KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Malaysian police investigating a scandal at state fund 1MDB are questioning more than 50 individuals who received payments from a sum of $972 million that entered the personal bank account of former prime minister Najib Razak, an official said on Thursday.
A total of $4.5 billion was misappropriated by high-level officials of the fund, 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), and their associates, the U.S. Justice department has said.
The fund, founded by Najib, is at the center of money-laundering probes in at least six countries, including Singapore Switzerland and the United States.
Police are recording statements of those who received funds from Najib’s personal account, among them some with political affiliations and foreigners, said deputy police chief Noor Rashid Ibrahim.
“We are in the process of taking their statements,” Noor Rashid told a news conference. Asked if any of the 50 would be charged in the investigation, he replied, “There is a possibility.”
Reuters could not immediately reach a spokesman for Najib to seek comment.
A total of 132 money laundering transactions have been identified and further investigations are being pursued, the police said in a statement later.
Police added that statements have been taken from 64 people, including Najib and his daughter Nooryana Najwa Najib, with more to come, as they track down those involved, or persons of interest, in the scandal.
Najib and his wife, Rosmah Mansor, have been barred from leaving Malaysia after his decade in power ended in a shock election defeat in May, and the new prime minister, Mahathir Mohamad, relaunched an investigation into the troubled fund.
The scandal erupted in 2015 after media reports that about $681 million was deposited into Najib’s bank account.
Najib has consistently denied any wrongdoing, maintaining the funds were donations from a Saudi royal and the bulk handed back.
Noor Rashid said a total of $972 million went into Najib’s account, however, after moving through accounts linked to several companies, some of which he named as Good Star Limited, Aabar and Tanore.
Malaysian and global investigations, including chargesheets filed by the U.S. DoJ, have identified these firms as among those used to allegedly siphon off billions of dollars from 1MDB.
Many of the transactions happened overseas and the police have sought the help of foreign agencies, Noor Rashid added.
Najib has pleaded not guilty to money laundering charges against him this year in connection with a former 1MDB unit.
His lawyer was also charged with money laundering on Thursday.
Reporting by Joseph Sipalan; Writing by Praveen Menon; Editing by Clarence Fernandez