(Bloomberg) -- Former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak resigned Saturday as head of his party and was slapped with a travel ban as he faces the prospect his successor reopens a probe into a multi-billion dollar scandal at a state fund.
Najib announced he would step down as president of the United Malays National Organisation, and as chairman of the broader Barisan Nasional coalition, but said he would stay an active party member. His shock election loss on Wednesday at the hands of mentor turned rival Mahathir Mohamad brought Barisan Nasional’s 61-year rule to an abrupt end.
Former deputy premier Ahmad Zahid Hamidi will become acting UMNO president, Najib said at a briefing at the party’s headquarters in Kuala Lumpur. Former defense minister Hishammuddin Hussein, who is Najib’s cousin, will be acting deputy president.
“Maybe this will give us a chance to improve on whatever weaknesses and flaws we must tackle,” Najib said. He added party members should back the new leadership “so that UMNO and Barisan Nasional will re-emerge as parties that have the confidence and trust of the people.” After his comments he was surrounded and hugged by crying party members.
Najib earlier said he was planning to take a short break with his family in order to consider his future, but was then hit with a travel ban. He will respect the immigration department order not to leave Malaysia, he said in a later Twitter post. Media reports on Saturday morning had said Najib intended to fly with his wife to Indonesia.
Najib said on Twitter on Saturday that he and his Barisan Nasional colleagues were committed to respecting the will of the people and facilitating a smooth transfer of power.
“The best interests of Malaysia and its people will always be my first priority and I intend to continue serving them in whatever capacity I can.”
Mahathir, who was prime minister from 1981 to 2003 and defected to the opposition in order to stand as their candidate, repeatedly called Najib a “thief” on the campaign trail and pledged to reopen an investigation into state fund 1MDB.
The U.S. Department of Justice claims billions were siphoned from the fund, which was first set up in 2009 to support infrastructure in Malaysia. Najib faced allegations that some of the money ended up in his personal accounts before an election in 2013. He acknowledged around $700 million appeared in his accounts but said it was a donation from the Saudi royal family and most of it was later returned. He was cleared by the country’s attorney-general of wrongdoing.
If the law finds Najib has done something wrong he will need to face the consequences, Mahathir, 92, said Thursday at a briefing.
“We are not seeking revenge,” he said. “What we want to do is to restore the rule of law.
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