Najib Razak has been banned from leaving Malaysia after planning to go on holiday with his wife Rosmah Mansor. The former Prime Minister’s Barisan Nasional coalition suffered a shock defeat in national elections earlier this week, paving the way for a return to power of Mahathir Mohamad.
At 92 years old, he was sworn in as the country’s new Prime Minister and becomes the world’s oldest elected leader.
During the election campaign, Mahathir had vowed to investigate a multi-billion-dollar corruption scandal at state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad, or 1MDB, which was founded by Najib.
“Najib has made Malaysia among the 10 most corrupt countries in the world,” Mahathir claimed in an interview with The Guardian newspaper, which is based in London.
The charge has been repeatedly denied by the former PM, who on Saturday posted a message on Facebook, saying he was planning to take a family holiday before returning to Malaysia next week.
Moments later, the immigration department confirmed on its official Facebook page that Najib and his wife were “blacklisted” from leaving the country.
The statement came after a flight schedule had shown that Najib and his wife were due to take a private jet to Jakarta at 10 am, according to a media report.
The brief immigration communique simply read:
“Najib and Rosmah have just been blacklisted from leaving the country.”
Immediately after the announcement, Najib tweeted:
“I have been informed that the Malaysian Immigration Department will not allow my family and me to go overseas. I respect the directive and will remain with my family in the country.”
Earlier, an angry crowd descended on the airport in a bid to stop them from leaving. Riot police were stationed by the gate of the airport where it was believed Najib would enter.
As a white van with heavily tinted windows attempted to pass, the crowd surrounded the vehicle and demanded to know who was inside.
They even tried to rock the van, with one man shouting: “I hate Rosmah,” who is deeply unpopular due to her reported love of luxury shopping trips
Finally, the vehicle was allowed to pass after the occupants rolled down the windows to prove Najib was not hiding inside.
“We have the right to know who is inside the car, as a citizen I will fight for that,” Raja Singham, a 49-year-old businessman, who had tried to block the van from entering the airport, said.
“We have suffered for so many years. I don’t want them to get out of the country,” he added.
At the heart of this rising tide of resentment has been the1MDB scandal, which has gripped the country for years.
The state fund was set up by Najib in 2009 and was meant to turn Kuala Lumpur into a financial hub and inject new life into the economy through strategic investments.
But six years later, alarm bells started ringing when 1MDB missed payments for about US$11 billion it owed to banks and bondholders.
What followed was a major investigation by the Wall Street Journal, which reported it had seen a paper trail that allegedly traced close to $700 million from the fund to Najib’s personal bank accounts.
The accusation has been vehemently denied by the outgoing Prime Minister, who has always insisted he is innocent after being cleared by Malaysian authorities
Still, the country’s new PM has vowed to launch a major investigation into the case.
On Friday, two sources told Reuters that Mahathir will appoint a finance ministry adviser to oversee the recovery of billions of dollars allegedly stolen from 1MDB.
“The Malaysian people were defrauded on an enormous scale,” said the Federal Bureau of Investigation, or FBI, at the time.
In a move to dampen down rising tensions, Najib tweeted that he hoped the “divisive period” in the country’s history would end with unity.
“I pray that after this divisive period, the country will unite. I apologize for any shortcomings and mistakes, and I thank you, the people, for the opportunity to lead our great nation. It has been the honor of my lifetime to serve you and Malaysia,” he said.
– with reporting from Reuters and AFP