Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak pledged Thursday there will be no cover-up in the investigation of a debt-laden state investment fund and reiterated he is not involved in the murder of a Mongolian woman nine years ago.
Police have said there was no evidence to connect Najib, who was deputy premier at the time of the murder, but new allegations emerged recently that revived talks of a political conspiracy. The woman was killed with gunfire and military explosives in 2006, and two police officers were recently sentenced to hang.
In a surprise television interview Thursday on channel TV3, Najib also said he accepted public criticism against his leadership and defended the government’s move to revive detention without trial.
The interview appeared aimed at rebutting increasing criticism of him by former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who warned on his blog that there was “something rotten in the state of Malaysia” and predicted the ruling coalition may lose the next general elections with Najib at the helm.
Mahathir stepped down in 2003 after 22 years in power, but remains an influential political commentator.
Mahathir has echoed critics’ concerns about state investment fund 1MDB’s 42 billion ringgit ($11.6 billion) debt, an alleged lack of transparency, why billions of ringgit were kept in the Cayman Islands and if the money had financed a Hollywood movie by Najib’s stepson.
1MDB has nearly defaulted on a loan payment, and its huge debt raised fears a possible bailout could leave the government bankrupt.
Najib said that 1MDB’s assets are worth more than its debts and that it needed more time to become financially stable.
However, he stressed he will “not accept any misuse of the funds such as if the money disappeared, was siphoned off” or was used to finance any movie. A private audit has cleared 1MDB, but Najib said he ordered the country’s auditor-general to investigate as well as a parliamentary committee.
“I have given my word that in the case of 1MDB, if there is abuse of funds, we will not defend anyone,” he said.
Najib also said an effort to link him to the murder of Altantuya Shaariibuu was “an old story.”
He said that he had taken an oath in a mosque in 2008 that he doesn’t know the woman nor was involved in the case either directly or indirectly. There was also never any evidence to show that he ever knew the woman, who had an affair with Najib’s friend, the premier said.
The country’s top court in January overturned the acquittal of two police officers accused of murdering the woman and sentenced them to hang. One of them, Najib’s former bodyguard, earlier told the court he was a scapegoat. He escaped to Australia, where he is now detained, and has indicated he may reveal the mastermind.
Mahathir and opposition lawmakers have asked police to reopen the murder investigation.
Najib said the revival of detention without trial under a new anti-terrorism law cannot be equated to a security law that was repealed in 2012. He said the new law was crucial to combat the threat of Islamic extremism following the arrests of dozens of supporters of the Islamic State militant group.
Najib said he still respects Mahathir despite the attacks on his leadership.
“I will continue my leadership. I am open to criticism. Nobody is perfect, I am prepared to improve… but at the end of the day, I am answerable only to the people and to the party,” he said.
Najib said the ruling Malay party, which is the backbone of the coalition that ruled since independence from Britain in 1957, will not fail if it remains united and there is no sabotage from within the party. Support for the ruling coalition has eroded in the last two elections amid anger over rising corruption and racial discrimination.