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New Malaysian Leadership Says Defeated Premier Can't Leave Country -- 4th Update

12 May 2018 4:46 am
By Yantoultra Ngui and Bradley Hope 

Malaysian's immigration chief said Saturday that former Prime Minister Najib Razak and his wife Rosmah Mansor have been barred from leaving the country on the heels of a historic election loss.

Immigration Director General Mustafar Ali confirmed Mr. Najib and Ms. Rosmah had been issued a travel ban after Malaysia's new leadership earlier said the couple would be prevented from leaving the country when a flight manifest surfaced showing them booked to fly to Indonesia on a private jet on Saturday morning.

Newly elected Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has said he would reopen an investigation relating to allegations that Mr. Najib siphoned money from 1Malaysia Development Bhd., or 1MDB, the Malaysian state investment fund at the center of probes in multiple countries.

U.S. authorities allege that at least $4.5 billion was misappropriated between 2009 and 2015, including $681 million allegedly received by Mr. Najib, whom lawsuits in the U.S. referred to as "Malaysian Official 1." Mr. Najib and 1MDB have denied wrongdoing, and Malaysian investigations carried out during Mr. Najib's premiership have cleared him.

The announcement of the travel ban confirmed a story in The Wall Street Journal citing two people close to Dr. Mahathir that precautions had been taken to prevent Mr. Najib and his wife leaving the country. These people said they had confirmed the details on the flight manifest, which shows the couple scheduled to fly from a small Kuala Lumpur airport to Jakarta.

In a post on his confirmed Twitter account, Mr. Najib acknowledged the travel ban. "I will respect this order and remain within the country with my family," he wrote.

Earlier, he wrote that "After over four decades in politics and the recent election campaign, which was regrettably personal and perhaps the most intense in Malaysian history, I will take a short break to spend time with my family whom I have not seen enough of in recent years."

He also said he was committed to a smooth transfer of power said that the country would unite "after this divisive period". Ms. Rosmah could not immediately be reached.

Crowds of people swarmed the airport terminal Saturday morning, demanding to see who was in each car attempting to pass through to the area where private jets take on passengers, chanting "Open, open!"

Mr. Najib was seen Friday night at a dinner for his party, the United Malays National Organization, which led Malaysia's ruling coalition for six decades until its defeat this week. Mr. Najib met senior party leaders before leaving the event and before word of the flight manifest became known. He didn't speak to reporters at the event.

A UMNO official told the Journal that Mr. Najib had been planning to take a break and to return afterward to Malaysia. The party has internal elections scheduled for September and Mr. Najib is expected to decide then whether to step down from his position as party leader, the official said.

The private jet on the manifest is operated by Premiair, a company owned by Indonesian billionaire Peter Sondakh. Mr. Sondakh's spokesman said he was unaware of a plan to fly Mr. Najib and Ms. Rosmah to Jakarta on Saturday. Mr. Sondakh wasn't currently in Asia, he said.

Dr. Mahathir was sworn in as prime minister on Thursday, after defeating Mr. Najib, whose party had been at the center of every Malaysian government since independence in 1957.

Dr. Mahathir, who was previously Malaysia's prime minister from 1981 to 2003 and deserted the party two years ago, and the opposition he now leads made corruption allegations against Mr. Najib a cornerstone of their campaign.

Currently in the process of forming his government, Dr. Mahathir has pledged to work to get misappropriated money back for Malaysia.

Ben Otto contributed to this article.

Write to Yantoultra Ngui at yantoultra.ngui@wsj.com and Bradley Hope at bradley.hope@wsj.com
 

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

May 12, 2018 00:46 ET (04:46 GMT)

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