Mahathir puts travel block on toppled rival

World | 14 May 2018

Malaysia's new leader, Mahathir Mohamad, 92, barred his scandal-tainted predecessor and his wife from leaving the country to prevent them from fleeing from possible prosecution over a huge corruption scandal.

A leaked flight manifesto showed Najib Razak, 64, and wife Rosmah Mansor planned to leave Kuala Lumpur on a private plane on Saturday and head to Jakarta, fueling rumors he was bolting the country days after a shock electoral defeat that ended his coalition's 60-year grip on power.

"There are a lot of complaints against him, all of which have to be investigated," Mahathir said. "We had to act quickly because we don't want to be saddled with extradition."

Mahathir said investigations will take some time because there was a need to contact authorities in other countries for evidence. He added that Najib will "face the consequences" if any wrongdoing is found.

Najib said on social media that he was planning to take a short vacation to spend time with his family. The Immigration Department, which initially said there was no travel ban, later issued a statement that the former prime minister and his wife were blacklisted from leaving Malaysia.

Mahathir confirmed that he prevented Najib from departing. He said there was sufficient evidence to investigate Najib over the corruption scandal involving the 1MDB state fund that has been investigated in the United States and other countries.

American investigators say Najib associates stole and laundered US$4.5 billion (HK$35 billion) from the fund, with some US$700 million landing in Najib's bank account and around US$30 million used to buy jewelry for his wife. Najib had denied wrongdoing.

Najib responded swiftly to the travel ban, saying he respects the Immigration Department ruling and will remain in the country with his family. He also said he was committed to "facilitating a smooth transfer of power."

Later on Saturday, Najib said he was stepping down as president of the United Malays National Organization and as chairman of the National Front coalition to take responsibility for Wednesday's election debacle. The announcement came after strong calls emerged from the UMNO for Najib to go.

Najib said his deputy, Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, would take over as UMNO president.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

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