The 1MDB scandal is the principle asset recovery case in Malaysia at the moment and for good reason: it involves a lot of money: potentially up to US $4.5 billion, it alleges wrongdoing at the highest levels, with former Prime Minister Najib at the centre of the allegations, and it involves multiple jurisdictions. The scope of this investigation includes:
- CHF 104 million (USD 105 million) confiscated from Swiss bank profits related to the 1MDB case.
- Civil and criminal proceedings in the US related to 1MDB, seeking to recover USD 1.7 billion in its lawsuit.
- An estimated USD 180 million in assets seized in Singapore and USD 11.2 million to date approved to be returned to Malaysia.
- A superyacht, believed to be the proceeds of corruption, seized and returned to Malaysia by Indonesia.
Additionally, since the 2018 elections, the new government – representing the first change in political party leadership in Malaysia since independence – reopened the case, closed under former PM Najib, and has committed itself to investigating, prosecuting and returning the assets.
In doing so, the new government has made a laudable commitment to asset recovery and to ending the culture of impunity surrounding this case. However, to make good on its commitments to anti-corruption, focussing on this one case is not enough.
The new Malaysia government also needs to look into other cases, where allegations have been raised of widespread corruption. This includes the Taib case, where a coalition of national and international NGOs have raised a suspicion of grand corruption in relation to the former Chief Minister and current Governor of Sarawak state: Abdul Taib Mahmud. During his time in office, the former chief minister was also the minister of finances and the minister for natural resources. They have alleged that through control over logging concessions, his personal and his family’s wealth has grown to several billion dollars, with estimates that his assets amount to USD 15 billion.
But it also includes reforms to the governance structure that allowed assets to be stolen and investigations to be shut down in the first place. Existing systems which allow for opacity in government finances should be reformed to allow for genuine citizen oversight of public finances, while the independence of investigatory institutions and the public prosecution should be strengthened as a preventative measure should public assets be stolen again in the future.