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Malaysia in transition

Mahathir expedites 1MDB probe before forming cabinet

Cash and luxury items confiscated in raids on Najib-linked properties

A Malaysian police officer pushes a trolley during a raid of three apartments in a condominum owned by former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak’s family, in Kuala Lumpur on May 17.   © The Straits Times/Reuters

KUALA LUMPUR -- The Malaysian government has stepped up its probe into the scandal-hit state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad, forming a special investigation team and raiding properties linked to former Prime Minister Najib Razak.

The move comes ahead of the announcement of a new cabinet and just eight days after Mahathir Mohamad was sworn in as prime minister, in a clear display of the new administration's priorities.

"I have been briefed by the police and the auditor-general," the 92-year-old told reporters on Wednesday. "It is very clear that there were more wrongdoings committed than what was known by the public and me."

In pre-dawn raids on Friday, police removed cash and luxury items from several properties linked to Najib as part of the investigations. The federal commercial crime head led one raid at an exclusive condominium in the capital, which seized "284 boxes of designer bags and foreign currencies in 72 [pieces of] luggage," according to the police.

The two-day operation was carried out at six properties linked to Najib, including his former official office and residence. As a result, Mahathir has yet to begin work at the Prime Minister's Office in Putrajaya, the country's administrative center.

Najib set up the 1MDB fund in 2009 to make strategic investments in real estate and the energy sector in Malaysia and overseas.

Investigations by the authorities in the U.S. and elsewhere revealed cases of potential money laundering, including an instance of $681 million allegedly taken by Najib. The former prime minister has repeatedly denied the accusations, claiming the money was a donation from a member of the Saudi royal family.

To expedite investigations into the fund, Mahathir set up a special committee led by a former chief prosecutor on Thursday.

Having prioritised the probe into 1MDB, Mahathir has delayed naming the remaining members of his cabinet, pending negotiations with his party and coalition partners.

The prime minister, who will also head the education ministry, is expected to appoint the remaining five cabinet ministers on Monday.

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