Former Malaysian leader talks about his fall from power
Najib Razak was ousted as Malaysia's prime minister and has been charged with multiple counts of money laundering and abuse of power. He talked to the FT's Victor Mallet earlier this month about what went wrong and the threat of jail
Filmed by Mohd Dzuha Zamedin, produced and edited by Tom Griggs. Additional footage by Reuters
Najib Razak was Malaysian prime minister for nine years, but he was voted out of power in an extraordinary upheaval. He's now facing 32 charges including money laundering, and he's caught in the sprawling investigation into the state investment fund 1MDB. I asked him how it was that hundreds of millions of dollars ended up in his personal account.
How do you explain this vast sum of money that came in to your personal account?
Well, as you know, around that time there was concern that the Arab spring might even reach this part of the world. And the Saudi government decided to support us. And I had a firm commitment. It was going to be a donation, and the total sum that came in was about $680m. It was basically used -
Dollars. It was used for the election. Four months after election, $621m was returned. So my conscience is very clear. It was meant for a specific reason, and it was used for that, and the money was returned back.
And what was the specific reason? I mean, what was it used on? The money that was spent, what was it used for?
Basically to ensure continuity of a government that's moderate, progressive. And the Saudis saw us as a model country, and they decided to support us.
So essentially this was a political slush fund.
I wouldn't describe it as a slush fund, but I would describe it as a donation to ensure the government of that day continues to be in office.
Do you look back on this whole period with any sense of regret or shame or repentance? You know the Malaysian government bodies that are taking out advertisements in the international press now are saying Malaysia's been through this terrible dark period of corruption, and now we're back, and you can trust us again. Don't you look back at that and think, you know, that was a mess that I was responsible for?
Well, if you look in terms of the major indicators, OK? I mean look at in terms of the growth figures. Last year, we achieved 5.8 per cent . The nine years of my premiership the average growth rate was 5.5 per cent. If you look in terms of the benefits we have given to the people, they were essentially benefits enjoyed by the large proportion of the Malaysian people.
When the police raided your official home and your offices they found all this cash. They found these vast amounts of sort of luxury goods, handbags and things like that. How can you explain that? I mean the total value of this cash in different currencies and these luxury goods were, I mean it was quite enormously high. How do you explain that? The existence of that money?
Well, OK. First of all, in terms of the cash. They were all associated with the election. It's the practise that my predecessors did the same thing. And I'm on record -
Essentially buying votes, is that -
It's not buying votes. Or the machinery requires - we don't buy votes. Please. We never buy votes in this country. But every political party needs funding, just like in America. Every political party needs funding. I wanted to institute a system in which that would be more transparent, but it was rejected by the opposition then, when I first came into office.
So this was money for political -
For political purposes. The party - we run a big party. There are 13 component parties of Barisan Nasional. And the constitution requires me - allows me - to collect funding for the party.
What about the jewellery and the handbags? That's not much good for electioneering, is it?
It's not much good, but I agree with you, but being in office we have a very close relationship with many, many monarchs and heads of government. And some of them have a practise of giving very, very expensive presents on anniversaries, when we visit them and so forth.
So you're unrepentant? What do you see as the future for yourself, and your wife Rosmah's also being questioned. How are you going to go from here?
I have to face a trial. In a way I welcome it, because it will give me an opportunity to clear my name. That's important to me. I want to clear my name. I'm confident of my innocence, and I hope and I pray that I will get a fair trial. And we have to uphold the independence of the judiciary. That's why I welcome international observers to look at the proceedings in our court.