PETALING JAYA: China offered the Malaysian government to use its influence to try to get the United States and other nations to stop investigations on associates of former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak and others involved in the alleged plunder of 1MDB.
The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported China also offered to bug homes and offices of WSJ reporters in Hong Kong who were investigating the fund to learn who was leaking information to the reporters.
According to minutes from a series of previously undisclosed meetings reviewed by the WSJ, Chinese officials offered visiting Malaysians in 2016 to bail out troubled 1Malaysia Development Bhd.
In return, Malaysia allegedly offered lucrative railway and pipeline projects for China’s One Belt One Road programme.
The WSJ also reported secret discussions were held with China to allow their navy vessels to dock at two Malaysian ports.
Although the moves were “political in nature” to shore up Najib’s government, settle 1MDB debts and deepen Chinese influence in Malaysia, minutes of the Chinese-Malaysian meetings indicated it was imperative for the public see them as market-driven, the WSJ said.
China’s Foreign Ministry has denied that money in the programme was used to bail out 1MDB.
Documents reviewed by the WSJ showed Malaysian officials suggested some of the infrastructure projects be financed at above-market values, generating excess cash for other needs.
Investigators from the current Malaysian government believed some of the money helped Najib finance his political activities and cover maturing debts of 1MDB.
The WSJ reported Najib was aware of the 2016 Malaysian-Chinese meetings, according to people familiar with them.
Asked about them, the former prime minister issued a statement saying the rail project would have brought tens of thousands of jobs to Malaysia and stating that under his leadership, the country experienced nine years of continuous economic growth.
Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad has put the Chinese projects on hold while Najib has claimed trial to multiple crimes including money laundering and criminal breach of trust.
In July 2015, the WSJ reported that RM2.6bil (US$681mil) of funds originating from 1MDB had flowed into Najib’s personal bank accounts.
Najib’s office said the money was a gift from a Saudi Arabian it didn’t identify and said most of it was eventually returned.
Malaysia’s new government discovered the documents, including minutes from the Chinese-Malaysian meetings over several months, after a sweep of Najib’s offices.
The WSJ, besides reviewing the documents, interviewed people in position to know the events, among them a former official of Najib’s government.
The documents describe a plan proposed by Malaysian officials for Chinese state companies to build two large projects with funding from Chinese banks.
These included the East Coast Rail Link and the Trans Sabah Gas Pipeline.
Dr Mahathir is currently negotiating with Beijing over new terms for the railroad project but was expected to cancel the pipeline deal, the WSJ said.
Chinese Embassy calls WSJ report on 1MDB ‘groundless’