Trump hosts scandal-hit Malaysian PM

2017-09-12 22:54
US President Donald Trump (Evan Vucci, AP, file)

US President Donald Trump (Evan Vucci, AP, file)

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Washingto - US President Donald Trump hosts Malaysia's prime minister at the White House Tuesday, a meeting that risks being overshadowed by his guest's spiraling corruption scandal.

Prime Minister Najib Razak will visit the Oval Office for talks that the White House says will be focused on terrorism, trade and Asian maritime disputes.

But the run-up to Najib's arrival has been dominated by questions about his entanglement in an ongoing US Justice Department investigation.

The veteran prime minister faces allegations that billions were looted from a sovereign wealth fund, 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), in complex overseas deals that are being investigated by authorities in several countries, including the United States.

Both the prime minister and the fund deny any wrongdoing, but the Justice Department has filed civil lawsuits to seize assets, from high-end real estate to artworks, it says are worth about $1.7 billion.

The White House refused to say whether the issue will come up, and has tried to shift the focus onto relations with a key partner in South East Asia.

Trump is expected to visit the region later this year for summits in Vietnam and the Philippines.

"Look, we're not going to comment on an ongoing investigation being led by the Department of Justice," said press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Monday. "That investigation is apolitical and certainly independent of anything taking place tomorrow."

"The United States and Malaysia have had a 60-year relationship and partnership built on common economic and security interests, and that continues."

She listed "strengthen counterterrorism cooperation," halting the Islamic State group, "addressing North Korea" and "making sure that we promote maritime security in the South China Sea" as topics for discussion.

Trump is also likely to reiterate thanks for Malaysia's efforts to assist the USS John S. McCain, which collided with a tanker as the destroyer was on its way to Singapore, tearing a huge hole in the hull and leaving 10 sailors dead.

Ahead of his arrival at the White House, Najib sought to play up majority-Muslim Malaysia's role as a partner in countering violent extremism.

"What underpins decades of friendly, productive and cooperative relations are the deep-seated values we share," he wrote in an article published by The Hill newspaper.

"Our commitment to the fight against radicalisation and terror is something we feel in our hearts."

Criticism of Najib 

Malaysian opposition lawmaker Lim Kit Siang painted that appeal as a deflection.

"No prime minister of Malaysia in the past 60 years had to face such phalanx of international media hostility or avalanche of adverse press publicity both in the United States and the world," he said in a statement.

"It is inconceivable that Najib would have the credibility to salvage his own as well as the nation's reputation with his visit to the United States."

"Najib cannot free Malaysia from the ignominy and infamy of being regarded worldwide as a global kleptocrat."

In an editorial, the Washington Post said Najib's visit "sets a new low" for the Trump administration.

"Not only is Mr Najib known for imprisoning peaceful opponents, silencing critical media and reversing Malaysia's progress toward democracy," the paper wrote.

"He also is a subject of the largest foreign kleptocracy investigation ever launched by the US Justice Department."

Trump faces his own Justice Department investigation into his presidential campaign's ties Russia and alleged efforts to obstruct justice. Trump has also denied any wrongdoing.

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