Calls for caretaker government and fresh elections in Malaysia (The Straits Times)

Civil society and opposition leaders have called for a caretaker government and fresh elections next year following claims that nearly US$700 million (S$943 million) linked to debt-ridden 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) was deposited into Prime Minister Najib Razak’s personal accounts just prior to the 2013 General Election.

In a report last Friday, The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) alleged that the money was deposited via a Swiss bank, Falcon Private Bank, two months before the May 5 polls.

While Datuk Seri Najib, who is 1MDB’s chief adviser, has denied using state funds for “personal gain”, he has not denied the WSJ claims outright, leading to speculation that the money was used to help his Umno-led Barisan Nasional (BN) in the tightly contested election, which it narrowly won.

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The Singapore branch of Falcon Private Bank, which has been linked to the scandal engulfing Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, is cooperating with the authorities here.

The bank is in contact with the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) and is being “fully transparent and cooperative with the authorities”, bank spokesman Gianmarco Timpanaro told The Straits Times yesterday.

“Due to bank client confidentiality, we are not allowed to publicly comment on potential clients nor make statements on respective transactions,” he said.

It was responding to a query from The Straits Times regarding a recent Wall Street Journal report on deposits of US$681 million (S$917 million) being wired to Mr Najib’s accounts via the bank’s Singapore branch in 2013.

Headquartered in Zurich, the bank is owned by Abu Dhabi’s International Petroleum Investment Company.

When contacted, an MAS spokesman said: “The Malaysian authorities have launched an investigation into this matter. Singapore will continue to provide our full assistance and share information with the authorities in Malaysia, within the ambit of our laws. In this connection, MAS has been in close contact with the relevant financial institutions.”

The Straits Times understands that MAS has been in contact with Falcon Private Bank.

“This money is linked to the last general election. So we must have a new election as soon as possible. We want a clean election to appoint a clean government,” Democratic Action Party secretary-general Lim Guan Eng said at an urgent meeting in Parliament called by opposition parties yesterday.

Lawyer and human rights activist Ambiga Sreenevasan also told the meeting, which drew about 100 people, that BN must hand over power to a caretaker government which will “clean up the system”, and that fresh elections must be held one year later. The reason is that “what we know now raises questions over the credibility of elections”, said Datuk Ambiga.

She also said Mr Najib should take leave to let investigators work without interference so “he will have a fair chance to clear his name”.

Mr Lim, who is Penang Chief Minister, vowed to prevent 1MDB from disposing of its land banks in the island state after calling for the troubled state investment agency’s assets to be frozen.

Opposition MPs and representatives of non-governmental organisations had to hold their meeting in an open courtyard in front of the Parliament building after being told that the room they had booked was not available.