Malaysia’s Immigration Department announced the travel ban on Saturday, moments after the scandal-plagued Najib said in a Facebook post that he and his family were taking a post-election holiday overseas starting from Saturday and would return next week.
Malaysia’s new leader Mahathir Mohamad confirmed he prevented Najib from leaving.
The 92-year-old said there was sufficient evidence for an investigation into Najib regarding the massive corruption scandal involving the 1MDB state fund that Najib set up.
US investigators say Najib’s associates stole and laundered $4.5bn from the fund, with some $700m landing in Najib’s bank account and around $30m used to buy jewelry for his wife. Najib has denied any wrongdoing.
“There are a lot of complaints against him, all of which have to be investigated,” Mahathir told a news conference. “We have to act quickly because we don’t want to be saddled with extradition from other countries.”
Najib on his Twitter account said he would respect the travel ban.
“I have been informed that the Immigration Department does not allow me and my family to go abroad. I respect the direction and will remain with the family in the country,” Najib wrote.
He also resigned as president of his UMNO party, and as chairman of the Barisan Nasional coalition, with immediate effect.
“We all feel sad about what happened, but as a party that upholds democratic principles, we accept the people’s decision,” he said, referring to the stunning defeat of the long-ruling alliance in Wednesday’s general election.
Najib said his deputy Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, who is also the former deputy prime minister, would take over as the new president of the United Malay National Organisation (UMNO), the main party in the Barisan Nasional alliance.
Meanwhile, two senior police officers told Reuters news agency that police raided a deluxe Kuala Lumpur apartment block at which relatives of Najib had been staying.
Police said they were acting after a complaint that a government vehicle had delivered dozens of boxes made to carry designer handbags and other items to the apartment for Najib’s wife, Rosmah Mansor.
“We are looking for government documents that may have been illegally taken,” said a senior police officer, who requested anonymity as he was not authorised to talk to the media.
“The government are worried they could be sensitive and important, and could be taken out of the country.”
He declined to say whether any documents had been found and described the operation as “ongoing”.
|Najib and his wife Rosmah Mansor were hit with travel ban on Saturday [File:Reuters]|
Mahathir, who is now the world’s oldest elected leader, has said his government will not go on a witch-hunt over the 1MDB fiasco but that Najib would have to face the court if he’s found responsible.
The fund was started by Najib when he took power in 2009, but it accumulated billions in debts and is being investigated in the US and several other countries.
He sacked critics in his government, including an attorney general and a deputy prime minister, and muzzled the media.
The new Attorney General Mohamed Apandi Ali cleared Najib in 2016, saying the money was a donation from the Saudi royal family and that most of it was returned.
Mahathir has indicated that Mohamed Apandi would be fired for hiding evidence of wrongdoing.
Meanwhile, the incoming prime minister named Lim Guan Eng, a former banker and qualified chartered accountant, as Malaysia’s new finance minister.
Mahathir also named former deputy prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin as the home or interior minister and Mohamad Sabu, a long-time opposition politician, as the defence minister.
Former central bank governor Zeti Akhtar Aziz and billionaire tycoon Robert Kuok were among those named to a special team that will advise the government on economic and financial matters for the next 100 days.
SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies