Several cabinet members and top Umno are considering joining the opposition following the US Department of Justice’s move to seize assets related to Finance Ministry-owned 1MDB worth US$1 billion last week, according to sources quoted by South China Morning Post (SCMP).
“I wouldn’t say [everyone] but the supreme council is backing Najib,” it quoted a source in Umno as saying.
Documents published by US investigators revealed that some US$3.5 billion was misappropriated from 1MDB, and named top Malaysian officials involved in the illegal syphoning of money out of the state fund.
The document named the stepson of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, Riza Aziz, for using more than RM250 million of 1MDB funds to finance the production of the movie “Wolf of Wall Street” starring Leonardo diCaprio.
Najib himself was not named, although the document merely cited “Malaysian Official One”, in what some said pointed to the cordial relationship between Najib and the Obama administration.
SCMP also quoted a former New Straits Times editor close to Umno leaders as saying that the moves to oust Najib were already underway in Umno.
“Umno is jittery to the core… a few senior leaders have started moves to ‘discuss’ with Dr Mahathir,” said Firdaus Abdullah, former political editor of the government mouthpiece, referring to former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad who has been at the forefront of a campaign to oust Najib.
“They are top Umno members, cabinet members and leaders of the ruling coalition component parties,” he added.
However, former cabinet member Datuk Zaid Ibrahim said Umno leaders were timid and said he did not expect such a move to take place soon.
“[Umno members] are timid. It will happen but slowly. I think Najib will be charged by the US eventually and then you will see people jumping ship,” said Zaid.
Under Najib, Malaysia’s ties with Washington became the strongest in decades, with President Barack Obama twice visiting Malaysia.
Najib and Obama were also famously photographed in a game of golf in Hawaii in late 2014, in what Najib later boasted was proof that he enjoyed special relationship with the superpower.
But former The Malaysian Insider editor Jahabar Sadiq said the latest development meant Najib’s fortune as far as Obama was concerned, could now change.
“The game changer is that [Najib] can’t rely on the US to keep him safe from prosecution,” Jahabar, whose portal was shut down after carrying extensive reports on 1MDB scandal, told SCMP.