Malaysia Blocks Critic of Prime Minister From Taking Case to U.S.
BANGKOK — The Malaysian authorities on Friday prevented a member of the governing party from traveling to New York, where he had planned to urge American law enforcement officials to investigate a sovereign wealth fund headed by Malaysia’s prime minister.
The party member, Khairuddin Abu Hassan, was arrested hours after his planned departure on Friday. He was charged with trying to overthrow the government, his lawyer said.
The arrest comes amid a crackdown against those investigating Prime Minister Najib Razak over deposits in 2013 of nearly $700 million into his personal bank accounts. In July, a Malaysian news outlet that had been investigating the activities of the sovereign wealth fund had its publishing license suspended, and the deputy prime minister and attorney general were removed from their posts. In August, the offices of the country’s anticorruption agency were raided.
Mr. Khairuddin, a relatively junior member of Mr. Najib’s party who turned against the prime minister late last year, has traveled to financial capitals in Europe and Asia in an effort to spur investigations into the prime minister’s dealings.
He said in an interview this month that he had planned to submit documents to United States law enforcement officials alleging money laundering.
“I strongly believe that the U.S. authorities have all the records on money movements,” Mr. Khairuddin said. He declined to be more specific.
Mr. Khairuddin was scheduled to meet agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation on Monday, his lawyer, Matthias Chang, said in a phone interview on Friday.
Mr. Chang said the appointment was made with assistance from the American Embassy in Malaysia.
The Malaysian immigration authorities told Mr. Khairuddin that he had been blocked from leaving the country on orders from Police Headquarters, Mr. Chang said.
“This was a blatant abuse of power to prevent this report from being filed in the United States,” he said.
Mr. Khairuddin was being held Friday night at a police station; a bail hearing is scheduled for Saturday, Mr. Chang said.
“It is so ridiculous to say that our action would undermine democracy,” Mr. Chang said.
The sovereign wealth fund under investigation, 1Malaysia Development Berhad, or 1MDB, had difficulty making debt payments earlier this year, and critics say it has lost hundreds of millions of dollars. The prime minister is chairman of the fund.
The government has denied reports that the $700 million transferred to Mr. Najib in 2013 came from entities linked to the fund. The government says the money was a donation, but it has not specified from whom the money was sent or why it was sent to the prime minister.