Investigators believe funds earmarked for social development projects could have been stolen as scandal deepens.
Hundreds of demonstrators have marched in the streets of the Malaysian capital to protest against alleged government corruption, calling for the arrest of an unnamed high-ranking official after million of dollars went missing from a state-owned investment fund.
The protesters, mostly wearing black and white shirts, gathered on Saturday in several areas of Kuala Lumpur amid tight security.
Ignoring police warnings to disperse, as the rally had no permit and was considered illegal, the protesters rallied agaisnt the alleged misappropriation of funds from Malaysia’s 1MDB investment vehicle.
“We are here to denounce corruption in government,” elections activist Maria Chin Abdullah told protesters. “We want to bring to justice officials … responsible for stealing the funds at 1MDB.”
Last month, US prosecutors filed several lawsuits to recover assets that were allegedly bought with money laundered through the fund.
The lawsuits repeatedly referred to a high-ranking official, only identified as “Malaysian Official 1”, who received about $700m of the misappropriated funds – and many Malaysians believe this refers to Prime Minister Najib Razak.
The prime minister, however, denies any wrongdoing and says any attempt to link him to the scandal is part of a smear campaign. Najib has also been cleared by investigations conducted by the attorney general’s chambers and Malaysia’s anti-corruption body.
Al Jazeera’s Florence Looi, reporting from Kuala Lumpur, said: “This protest is organised by students and supported by a coalition of NGOs and as well as opposition parties to put pressure on the government to conduct a more thorough investigation into this entire scandal.”
The 1MDB fund was created in 2009 by the Malaysian government with the goal of promoting economic development projects in the Asian nation.
Instead, officials at the fund diverted more than $3.5bn over the next four years through a web of shell companies and bank accounts in Singapore, Switzerland, Luxembourg and the United States, according to the lawsuit filed by the US Justice Department to seize $1bn in assets linked to the fund.
Federal officials said more than $1bn was laundered into the US for the personal benefit of 1MDB officials and their associates.
The funds were used to pay for luxury properties in the US and Europe; gambling expenses in Las Vegas casinos; a London interior designer; more than $200m worth of artworks by artists, including Van Gogh and Monet; and for the production of films, including the 2013 Oscar-nominated movie The Wolf of Wall Street.
The complaint said that among those who profited from the scheme was the prime minister’s step-son Aziz, who co-founded Red Granite Pictures, a movie production studio whose films include The Wolf of Wall Street.
According to the complaint, 11 wire transfers totaling $64m were used to fund the studio’s operations, including the production of the movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio.