Kuala Lumpur — Former Attorney-General Tommy Thomas, who had been appointed by former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, has called the agreement to drop charges of money laundering against Riza Aziz a “sweetheart deal” that is “terrible for Malaysia”.
Furthermore, he countered a claim by new Attorney-General Idrus Harun that he had been in favour of the settlement with Mr Riza when he was still in office.
In a statement, Mr Thomas said: “I would never have sanctioned the deal. It is a sweetheart deal for Riza but terrible for Malaysia.”
Mr Riza, the son of former Prime Minister Najib Razak’s wife Rosmah Mansor, produced the Hollywood film The Wolf Of Wall Street. However, these charges may still be revived, as he was discharged without being acquitted last Thursday (May 14).
The government stands to recover US$108 million (S$153 million) in overseas assets from the film producer, which is a little over 40 per cent of the US$248 million (S$351 million) that he had been charged with laundering from the 1MDB fund on July 5, 2019. He will also be made to pay a fine.
Investigators in Malaysia believe that at least US$4.5 billion (S$6.3 billion) had been siphoned and laundered from the state investment fund by Najib and his cronies.
Mr Riza was accused of having channelled US$248 million from 1MDB into his film production company, Red Granite Pictures. The film outfit paid the US government US$60 million (S$85 million) to settle claims, and the US government turned the amount over to Malaysia.
In his statement, Mr Thomas said that had the film producer been convicted of the five money-laundering charges brought against him, he could have landed in jail for as long as 15 years on each charge, as well as paid a fine of as much as US$1.2 billion (S$1.7 billion), which is five times more than the original amount specified in the charges.
He added that the money recovered would only be a “red herring” as it would come from the assets that the US had already seized and Mr Riza did not need to pay any other amount.
Dr Mahathir has expressed concern over the case, saying it could lead to “thieves … let off if they return the stolen money” as the film producer’s settlement could set a precedent, while Najib has said Mr Riza was unaware of where the money had come from.
Meanwhile, the Kuala Lumpur High Court heard on Tuesday (May 19) that Mr Riza is set to provide testimony against Najib at the latter’s 1MDB corruption trial. The lead prosecutor, Mr Gopal Sri Ram, told High Court Judge Collin Lawrence Sequerah: “We wish to add Riza Aziz to the witness list as he is ready to give evidence to the prosecution. We will make a formal application.”
Najib is facing 25 criminal charges related to public funds in the 1MDB trial, which had been on hiatus for half a year but resumed on Tuesday. /TISG