Malaysia has accused Switzerland of breaking protocol and circulating misinformation when its attorney general said last week that billions of dollars had been stolen from Malaysian state-owned companies.
In the most scathing response by a member of the government to date, Malaysiaâ€™s Minister of Communications Salleh Said Keruak told the Guardian that â€œthese premature statements appear to have been made without a full and comprehensive appreciation of all the facts.â€
â€œItâ€™s very unusual, and against normal protocol, for a senior official of one country to speak publicly on the internal matters of another country. Yet that is what the Swiss Attorney General has done,â€ he said.
The rebuke adds fire to a burgeoning diplomatic standoff between Malaysia and Switzerland, one of several countries investigating corruption at 1MDB (1Malaysia Development Berhad), a heavily-indebted state fund whose advisory board is headed by Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak.
Najib was himself cleared of corruption in Malaysia a week ago by the countryâ€™s attorney general, who said the Saudi royal family was the source of a $681m â€œdonationâ€ to Najibâ€™s personal accounts just before the 2013 election.
The premierâ€™s critics allege the transfers was in fact linked to the 1MDB, an accusation that 1MDB, the attorney general and the prime minister deny.
A statement from the Swiss attorney generalâ€™s office released late on Friday reignited graft allegations when it called for assistance from Malaysian authorities in a probe into the embezzlement of $4bn from 1MDB. It said investigators had â€œrevealed serious indications that funds have been misappropriatedâ€.
While the Swiss attorney generalâ€™s office told the Guardian that Najib was not under accusation, the announcement focused intense international pressure on the government just three days after Najib said accusations against him had â€œbeen comprehensively put to restâ€.
Cabinet minister Salleh told the Guardian that Swiss Attorney General Michael Lauber should have first contacted his counterpart in Malaysia.
â€œDoes the Swiss AG normally talk to the media first, and then the relevant authorities afterwards?â€ he said. Salleh said 1MDB had undergone extensive audits since 2009 and the $4bn figure â€œsimply could not have been misappropriated under such conditions.â€
He accused Lauber of inferring that the Malaysian attorney general had been uncooperative â€œwhen in fact Malaysian authorities have been waiting to hear from their Swiss counterparts for many months,â€ he said, referring to case evidence Malaysia has requested from Switzerland.
Malaysiaâ€™s attorney general agreed over the weekend to cooperate with his Swiss counterpart.
Swiss investigators say a small portion of the stolen money was â€œtransferred to accounts held in Switzerland by various former Malaysian public officials and both former and current public officials from the United Arabic Emirates,â€ without naming them.
The Swiss case was opened last August against two unnamed former 1MDB officials. Charges include bribery of foreign public officials, misconduct in public office, and money laundering.
Salleh also accused Lauber of spreading misinformation for saying Malaysian companies being investigated have made no comment on the losses they are believed to have incurred.
â€œAs anyone following developments related to 1MDB is well aware, the company has issued statement after statement â€“ providing detailed explanations, and a breakdown of its financials – to address questions that have previously been raised about these alleged losses.â€
â€œIn certain Western media outlets, there exists a bias that itâ€™s the institutions and governments of developing â€Žcountries that donâ€™t play it straight, while Western governments do. In this case, the actions of the Swiss Attorney General prove the opposite,â€ he said.
Asked to respond to Sallehâ€™s comments, spokesman for the Swiss attorney general AndrÃ© Marty said: â€œAs a law enforcement body and judicial authority, the (Office of the Swiss Attorney General) has not to comment on political statements.â€
Marty said his office â€œtook note with satisfaction of the reaction of its Malaysian counterpart and of its commitment to fully support Switzerlandâ€™s request for mutual assistance.â€
A joint statement by the Commercial Affairs Department and the Monetary Authority of Singapore late on Monday said the bodies were still â€œactively investigating possible money-laundering and other offences carried out in Singapore.â€
â€œIn connection with these investigations, we have sought and are continuing to seek information from several financial institutions, are interviewing various individuals, and have seized a large number of bank accounts,â€ it said.
The Hong Kong police told the Guardian on Tuesday that its investigation was ongoing, without providing further details.
The statement from Switzerland has drawn support from Najibâ€™s foes, including opposition members, for keeping the now-global investigation open.
â€œIt is crystal clear that (Malaysia attorney general Mohamed) Apandi has yet to verify the exact source of funds for the so-called â€œdonationâ€,â€ Malaysian opposition parliamentarian Tony Pua said.
â€œTherefore, he cannot conclusively dismiss the possibility that part of the US$4 billion of misappropriated funds by 1MDB did not find its way to (Najibâ€™s) accounts.â€
The Guardian/Oliver Holmes