Malaysia bars exit of defeated leader

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Malaysia’s Immigration Department said yesterday that former scandal-ridden prime minister Najib Razak and his wife are barred from leaving the country, shortly after he announced plans for a short holiday

A leaked flight manifest shows Najib and his wife, Rosmah Mansor, were due to leave on a private jet yesterday to Jakarta, fuelling rumours he was fleeing the to escape possible prosecution over a corruption scandal involving the 1MDB state fund. His coalition suffered an electoral defeat this week that ended its 60 year-rule.

Later, Najib told a news conference that he was stepping down as president of the United Malays National Organisation as well as chairman of the National Front coalition. He said his deputy, Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, would take over as president of UMNO, a party that dominates the coalition.

“We accept the people’s verdict with an open heart,” said Najib. “Maybe this will be an opportunity for us to fix our weaknesses and shortcomings, although these are more a matter of perceptions than reality,” he said. “God willing, UMNO will continue to live.”

The Immigration Department, which had initially said there was no travel blacklist for Najib, issued a brief statement that Najib and Rosmah “have just been blacklisted from leaving the country.”

Najib responded swiftly by saying he respected the department’s ruling.

His holiday plans come as strong calls emerged from his ruling Malay party, which dominates the National Front coalition, for Najib to step down.

The National Front, which has ruled Malaysia since independence from Britain, obtained only 79 of the 222 parliamentary seats, losing power to Mahathir Mohamad’s four-party alliance amid public anger over the 1MDB scandal and rising cost of living.

Mahathir was premier for 22 years until his retirement in 2003. He is now the world’s oldest elected leader at 92. He has said his government will not go on a witch-hunt over the 1MDB fiasco but that Najib will have to face the court if he’s found to be responsible.

The fund was started by Najib when he took power in 2009, but it accumulated billions in debts and is being investigated in the US and several other countries.