KUALA LUMPUR: A debate has started in the US as to whether Prime Minister Najib Razak’s decision to stay at the Trump International Hotel is to curry favour with President Donald Trump.
US media, noting that transactions of 1MDB and certain individuals linked to Najib are under investigation by the US, have raised the question as to whether this may have influenced Najib’s decision on where to stay while visiting Trump.
Najib and his entouarge – which includes his wife, several ministers, and top officials – are staying at the expensive Trump International Hotel.
Usually, any top leader visiting the US is provided accommodation, at the expense of the US government, at its official residence for state guests.
The White House, however, has downplayed the issue. At a press briefing, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked about Najib staying at Trump’s hotel.
She was asked if this had come up in conversations with Trump during their meetings, and whether it was “problematic for someone under DoJ (Department of Justice) investigation to be supporting the president’s for-profit company?”
Sanders replied: “I’m not sure about – if that came up. I’m not aware that that was ever discussed. And we certainly don’t book their hotel accommodations, so I couldn’t speak to the personal decision they made about where to stay here in DC.”
To the question as to whether she thought this was “in any way any sort of attempt to curry favour with the president,” Sanders replied: “No, I don’t.”
US media reported that 1MDB transactions and certain individuals linked to Najib were under investigation by the DoJ for alleged money-laundering involving billions of dollars.
They added that Trump had made no mention of the investigation in his brief remarks ahead of the meeting.
According to a report in the Washington Post, Najib’s visit brought at least “24 hours of activity and sales to the glamorous 263-room hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue that Trump owns through a trust”. The report said it was one of the most expensive hotels in Washington.
The report said signs of the Malaysian delegation’s presence were obvious at the property. “At lunchtime Monday, more than a dozen members of Najib’s entourage relaxed in a lounge area reserved for hotel guests. That evening, they came and went from the hotel, sometimes returning to the valet stand with shopping bags.”
The Washington Post report added: “Events of this scale would probably mean hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue for the Trump organisation, based on confirmed spending totals of other groups that have set up camp there.”
Meanwhile, PKR vice-president Rafizi Ramli described Najib’s trip to the US as not an official visit, and, therefore, Malaysians would likely have to foot the bill.
Rafizi said, in a statement released yesterday, that he had received prior information that the US government was not paying for the accommodation.
“Heads of state and international leaders who are on an official visit to the White House are usually put up at Blair House in Washington, which is the official residence for state guests.
“Therefore, this confirms that Najib’s visit to the US is not an official visit and I believe that all the expenses for this trip is borne by Malaysian taxpayers,” Rafizi said, adding that he was informed that Najib’s family members, aside from his wife Rosmah Mansor, were also part of the delegation.