Mahathir Mohamad, Malaysia's newly elected prime minister, said on Friday that the king was poised to pardon jailed opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim and that the country could recover most of the billions of dollars lost in the 1MDB corruption scandal.
The 92-year-old prime minister, who was sworn in on Thursday after a stunning election victory, called for a probe into investment fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad – allegations about which had long dogged the government of Najib Razak, his predecessor and one-time protege.
“We believe that we can get most of the 1MDB money back,” Mr Mahathir said.
“The attorney general has undermined his own credibility,” he added in a reference to Mohamed Apandi Ali, who found no evidence of wrongdoing at the state fund, from which billions of dollars were allegedly misappropriated. “ [Mr Mohamed] in fact has hidden evidence of wrongdoing and that is wrong in law.”
The attorney general told reporters on Friday that his conscience was clear.
Mr Anwar’s imminent release for a return to politics was confirmed by his daughter, Nurul Izzah, who said that the jailed opposition leader was expected to be freed “in the next few days”.
A palace spokesman was not available for comment.
During an election campaign that led to Mr Mahathir ending the six-decade rule of the governing coalition he once headed, the veteran politician said he would hand over power to Mr Anwar once elected.
The two have a history of enmity. Mr Mahathir sacked Mr Anwar from his post as deputy prime minister and persecuted him after they fell out around the Asian financial crisis in 1998. Mr Anwar was arrested, beaten by the then chief of police and jailed for six years on a dubious charge of sodomy. He was imprisoned again in 2015 on another charge of sodomy but has always protested his innocence.
Given their history, some analysts have questioned whether Mr Mahathir and Mr Anwar could govern together effectively. However, the new prime minister appears to have worked quickly to follow through on his promise to free Mr Anwar, telling reporters in Kuala Lumpur on Friday that Mr Anwar "should be released immediately when he is pardoned".
Mr Mahathir, who is now the world’s oldest elected leader, was stirred out of retirement by the 1MDB scandal and on Friday pledged to find and return the billions of dollars lost by the fund – a move that could have implications for Mr Najib, who stands accused of personally benefiting to the tune of nearly $700 million and denies any wrongdoing.
“We will study whether the [Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission, which reports to the prime minister] is fair or not. If we find they are biased in favour of any group, including ourselves, we will have to change them,” Mr Mahathir said.
A video taken on Thursday night showed a relaxed-looking Mr Anwar in his hospital room where he is recuperating after surgery, watching a TV broadcast of Mr Mahathir being sworn in.
Insiders say the priority for Mr Mahathir is to name a cabinet, which is complicated by the delicate balance of interests among the parties in coalition.
Mr Mahathir said that a limited cabinet of 10 senior positions would be named on Saturday, but that he would delay announcing further ministerial positions pending negotiations.
“This does not mean we are not a united party,” Mr Mahathir said, standing next to Wan Azizah, Mr Anwar’s wife and president of the winning coalition, Pakatan Harapan. “But it is important that all parties are represented.” – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2018