The wife of former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak was questioned Tuesday by the anti-graft agency over alleged theft and money-laundering involving the 1MDB state investment fund, as Najib's lawyers said they had pulled out.
Prosecution over the 1MDB scandal, that helped led to Najib's shocking ouster in May 9 national elections, could also be sped up with the government's appointment of an ethnic Indian lawyer as the new attorney general.
Rosmah Mansor, 66, accompanied by her daughter and son-in-law, didn't speak to reporters as she was escorted into Malaysia's Anti-Corruption Commission's office. She was summoned nearly two weeks after Najib was questioned twice by the agency.
Lawyer M.Puravelan told the Associated Press on Tuesday that he has ceased acting for Rosmah and Najib. He said another prominent lawyer Yusof Zainal Abideen had also withdrew. He denied reports that they quit because of disagreement over the 1MDB case but declined to elaborate.
Najib set up the fund when he took power in 2009 but it accumulated billions in debts. U.S. investigators say Najib's associates stole and laundered $4.5 billion from the fund from 2009 to 2014, some of which landed in Najib's bank account and $27.3 million allegedly was used to buy a rare diamond necklace for Rosmah.
Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad reopened investigations into 1MDB that were suppressed under Najib's rule. He has also banned the couple from leaving the country. The country's new anti-graft chief has said Najib, who denies any wrongdoing, could soon face criminal charges.
A palace statement on Tuesday said King Sultan Muhammad V approved terminating current Attorney General Mohamad Apandi Ali, who cleared Najib of wrongdoing in 2016, and replacing him with Tommy Thomas, the first member of an ethnic minority to hold the post in 55 years.
Media reports said Mahathir submitted Thomas' candidacy to the king nearly two weeks ago but the nomination sparked a bitter debate over his race and religion. Groups representing ethnic Malays, who make up two-thirds of Malaysia's 31 million people, have demanded the top legal job be given to a Muslim to ensure Islam is protected as the official religion.
The palace statement said the king urged all Malaysians to ensure the appointment of Thomas, an ethnic Indian Christian, doesn't "create any religious or racial conflict as every Malaysian should be treated fairly." He promised that Malay rights and Islam would remain protected.
Many Malaysians, including Malays, supported Thomas, saying on social media that his appointment will bolster institutional reforms and reflects a new Malaysia that is free from racial and religious barriers.
Thomas, 66, is a renowned senior lawyer whose first task will be to handle prosecution in the 1MDB case.
His predecessor Apandi cleared Najib of wrongdoing, saying some $700 million that landed in Najib's bank account was a donation from the Saudi royal family and that most of it has been returned. But U.S. investigators say the money was from 1MDB.
Najib was grilled last month over why an additional 42 million ringgit ($10.6 million) was transferred into his bank account from SRC International, a former unit of the 1MDB fund, using multiple intermediary companies. His wife Rosmah is being questioned on the same case.
Police have seized 114 million ringgit ($28.7 million) in cash and hundreds of expensive designer handbags and jewelry from Najib's home and other properties. The government has said Najib's administration conducted "an exercise of deception" over 1MDB and deceived parliament over the country's financial situation. Officials say the national debt has ballooned to more than 1 trillion ringgit ($252 billion), partly due to the 1MDB saga.
Mahathir, who was prime minister for 22 years until 2003, was spurred out of retirement by the 1MDB scandal. He has vowed there will be no deal for Najib, saying he will face the consequences if found guilty of wrongdoing.