Former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak has withdrawn his request for a residential property from the government, Malay Mail reported on Nov. 19.
The property, which spans 2.8 acres, is located in Kuala Lumpur's luxurious neighbourhood, Bukit Petaling.
Previously, MalaysiaNow reported on Nov. 12 that Najib has requested the government for the property, which is believed to be valued at RM100 million (S$32 million).
The news was based on a "highly placed source in UMNO" contacted by MalaysiaNow.
Request should not be tied with election: Najib
He announced the withdrawal during a press conference held at La Crista Hotel Melaka on Nov. 19, saying that his request for the residence should not be tied to the Malacca State Election that is taking place on Nov. 20.
"I am not contesting in the Melaka state election and yet I am attacked and hated," he said, as reported by Malay Mail.
"So, I have made a decision to reject the offer, even though on principle it is based on my entitlement as a former prime minister," he added.
Najib had also claimed that he was "not aware" of the value of the land "until it was widely publicised".
He also suggested the government to review or revoke the benefits and entitlements of prime ministers, both past and present, if these were a source of controversy, Malay Mail reported.
Request for a house revealed in parliament
Following the MalaysiaNow report on Najib's request for the property, former prime minister Mahathir Mohamed grilled Malaysia's Finance Minister Tengku Zafrul on the request when Zafrul was winding up his Budget 2022 speech in parliament on Nov. 18.
According to Mahathir, Najib's request for a house was "not mentioned in the budget," Malaysiakini reported.
"This is about the gift for the former prime minister Najib, who will be given a piece of land and house worth RM100 million (S$32 million) because of his supposed contributions to the country," Mahathir said.
The 96-year-old parliamentarian further questioned Najib's contribution because, in his eyes, Najib is a "convict who has been sentenced to 12 years of jail and a compound of more than RM200 million (S$64 million)".
According to Malaysiakini, Zafrul did not answer Mahathir's questions, and instead told him to raise the issue to the Prime Minister's Department.
Syed Saddiq pressed further
Zafrul subsequently conceded and confirmed Najib's request when Muar's Member of Parliament, Syed Saddiq, further questioned him.
"Yes, we have received the request, and we have discussed it in the cabinet," Zafrul said, adding that the government will now wait for the decision to be made by the cabinet.
Zafrul's statement confirmed Najib's request for a house from the government.
In response, Syed Saddiq said that the government claimed they lacked money when the opposition asked for permanent positions for contract doctors or additional aid during the Covid-19 pandemic.
"But for one person, one individual, we want to approve RM100 million," he added, as quoted by Malaysiakini.
Opposition MPs disagreed
According to the initial report by MalaysiaNow, an unnamed former minister and Bersatu politician had supposedly "expressed shock" after being told of the government's decision.
The source also claimed that the government had approved of Najib's request.
Opposition MPs took the opportunity to clarify with Zafrul whether the request had been given a "preliminary agreement".
According to Malaysiakini, when faced when the question, Zafrul smiled "while taking a brief look at his fellow members of the administration with one hand raised slightly".
MPs then further questioned Zafrul after he gave no answer.
He reportedly ignored the question, and simply reiterated that the request was made after the budget was tabled, and that it will be discussed further in the surplus budget bill.
Anwar "shocked" at "immoral and nonsensical" decision
Leader of the Opposition Anwar Ibrahim expressed his shock over the new revelation, Malaysiakini reported.
He added that the latest revelation forced the opposition "to review all forms of understanding that exists to date".
Anwar opined that the approval was inappropriate and the decision was an "immoral and nonsensical decision", especially at a time when "people are suffering" and have lost "their income, their homes and even their lives".
"The cabinet’s decision to 'gift' land and a house to someone convicted by the court is clearly the most immoral and nonsensical decision," he said, as reported by Malaysiakini.
Najib had previously taken to Facebook on Nov. 18 to clarify the issue.
He said that Mahathir was the one who amended the Act in 2003 when he was Malaysia's fourth prime minister.
Malaysiakini reported that under Section 21 of the Members of Parliament (Remuneration) Act 1980, former prime ministers are entitled to allowances and privileges decided by the cabinet.
Najib also uploaded a scanned copy of the Act, which outlined allowances for former prime ministers, including their housing arrangements.MalaysiaNow claimed that Mahathir is believed to be receiving a monthly allowance of RM10,000 (S$3,240) ever since he stepped down. They did not specify, however, whether it was in 2003 or 2020.
His successor after 2003, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, purportedly received a complimentary house from the government near Carcosa Seri Negara, which is the former official residence of the British High Commissioner in Malaya.
Najib has been staying at his private residence in Taman Duta.
The report further claimed that he has been receiving the RM10,000 monthly allowance prior to his latest request.
Did not specifically ask for RM100 million: Najib
Najib said his Facebook post that his office had "merely requested for a residence after the 14th General Election in accordance to the law (Mahathir) amended".
He wrote that the government had given him three plots of land to choose from, so he chose one.
"The state land near Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka (government agency which oversees Malay language and literature) was deemed appropriate for my family," he wrote.
Najib further stated that the request had already been approved by the previous government.
"I am not asking for a RM100 million gift from the government, or for them to buy land for me," he wrote.
"But I requested for a residence, similar to the ones given to other former prime ministers."
Najib makes comparison with Mahathir
In his Facebook post, Najib further claimed that the RM100 million figure was quoted by a "pro-Perikatan Nasional" news outlet MalaysiaNow.
"[T]he story was published near Malacca State Election even when my request was made in 2018, after the 14th General Election," he wrote.
"Not as if we don't know why (it was done)," he added, insinuating that the media outlet was trying to sway voters from voting for his party ahead of the state election.
He also compared his post-premiership office with Mahathir's office.
"My office for former prime minister is just a rented bungalow at Bukit Pantai," he said, adding that it was unlike "Mahathir's huge Perdana Leadership Foundation complex".
Najib uploaded two photos -- one showing his rented bungalow used as his office, and another an aerial view of Perdana Leadership Foundation.
However, Najib appears to insinuate that the Perdana Leadership Foundation is dedicated to Mahathir alone.
In fact, while Mahathir is the organisation's honorary president, the Foundation serves as a resource for all previous Malaysian prime ministers -- including Najib himself.
He also listed all his achievements as a response to Mahathir's question on Najib's contribution to Malaysia.
Najib's legal woes
Najib was sentenced to 12 years in jail and fined RM210 million (S$68.1 million) for crimes linked to state development fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) on Jul. 28, 2020.
He is currently appealing his sentence.
On Nov. 8, the Malaysian government failed to forfeit assets belonging to Najib, his wife Rosmah Mansor, his family, and several other individuals and entities.
The Kuala Lumpur High Court dismissed the suit as it deemed that the government had failed to prove that the assets were purchased using 1MDB funds.
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Top image by Paul Kane via Getty Images.