Think twice before returning 1MDB funds, Mahathir tells US

Dr Mahathir Mohamad says US authorities should not return 1MDB money as the current government is also made up of Umno.

KUALA LUMPUR: The United States should “think twice” before giving Malaysia back the money recovered from an anti-kleptocracy probe into state fund 1MDB, former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad said today following Umno’s return to federal power.

The US Department of Justice (DoJ) says over US$4.5 billion was looted from 1MDB under Najib Razak, now on trial for allegedly receiving some of the stolen money.

DoJ, in its biggest ever anti-kleptocracy case, has recouped about US$1 billion from the seizure and sale of assets allegedly bought with 1MDB funds.

It returned nearly US$200 million to Malaysia in May, but a second transfer of about US$240 million was delayed last month amid uncertainty following Mahathir’s resignation, sources said.

Mahathir told Reuters that DoJ should re-consider its decision to send the money to Malaysia after the return of Umno to the government.

“When we took over, DoJ was willing to give it to us because we overthrew the people who stole the money,” he said in an interview.

“Now, the people who stole the money is going to get back the money they stole. I think DoJ will have to think twice.”

At least six countries are investigating alleged graft and money laundering at 1MDB, founded by then-premier Najib in 2009.

After an unexpected election victory in 2018, Mahathir reopened probes into 1MDB and Najib’s involvement at the fund.

Najib is facing five trials, the first of which – involving seven charges linked to RM42 million misappropriated from a 1MDB unit – is expected to reach a verdict within months.

He has pleaded not guilty and says he was misled by businessman Low Taek Jho and other 1MDB officials.

Najib told Reuters last week that he expected an atmosphere more conducive to a fair hearing now that Mahathir was out of power.

The case has also led to scrutiny of Goldman Sachs, which Malaysia has accused of misleading investors over bond sales totalling US$6.5 billion that the bank helped raise for 1MDB. Three units of the bank have pleaded not guilty.