Malaysia’s government on Tuesday launched an inquiry into massive foreign-exchange losses by the central bank more than two decades ago, in a probe that could lead to criminal prosecution of former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, the Wall Street Journal reports.
Opposition leaders slammed the inquiry as a political ploy to discredit Mahathir just months after he set up a new political party. He leads an opposition coalition aimed at ousting Prime Minister Najib Razak in general elections due in mid-2018.
Mahathir, 92, led the country for 22 years before stepping down in 2003. He has been spearheading calls for Najib to resign over a multibillion-dollar financial scandal at state fund 1Malaysia Development Bhd. The fund is being investigated in several countries for money laundering. Najib has denied any wrongdoing.
A five-member Royal Commission of Inquiry, meeting for the first time Tuesday, said it would investigate how much the central bank lost in currency trading in the 1990s and determine if there was a coverup.
The inquiry was set up after the government said a preliminary investigation found that the extent of losses was larger than what was reported to the cabinet and Parliament.
The inquiry panel said a hearing will begin Aug. 21 and that it will aim to submit a report to the king by Oct. 13. The panel can make recommendations on action to be taken against people who are found guilty, but it is up to the attorney general to prosecute.
Mahathir has said the inquiry is a “desperate effort by Najib to silence his detractors.” He and other opposition leaders have urged the government to also set up a formal inquiry into 1MDB’s losses.
Malaysia’s government has said it found no criminal wrongdoing at 1MDB. But the fund has been at the center of investigations in the US and several other countries amid allegations of a global embezzlement and money-laundering scheme.
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