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A man holds up a poster during a 1MDB protest organized by Pro-democracy group Bersih, calling for Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak to resign, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia November 19, 2016.
Reuters/Edgar Su
Venting over 1MDB in November 2016.
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Global investigators probing Malaysia’s 1MDB corruption case have a new ally: Malaysia

By Steve Mollman

Last June, the US Justice Department announced it was seeking to recover $540 million in assets “associated with an international conspiracy to launder funds misappropriated from a Malaysian sovereign wealth fund.” It stated that over $4.5 billion in funds belonging to 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) had allegedly been misappropriated by high-ranking officials and their associates, in a “global labyrinth of multi-layered financial transactions.”

US agencies have not been the only ones navigating that labyrinth. So have counterparts in Switzerland, Singapore, and other countries. What has been missing to date: investigators in Malaysia working with them on the case.

Now that’s changing. Following Mahathir Mohamad’s surprise defeat of prime minister Najib Razak in the May 9 election, Malaysia’s new government is acting quickly to address the 1MDB case. That’s included banning Najib from leaving the country, seizing luxury items from his residences, and, today, setting up a criminal task force to investigate the conduct of officials managing 1MDB.

Malaysia’s new task force will be “responsible for seeking cooperation of various enforcement agencies in the United States, Switzerland, Singapore, Canada, and other related countries,” the office of new prime minister said in a statement. In the US, the case has been linked to the purchase of luxury real estate in Manhattan and Beverly Hills. Earlier this year, Indonesian authorities seized a $250 million yacht sought by the US Justice Department in relation to the case.

The task force will be co-chaired by Abdul Gani Patail, a former attorney general who had reportedly had been about to press charges against the prime minister when his services were terminated “due to health reasons” in 2015.

Najib has continued to deny any wrongdoing in connection to the state fund. Meanwhile his wife, Rosmah Mansor, with a collection of hundreds of luxury handbags, has drawn comparisons to Imelda Marcos, the former Philippines first lady famed for her many designer shoes—and notoriously corrupt husband.

When the task force starts tomorrow, it’ll have no shortage of international counterparts to work with.