KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia today opened an inquiry into huge losses by the central bank more than two decades ago, a move the opposition says is aimed at derailing ex-prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s efforts to oust the government.
A five-member panel will look into the alleged multi-billion-dollar losses incurred by Bank Negara Malaysia through foreign exchange trading in the early 1990s, during Mahathir’s tenure as prime minister.
The government-appointed royal commission of inquiry will start its 10-day hearing on Aug 21 and have the power to recommend actions against anyone found to be involved in causing the losses.
The 92-year-old former prime minister now leads the opposition coalition and is a strident critic of Prime Minister Najib Razak, who is himself battling allegations that billions of dollars were looted from Malaysia’s crisis-hit state investment fund 1MDB.
Mahathir’s supporters have slammed the inquiry as a ruse to remove a political foe as the country looks towards looming elections.
“It is a political vendetta launched against Mahathir by Najib in order to create a diversion from the scandal-hit state investment fund 1MDB,” veteran opposition lawmaker Lim Kit Siang told AFP.
“I think they are trying to punish, penalise and prosecute Mahathir in time for the next general election.”
Few details have emerged of the scale or nature of the alleged forex losses a quarter-century ago, but reports in local media have suggested that the central bank lost around US$10 billion (RM43 billion).
The inquiry was set up after the government said a preliminary probe found enough evidence to merit in-depth investigations.
In April, Mahathir, who was prime minister from 1981 to 2003, said he was ready to be a witness in the investigation.
Mahathir has come out of retirement to form his own party and joined forces with his old foe Anwar Ibrahim in an opposition alliance that aims to unseat Najib in elections, due by 2018.
He has excoriated Najib over 1MDB, saying that Malaysia is “controlled by thieves”. Najib and 1MDB deny wrongdoing.
Lim questioned why there was no inquiry into 1MDB.
“How can we blissfully ignore the 1MDB scandal?” he said, adding that the forex losses probe was an attempt to silence Najib’s critics.
The task force is expected to submit a report to the king by Oct 13.
But legal experts said only the attorney-general has the power to investigate the findings and prosecute.