KUALA LUMPUR, May 22 (Reuters) - Malaysian anti-graft agent Mohd Shukri Abdull’s eyes welled with tears on Tuesday as he recalled death threats and how he was branded a traitor, while nearby, officers took a statement from the main target of his investigation, ex-premier Najib Razak.
Addressing a news conference in the headquarters of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC), the balding, slightly built chief of the agency was experiencing a cathartic moment, just as much of the country has since Najib’s surprise defeat in a May 9 general election.
Shukri was restored to the agency by the new government this week.
Three years ago, he was a lead MACC investigator in a team tracking billions of dollars siphoned off from state fund 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB).
Najib has consistently denied wrongdoing at 1MDB after the scandal first erupted in mid-2015 following a series of media reports.
But Shukri described in dramatic detail how the MACC’s investigation was suppressed.
“Our witnesses went missing, some who were interviewed were instead taken by different authorities and questioned over what they told MACC, and I myself was threatened to be fired, asked to retire early, take leave early, and transferred to the training department.”
Before investigators could level charges, Shukri said the then prime minister sacked attorney general Abdul Gani Patail and deputy prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin, who was poised to call for Najib to be removed from office.
Shukri said he met Gani Patail the day before he was sacked.
“He asked me, ‘Are you ready?’,” Shukri said.
“As a senior investigator, I knew what he meant,” he said, explaining that the attorney general was ready to prosecute the prime minister.
Shukri said they met several ministers to try to convince them that corruption cases against Najib were genuine, but only Muhyiddin and two others were ready to take a stand.
“We wanted to bring back money that was stolen back to our country. Instead we were accused of bringing down the country, we were accused of being traitors,” Shukri said, fighting back tears.
The new attorney-general, Mohamed Apandi Ali, later cleared Najib of all wrongdoing, after the prime minister explained that $680 million deposited in his bank account had been a donation from a Saudi royal.
With the investigation stopped in its tracks, the agency was purged and Shukri said he and his colleagues went through frightening times.
“I was sent a bullet to my house,” Shukri said.
“I never told my wife or my family. I never even made a police report.”
He also recalled getting police protection while visiting the United States as he feared he was being stalked by Malaysian security agents.
After 32 years with the agency, Shukri opted to retire in 2016, as did the then boss of the MACC, Abu Kassim Mohammed, who had asked him to join the investigation, knowing it would pit them against the prime minister.
New Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, 92, who came out of retirement and joined the opposition to topple his former protege, has appointed Abu Kassim head of a task force charged with getting back the missing money.
Stepping back into the MACC, Shukri has picked up where the 2015 investigation left off, focusing on transfers of 42 million ringgit ($10.6 million) into Najib’s bank account.
The MACC tracked the transfers made through “front companies” to SRC International, a unit of 1MDB until it was moved to the finance ministry in 2012.
Najib, summoned by Shukri to give his statement on those transfers, came to the MACC on Tuesday.
He emerged four hours later, telling reporters that he had amplified on a statement given in 2015, suppling additional documents. He said he would return to the agency on Thursday to complete his statement.
While the sums were a fraction of the billions that went missing from 1MDB, they were the most easy to trace for MACC as the transfers involved domestic companies and institutions.
Shukri acknowledged the trepidation he felt at being offered a chance to return to the hunt for answers.
“The case of 1MDB and SRC was frightening. I almost died investigating this case, so I was scared of coming back,” he said. (Writing by Praveen Menon and Simon Cameron-Moore Editing by Robert Birsel)