An inquiry into huge losses by Malaysia’s central bank Thursday recommended Mahathir Mohamad face a criminal investigation, months before polls at which the former premier wants to oust the current government. The final report by the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the scandal in the 1990s during Mahathir’s tenure also recommended Anwar Ibrahim finance minister at the time and now an opposition figure languishing in jail face a criminal probe.
Mahathir, who led Malaysia for 22 years and has come out of retirement to try to take on scandal-hit Prime Minister Najib Razak, previously denounced the probe as a “vindictive” attempt to target him and deflect attention from the current government’s problems. Najib is battling allegations that billions of dollars were looted from crisis-hit sovereign wealth fund 1MDB. Najib and the fund deny any wrongdoing.
He must call elections by August and political tensions are rising. Mahathir has joined up with a fractured opposition coalition that also includes Anwar, who was convicted of sodomy in 2015 on what his supporters say are trumped-up charges. The report from the probe into the losses at Bank Negara Malaysia, which local media said totalled 31.5 billion ringgit (almost $8 billion), recommended investigations into alleged criminal breach of trust and cheating.
“The Prime Minister did not correct or offer more information when the losses informed to the Cabinet were not the actual losses,” the report said, referring to Mahathir. The inquiry, which began in August, also held Anwar responsible for withholding information of the forex losses from the Cabinet.
Mahathir, who retired as premier in 2003, had denied having interfered in the central bank’s operations in testimony to the inquiry in September. The report also recommended that officers from the central bank, the finance ministry and the auditor general’s department at the time of the scandal be placed under formal investigation.
There was no immediate response from police about whether they would open a criminal inquiry. Charismatic Anwar used to be heir apparent to Mahathir until he was sacked in 1998 by his boss over political differences, an episode that deeply divided the country. Since last year, the pair have sought to put aside their stormy history in an effort to oust Najib.