April 24, 2018
Trump–Najib White House Meet in September, 2017
By Bradley Hope,Rebecca Ballhaus and Tom Wright
Donald J. Trump–The Art of the Deal
Najib Razak, whose administration is at the center of the 1MDB corruption probe, may use the trip to play down the risk of further investigations
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, whose administration is at the center of a major corruption probe by the U.S. Department of Justice, will visit President Donald Trump in September in Washington, according to a White House official and several people in Malaysia familiar with plans for the trip.
Mr. Najib has been eager to emphasize his friendship with Mr. Trump at a time of U.S. scrutiny over alleged corruption in the Malaysian administration. People close to Mr. Najib say he would likely use the White House visit to try to play down the possibility of further investigations. A spokesman for Mr. Najib declined to comment.
The Justice Department, in lawsuits filed in 2016 and updated in June, alleged that Mr. Najib received $681 million and his stepson, Riza Aziz, received $238 million originating from a state development fund called 1Malaysia Development Bhd.
The fund is the subject of one of the world’s biggest alleged frauds, with a total of more than $4.5 billion allegedly stolen. At least six countries are probing the affair, including Singapore and Switzerland.
The 1MDB issue is one of the most pressing problems for Mr. Razak’s administration in the run-up to elections expected in 2018. Nonetheless, Malaysia and the U.S. have many areas of mutual concern, including China’s expansion of military power in the South China Sea.
Golf with Trump next?
Mr. Najib has had warm ties with recent U.S. administrations. He has boasted to a Malaysian newspaper and other media that he partnered with Mr. Trump at golf several years ago. Mr. Najib and Mr. Trump won the game, according to Malaysian media reports, and Mr. Najib said he has a signed picture of them together at the event, with an inscription from Mr. Trump: “To my favorite Prime Minister. Great win!” Mr. Najib also played golf with then-President Barack Obama.
The U.S. suit in June also alleged that Mr. Najib’s wife received a $27 million diamond necklace paid for by funds embezzled from 1MDB. Much of the money Mr. Najib received was returned to the offshore company that sent it to him, court filings show. Mr. Najib and Mr. Aziz have repeatedly denied wrongdoing.
1MDB itself has denied wrongdoing or that any money is missing. It has pledged to work with any lawful authority. Mr. Najib’s wife, Rosmah Mansor, hasn’t responded to the allegations.
The U.S. allegations are contained in a series of civil asset forfeiture cases, in which the U.S. government is seeking to seize $1.7 billion’s worth of homes, artwork, a mega-yacht and company stakes, among other items it says were bought with embezzled funds. The suits only target assets and don’t allege crimes against individuals.
Earlier in August, the Justice Department filed a motion to stay all those cases while it conducts a criminal investigation.
The civil cases identify Jho Low, a Malaysian financier close to Mr. Najib’s family, as the central orchestrator of the alleged scheme. Mr. Low has denied the charges and pledged to fight them in court.
Mr. Najib and his wife, Ms. Rosmah, aren’t named in the civil suits, but are referred to as Malaysian Official 1 and wife of Malaysian Official 1. A government minister has publicly confirmed Mr. Najib is Malaysian Official 1. Mr. Najib’s stepson is also named in the suits.
The Prime Minister has repeatedly denied 1MDB was defrauded and that any money went missing. He created the fund in 2009 to help drive investment in Malaysia and as finance minister he was the final authority for making decisions.
In 2016, Mr. Najib hired Ashcroft Law Firm LLC, headed by former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, to advise him on the 1MDB case, according to people familiar with the matter. Mr. Najib and Mr. Aziz, and Mr. Aziz’s film production company, are also represented by Boies, Schiller & Flexner LLP.
Amid investigations by several Malaysian authorities into 1MDB in 2015, Mr. Najib replaced his Attorney General over his handling of the case. The new Attorney General (Mr. Apandi Ali) announced his own review of the evidence, found no wrongdoing and closed the case.
Mr. Najib and his supporters have repeatedly said the 1MDB affair is hyped by the political opposition—led by former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad—in an effort to oust Mr. Najib and the ruling UMNO party.
—Yantoultra Ngui in Kuala Lumpur contributed to this article.