Lawyers acting for Najib Razak, Malaysia’s besieged ex-premier, said on Tuesday that they had quit, even as he and his family continue to face questions from agents investigating a multi-billion dollar corruption scandal involving a state-owned investment fund.
News of their resignation broke while Mr Najib’s wife, Rosmah Mansor, was being grilled for five hours by agents at the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission over a suspicious transfer of about $10.6 million from a subsidiary linked to the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) fund.
The sum is just a fraction of the billions of dollars allegedly siphoned from 1MDB, which was set up by Mr Najib, in a controversy that was a major factor in his shock election defeat last month.
Mr Najib and his wife are currently barred from leaving the country after a fresh investigation into how the funds went missing was launched by the new government of Mahathir Mohamad, his former mentor.
The ex-prime minister has consistently denied any wrongdoing and was cleared of any offense in an earlier Malaysian enquiry.
However, on Tuesday, M Puravalen, a lawyer acting for Mr Najib and Rosmah Mansor told Reuters that he had “ceased acting” for the couple.
He said a second lawyer, Yusof Zainal Abideen, had also quit. News site The Malaysian Insight reported that Mr Puravalen, Mr Abideen and other members of their legal team had walked out because they failed to reach common ground with Mr Najib on several issues.
Mr Najib has already made several statements to anti-corruption agents, but the focus has currently shifted to his wife after police raiding apartments linked to his family discovered more than 400 luxury handbags, a haul of jewellery and cash worth $28.6 million.
Her reported penchant for expensive bags, said to be worth millions, has prompted unflattering comparisons with former first lady of the Philippines, Imelda Marcos, whose extravagant and opulent lifestyle was defined by her own vast shoe collection.
1MDB is the subject of money-laundering probes in at least six countries, including Switzerland, Singapore and the US justice department, which alleges that billions were laundered through layers of foreign bank accounts.
About $700 million from the funds allegedly flowed into the accounts of “Malaysian Official 1”, identified by US and Malaysian officials as Mr Najib.
He claimed the money was a donation from the Saudi royal family, which he has since returned.