Malaysian ex-PM Mahathir slams 'vindictive' probe

Malaysia's former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad addresses journalists in Putrajaya on July 18, 2017. (AFP Photo/Manan Vatsyayana)

Malaysia's former leader Mahathir Mohamad said Monday an inquiry into losses by the central bank in the 1990s was a "vindictive" attempt to target him and deflect attention from a scandal embroiling the current government.

Mahathir, who is seeking to oust scandal-plagued Prime Minister Najib Razak, was giving evidence at the inquiry into alleged multi-billion-dollar losses incurred by Bank Negara Malaysia through foreign exchange trading during his time in power.

The government-appointed Royal Commission of Inquiry comes at a time when Najib is battling allegations that billions of dollars were looted from crisis-hit sovereign wealth fund 1MDB. Najib and the fund deny any wrongdoing.

Mahathir, 92, described the probe, which can recommend action against anyone found to have been involved in causing the losses, as "vindictive in nature".

"The main aim of the government now is purely to put pressure on me... and all the critics of Prime Minister Najib Razak related to our criticisms of the 1MDB scandal and other woes," he said.

"There are so many other crises now which require an investigation instead of wasting public funds on this," he added.

He also denied ever having interfered in the central bank's operations during his time in office, from 1981 to 2003.

"I did not have legal powers to interfere in the policies, activities and administration of Bank Negara Malaysia," he added.

The inquiry chairman declined to comment when asked whether the probe was aiming to blame Mahathir for the losses.

Few details have emerged of the scale or nature of the alleged forex losses a quarter-century ago, but reports in local media have suggested that the central bank lost around 10 billion dollars.

Mahathir has come out of retirement to form his own party and joined forces with his old foe Anwar Ibrahim in an opposition alliance that aims to unseat Najib in elections due by 2018.

The inquiry is expected to submit a report to the country's king by October 13. – AFP