Now that Dato’ Seri Najib Razak has denied that his wealth originates from "legacy family assets", it is even more pressing for the Prime Minister to explain the source of his family’s wealth worth hundreds of millions of ringgit.
The New York Times (NYT) exposé published on 8 February 2015 surfaced the incredible wealth of Dato’ Seri Najib’s immediate family and raised questions on how this extraordinary wealth has been accumulated.
The Prime Minister’s Office responded to the report claiming, “neither any money spent on travel, nor any jewelry purchases, nor the alleged contents of any safes are unusual for a person of the prime minister’s position, responsibilities and legacy family assets.”
However, his office’s official response has stung his four younger brothers who had to issue a statement last week into defending the legacy of their father, Malaysia’s second Prime Minister, Tun Abdul Razak Hussein.
"We wish to put on record that Tun Abdul Razak was a highly principled man, well-known to all who knew him for his frugality and utmost integrity and any statement or inference to the contrary would be totally false and misleading to his memory and to his service and sacrifices for the nation. We take issue with anyone who taints his memory, whatever the motive,” the family said in a statement signed by Datuk Johari, Datuk Nizam, Datuk Nazim, and Datuk Seri Nazir on 24 February.
The less than subtle rebuke finally triggered a response from the Prime Minister yesterday, who issued a statement to Utusan Malaysia and Berita Harian to emphasize that his father lived in moderation, never abused his powers for personal benefits and was very prudent with financial administration.
"Sepanjang perkhidmatan dalam kerajaan, Tun Abdul Razak tidak pernah terlibat dengan apa-apa amalan rasuah dan salah guna kuasa. Beliau sentiasa meletakkan kepentingan negara jauh mengatasi kepentingan peribadi hingga jasanya kepada negara menjadi memori umum bagi rakyat. Sejak mula terlibat dalam perjuangan politik sehinggalah memegang tampuk pemerintahan negara, Tun Abdul Razak diketahui mengamalkan gaya hidup sederhana dan berjimat cermat."
Dato’ Seri Najib Razak further added that he supported the statement by his four brothers, which effectively refuted the statement from his own office that his wealth originated significantly from “legacy family assets”.
However his denial that the source of his family’s wealth comes from “legacy family assets” then begs the question of the exposé in the first place, where exactly did all these money come from?
The NYT report highlighted that the Malaysian Prime Minister, “who earns an annual salary of about $100,000 (RM350,000) as prime minister, has been battered by news media reports of his wife’s lavish spending”.
It pointed out the example of a series of photos which showed the Prime Minister’s wife, Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor holding at least nine different Birkin handbags which typically cost between US$9,000 (RM32,000) and US$150,000 (RM530,000) apiece.
Invoices and other documents obtained by The Times show millions of dollars in jewellery ordered for Datin Seri Rosmah in Hong Kong in 2008 and 2009 — diamond and emerald rings, and diamond, emerald and ruby bracelets.
The NYT story also unearth the previously secret transactions of Dato’ Seri Najib’s 38 year old step-son, Riza Aziz who bought an apartment in Park Laurel, New York for US$33.5 million (RM117.5 million) and a house in Beverly Hills worth at least US$17.5 million (RM61.5 million) in hard cash. Both of these properties are curiously enough, purchased from the notorious Jho Low, whose wealth is similarly somewhat unexplained.
All these funds appear to be at Riza’s disposal despite the fact that he had previously only been a junior-level banker at HSBC.
Regardless of the drama behind the relationship between Jho Low, Riza, Dato’ Seri Najib Razak and his wife, Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor which may be worthy of a Hollywood script, the fact of the matter from the various reports is that the Prime Minister’s family has been able to spend and acquire assets globally worth hundreds of millions of ringgit.
Therefore, if Dato’ Seri Najib Razak believes that his source of unusual wealth and a lifestyle of exuberant luxury is all acquired scrupulously, then he must explain how he obtained them when his only occupation was as the Pahang Menteri Besar (1982-1986), Cabinet Minister (1986-2004), Deputy Prime Minister (2004-2009) before assuming the Prime Ministership since 2009.
I am certain that the Prime Minister will agree with me that his lack of transparency and the exposé of his family’s hidden and not-so-hidden wealth will only encourage more unhealthy speculations on the origins of his family’s outsized wealth.