounts.

The Immigration Department of Malaysia said on Saturday in a post on its Facebook page that Najib and his wife, Rosmah Mansor, had been placed on a blacklist that prevented them from leaving the country.

Mahathir said later at a news conference that he had ordered the department to bar Najib and his wife from leaving.

“There are a lot complaints against him, all of which have to be investigated,” Mahathir said of Najib. “We had to act quickly because we don’t want to be saddled with the problem of extradition from another country.”

Najib wrote on social media that he would respect the decision.

In a series of messages earlier Saturday, Najib said he apologized “for any shortcomings and mistakes,” but did not address the scandal at the fund, 1Malaysia Development Berhad, known as 1MDB, directly in his Twitter post.

He said he planned to “take a short break to spend time with my family,” but he did not mention news reports that said he and his wife were planning to travel to Jakarta, Indonesia, citing the leaked flight plan.

“I pray that after this divisive period, the country will unite,” he wrote as part of his posts on Twitter and Facebook. “I apologise for any shortcomings and mistakes, and I thank you, the people, for the opportunity to lead our great nation. It has been the honour of my lifetime to serve you and Malaysia.”

He has previously denied any wrongdoing in connection with 1MDB.

Malaysiakini, a news website, quoted a source close to Najib as saying the former prime minister and his wife planned to go to Jakarta for a two-day trip but would return.

A crowd of people and journalists gathered Saturday at Sultan Abdul Aziz Shah Airport, where the couple were apparently scheduled to depart on a private plane. Some of the crowd peered into arriving vehicles, but there was no indication that Najib and his wife were there.

Also on Saturday, the daughter of the imprisoned opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim said she expected him to be released on Tuesday.

Anwar’s daughter Nurul Izzah Anwar said in an interview with Channel News Asia that her father would be released and receive a full royal pardon, which would enable him to return to politics.

Anwar is a former deputy prime minister who was removed from office after falling out with Mahathir in 1998, and was then sentenced to prison for corruption and sodomy. He is now serving a five-year sentence on a second sodomy conviction. The cases against him have been called politically motivated.

During the campaign, Mahathir said winning a pardon for Anwar was one of his goals. On Friday he announced that Malaysia’s king said he would pardon Anwar.

At a separate news conference on Saturday afternoon, Najib announced he was resigning as president of the United Malays National Organization, the party that had governed the country since independence from Britain in 1957. He also said he was stepping down as chairman of Barisan Nasional, which had been the governing coalition until this past week’s election.

Mahathir, who previously served as prime minister from 1981 to 2003, said any wrongdoing connected with 1MDB would be investigated.

“There is sufficient evidence that an investigation into certain things that have been done by the former prime minister has to be done, and if necessary the rule of law will apply,” he said.

Mahathir added that the investigation would also look at whether officials had failed to fully pursue allegations in the 1MDB case. The government has to place “certain restrictions” on “people who may be involved in wrongdoing or making wrong decisions,” he said.

He added that the attorney general, Mohamed Apandi Ali, had been removed from office. “At the moment, we don’t have an attorney general,” he said.

At the news conference, Mahathir also named his first three Cabinet ministers: Lim Guan Eng, secretary-general of the Democratic Action Party, as finance minister; Mohamad Sabu, president of the National Trust Party, as minister of defense; and Muhyiddin Yassin, a former deputy prime minister who had called on Najib to step down, as home affairs minister.

Mahathir also named a council of elders that included tycoon Robert Kuok to advise the new government.

Lim was asked by a Chinese journalist how he felt about being the first ethnic Chinese to hold his position in 44 years.

“I don’t consider myself as a Chinese,” he responded. “I am a Malaysian.”