US$100 million, RM2.6 billion, let’s talk about Najib’s money

Then attorney-general Apandi Ali holds what looks like a chart showing the 1MDB money trail at the height of the 1MDB saga. (Bernama pic)

PETALING JAYA: Since his fall from grace, there has been much speculation about the “donations” received by former prime minister Najib Razak.

Najib, who was 1MDB chairman, had always maintained that the huge sums of cash linked to him – including the infamous RM2.6 billion supposedly channelled into his personal accounts – were generous donations from the Saudi royal family.

Najib recently said the late Saudi ruler King Abdullah Abdulaziz Al Saud had in 2011 donated some US$100 million in cash to help fund his party’s efforts and further the Islamic agenda in Malaysia. He also produced copies of bank documents to support his claims.

This rather sudden tell-all did not sit well with two journalists from The Wall Street Journal (WSJ), which first broke the RM2.6 billion story in 2015. They said Najib was not disclosing anything new and that the rest of the money trail would eventually lead back to 1MDB.

Some news portals also erroneously reported that the US$100 million was part of the RM2.6 billion Najib received. The RM2.6 billion was briefly mentioned towards the end of a Facebook post by Najib, but the two figures were not related at all.

So what makes up the Saudi donations, and what does not? What did Najib say about the US$100 million donation over the years? Why are these linked to the RM2.6 billion figure? Let’s take a look.

What Najib said about the US$100 million donation

On Monday night, Najib revealed in a Facebook post that he had received a US$100 million donation from a Saudi ruler in 2011. The Saudi ruler did not want the donation to be publicised, he said.

The money was to be used for Umno and was granted to him unconditionally due to his close relationship with the late King Abdullah.

Najib produced copies of bank documents confirming the staggering figure he received in his AmBank account in two separate transfers in 2011.

One, totalling almost US$20 million, came from a purported Saudi prince, and the remaining US$80 million from the Saudi finance ministry.

Najib said a “big chunk” of these donations was used to further Barisan Nasional’s (BN) political agenda, including purchasing vans for Johor Umno which have since been seized by the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government.

However, Najib did not say that this was part of the RM2.6 billion said to have been stolen from 1MDB.

He said he would reveal at a later point how he came to receive similar donations from the Saudis after 2011, and address the controversial issue once and for all.

Why were the WSJ journalists upset?

Shortly after Najib’s post was picked up by the media, WSJ journalists Tom Wright and Bradley Hope came out to say there was nothing new about Najib’s disclosure.

Wright, who broke the 1MDB story in 2015 in the first of the paper’s many exposes on the issue, said “the millions from Saudi Arabia” received by Najib had always been reported by WSJ.

“It has nothing to do with the US$681 million in 2013 that came from 1MDB, not to mention tens of millions more from the fund,” he tweeted on Saturday.

Hope, on the other hand, said the documents uploaded were “partly misleading” and “based partly on alleged fraud”. He said they were “created” to mislead bank regulators and shield the truth of the fund’s origins.

He also tweeted at Najib directly with WSJ graphics detailing how the former prime minister allegedly received a separate figure of US$1 billion in his personal bank account from 1MDB accounts.

This, together with local news headlines and Najib’s mention of the RM2.6 billion figure in his post, makes things all the more confusing.

What Najib said in the past about similar Saudi donations

Some RM2.67 billion was reportedly transferred into private bank accounts belonging to Najib shortly before the 13th general election in 2013.

It was this enormous figure that sparked an anti-corruption probe by the Malaysian authorities.

Then-attorney-general Mohamed Apandi Ali, however, cleared Najib of any wrongdoing and said the money was a donation from the son of a late Saudi king.

In August 2013, Najib was said to have returned some RM2.03 billion to the Saudis as it hadn’t been used.

He has yet to detail the whereabouts and the use of the remaining money, but denied that this was siphoned from 1MDB as alleged.

He recently told a news portal that the RM2.6 billion in his account was also a donation from the Saudi royal family, which has yet to confirm or deny this.

This is the first time Najib has mentioned the US$100 million sum.

Is the US$100 million related to the RM2.6 billion?

Not necessarily. For one, this donation does not tally with the timeline of events surrounding the RM2.6 billion donation.

This particular donation of US$100 million was made in 2011. The RM2.6 billion was only banked into Najib’s accounts prior to GE13 in 2013.

Najib has already clearly stated, with receipts, that the US$100 million figure was used to further his party’s political agenda, such as purchasing vans for the Johor Umno division.

It is therefore illogical to tie this figure to 1MDB or the RM2.6 billion, as Najib has already cleared the air surrounding its origins.

Furthermore, Najib said he would explain in detail the rest of the Saudi donations after 2011, including the RM2.6 billion which is a totally separate contribution.

This particular figure of US$100 million, which would have been worth some RM304.5 million back in the day, has not been mentioned in civil suits filed against Najib or by Najib himself in previous years.

However, the US Department of Justice (DoJ) claims that Najib’s bank accounts received some US$10 million in 2011, purportedly from Saudi-national associates of financier Low Taek Jho, commonly known as Jho Low.

This, the DoJ says, is money misappropriated from 1MDB, a claim which Najib has denied.

If the DoJ’s allegations are proven to be true, there is a chance that the US$100 million is actually 1MDB cash.

This is what the WSJ journalists are harping on as fact.

For now, there is only one thing left to do: wait for another “tell-all” by Najib in the near future about the RM2.6 billion and see for ourselves what constitutes 1MDB money and what are mere donations from his friends.