Mahathir to Extend Time as Malaysia PM, Bring Case Against Najib

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(Bloomberg) -- Mahathir Mohamad said he may stay on as Malaysia’s prime minister for “one or two years,” after earlier agreeing to step aside for jailed coalition leader Anwar Ibrahim.

In remarks on Tuesday, the 92-year-old said that Anwar -- a former enemy turned ally -- may just join the cabinet for a while after his expected release from prison on Wednesday. Mahathir also said he may soon bring a case against former Prime Minister Najib Razak, and took a shot at currency traders.

“In the initial stages, maybe lasting one or two years, I will have to be the prime minister and I will have to run the country,” Mahathir said via video conference to a Wall Street Journal event in Tokyo. “The reason why the public supported us is they have faith in the leadership of the opposition to resolve some of the problems.”

Mahathir said he wouldn’t cut a deal with Najib if any wrongdoing was found in a corruption probe into state fund 1MDB. The former prime minister was barred from leaving Malaysia last week after his ruling coalition lost power for the first time in 61 years.

“We think that within a short while we will have a case against him,” Mahathir said. “We will be able to charge him.”

Najib has repeatedly denied wrongdoing after 2015 revelations that around $700 million -- alleged to be 1MDB funds -- appeared in his personal accounts before the prior election in 2013.

In 2016, the then-attorney general cleared Najib after saying the money in his account was a “personal donation” from a Saudi royal family member, and most of it was returned. Saudi Arabia said it was a “genuine donation,” without explaining the purpose of the funds.

Mahathir has sought to consolidate power since leading a four-party opposition coalition to a shocking election win last week. Questions over how long he plans to stay on as prime minister risk undermining an agenda that included scrapping a goods-and-services tax, reviewing large infrastructure projects and cutting spending.

How Sworn Enemies Toppled Najib But Pose a New Risk to Malaysia

“I expect some resistance,” Mahathir said of differences in his coalition government in forming the cabinet. “So far we have been able to resolve. It is accepted that the final decision will be made by me.”

Mahathir again pledged to reduce corruption and said he’d stop collecting taxes that are “oppressive.” He said there was currently no need for capital controls, and his government wouldn’t allow any “fiddling” with the value of currencies.

“When people start fiddling with the value of currencies, depressing currencies and impoverishing countries, that is not business,” Mahathir said. “It is almost political. We will not allow that. If you do that again, we may consider having currency controls.”

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.

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