Malaysian banking group CIMB Group Holdings Berhad chairman Nazir Razak has taken a voluntary leave of absence from the country's second biggest banking group to allow an independent review into the $7m transfers he had made at the request of his brother, Prime Minister Najib Razak. Regretting his actions to help his brother in 2013, Nazir however maintains that what he did was above board.
The banking group has hired audit firm Ernst & Young to undertake the review. Nazir will be on voluntary leave pending the completion of the internal review which is expected to take a few weeks.
"When the review is complete, the board will then deliberate on the outcome of the review and it will make the decision on whether to welcome me back or not," he told reporters after the group's annual general meeting on 18 April. When pressed by reporters, the 49-year-old banker insisted that he did not know where the money came from.
"What I do know is at that point of time — I have been a banker for 26 [years] and I know what the law is — there was no reason to think there was any question mark around the funds," Nazir said. The prime minister's brother had transferred the cash to the ruling coalition's politicians in the run-up to the general election in 2013.
"There was nothing in the air in 2013, and I looked at what my brother asked of me — it was a favour —and it didn't seem to involve anything illegal or any inappropriate use of my position, so I obliged. It was as simple as that," he explained.
When asked whether that was the only favour asked of him by Najib, Nazir answered: "There are favours of many natures: that's what families do. So I can't really answer that question." However, he insisted that this was the only time that his brother had asked him "for this kind of assistance."
He also insisted that he did nothing illegal, nor did he misuse his position at CIMB. However he did express regret. "I wished I hadn't done it because since 2014, there has been a lot of controversy around 1MDB. So I regret it because it has dragged me into that whole conversation. So I regret being part of that conversation."
CIMB group chief executive officer Tengku Zafrul Tengku Abdul Aziz said that the internal review will assess whether the funds transferred was a violation of the bank's anti-money laundering policy. "We invited Nazir to give an explanation which he did so, and then he excused himself from the meeting."
He continued: "Then the board invited its internal compliance officer to brief us on what happened, and that's when we decided that it was best to appoint an independent party to advise the board on top of the internal review that is happening ..."
Bank Negara, as the regulator of the financial industry in Malaysia, had been informed of the internal review. In his Instagram, Nazir describes himself as a "semi-retired banker and Chelsea fan. Viewer sense of humour advised."