Najib gets VIP treatment on visit to Washington - report

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KUALA LUMPUR (Sept 13): Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak and his entourage have received VIP treatment on his visit to Washington at the invitation to the White House by U.S. President Donald J. Trump, according to the Washington Post.

In a report overnight, the Post reported that the prime minister’s official White House visit also brought at least 24 hours of activity and sales to the glamorous 263-room hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue that Trump owns through a trust.

“And it is likely to escalate debate over whether the president is benefiting from a luxury property that has become Washington’s new power center — and, its critics say, a staging area for those seeking White House access.

“Hotel staffers and Malaysian officials declined to say whether Najib and the other officials stayed overnight at the hotel, among the most expensive in Washington, or if they did stay, for how long,” said the Post.

It said that White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders dismissed a question about the delegation’s stay. “We certainly don’t book their hotel accommodations,” she told reporters Tuesday, it said.

But the Post said signs of the Malaysia delegation’s presence were obvious at the property.

It said that at lunchtime Monday, more than a dozen members of Najib’s entourage relaxed in a lounge area reserved for hotel guests.

That evening, they came and went from the hotel, sometimes returning to the valet stand with shopping bags, it said.

The Post also highlighted that events of this scale would probably mean hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue for the Trump Organization, based on confirmed spending totals of other groups that have set up camp there.

The company declined to comment.

Trump has come under fire for declining to divest of his interest in the hotel, which is now managed by his sons, creating opportunities for foreign governments and special interests to enrich the president while also seeking changes to U.S. policy, in Najib’s case, said the Post.

The newspaper said Trump’s invitation to Najib also has drawn scathing criticism because the United States is conducting a probe — its largest kleptocracy investigation ever — into whether the prime minister diverted more than US$1 billion from a Malaysian-government investment fund (1Malaysia Development Bhd) to his own bank accounts.

The Justice Department is aggressively investigating potential fraud surrounding the fund, known as 1MDB, and announced in June that prosecutors had filed forfeiture complaints seeking US$540 million in assets.

The Post said U.S. prosecutors a year earlier had filed similar complaints seeking more than $1 billion in assets that they alleged were ill-gotten gains from an effort by Malaysian officials and their associates to misappropriate money from the government-owned fund. That means the total value of assets sought stands at nearly $1.7 billion, the Justice Department has said.

It said among the things U.S. officials have sought to seize are New York City penthouses, Hollywood and Beverly Hills mansions, a private jet and even some future proceeds from the movies “The Wolf of Wall Street” and “Dumb and Dumber To.” The 2016 complaint alleged that more than $730 million of what seemed to be 1MDB money was ultimately routed to the personal bank account of “Malaysian Official 1,” a thinly veiled reference to Najib.

The Post said Najib has said on social media that “no crime was committed,” and an investigation by the Malaysian attorney general determined that the money in Najib’s account was a personal donation from the Saudi royal family. In 2015, President Barack Obama visited Najib in Malaysia to curry support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

The Malaysian delegation visiting this week included six other high-ranking officials, according to the Malaysian Embassy, among them the minister of foreign affairs, the minister of trade, the chief secretary, the ambassador to the United States and the director of the nation’s security council, said the Post.

It added that members of Najib’s entourage repeatedly waved off a reporter’s questions Monday evening and Tuesday morning.

It also said inquiries to the Malaysian Embassy and the White House were not immediately returned.

Once at the White House, Najib was greeted by Trump, Vice President Pence and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

“It’s great to have the prime minister of Malaysia and his very distinguished delegation with us today,” Trump said, sitting across a conference table from Najib. Trump praised the prime minister for his stance on terrorism and for investing in U.S. businesses.

“Mr. Prime Minister, it’s a great honor to have you in the United States and in the White House,” he said.

The Post said Najib responded by saying he wanted to help “strengthen the U.S. economy” by purchasing Boeing airplanes and engines from General Electric, among other initiatives.