Malaysia's 'mysterious millions' - case solved?

Karishma Vaswani
Asia business correspondent
@BBCKarishmaon Twitter

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak (R) leads the way as Indonesia's President Joko Widodo (L)Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak's so-called mysterious millions has been a thriller of sorts for the country in recent months

It almost sounds like the title of a Hercule Poirot novel: The Case of the Mysterious Millions.

And in many ways, over the last several months, it has been a gripping thriller for interested Malaysians.

But on Tuesday, Malaysia's top prosecutor cleared Prime Minister Najib Razak of corruption in a long-running financial scandal that involved millions of dollars, an overseas donor and questions about government conduct to boot.

And what a gripping tale it has been. Here's what we know:

  1. Between March and April 2013, $681m (£478.9m) was deposited in the prime minister's personal bank account.
  2. The Malaysian attorney general's office says the money came from the Saudi Royal family and that it was a "gift" - although there's yet to be any confirmation of that from the Saudis.
  3. According to the attorney general's office, $620m was returned to the Saudis in 2013 by the prime minister, but there has been no mention of the remaining $61m.

So we're left with yet another mystery - this time a sum of a smaller amount, but big questions all the same.

Some of Malaysia's ruling party leaders have reportedly said money was used in the general election of 2013 - but critics say it was used to buy political patronage.

And in many ways, many of the previous questions have yet to be answered.

Why did the prime minister need this money in the first place?

And what of the vigorously denied allegation that the funds came from IMDB - the ailing state investment fund which has Mr Najib as chairman of its board of advisors.

This scandal couldn't have come at a worse time for Malaysia - the country has been hit by falling oil prices and the reputational damage to its economy can't fully be quantified.

It's thought that millions of dollars have been pulled out of the Malaysian economy as a result of the impact of the global financial turmoil in recent months.

Further, there is a nervousness surrounding the way the economy is being run - and the perceived lack of transparency there isn't helping.

The fact that Malaysian shares and the currency barely reacted to this news on Tuesday just reflects the ongoing fatigue that many Malaysians have with the state of affairs.

But every good thriller or mystery usually has a twist.

Investigations have been completed and the case is closed in Malaysia, however, 1MBD may yet have to answer questions from foreign authorities looking into the case of the "mysterious millions".

Watch this space.