Anwar Says He Expects to Take Power in Malaysia Within Two Years

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(Feb 14): Malaysia’s would-be prime minister said he expects to take power from Mahathir Mohamad in less than two years but wants to give the current leader enough time to govern effectively before he assumes control.

"Of course it’s not five years because he’s made it very clear they would not exceed two years,” Anwar Ibrahim, leader of the People’s Justice Party, said in an interview Wednesday in New York on Bloomberg Television. “But it’s important to allow him to govern effectively because we are in very difficult and trying times."

Mahathir pledged during last year’s election campaign to stand aside for Anwar once he was pardoned, which happened just a week after the opposition’s shock victory in May. The 93-year-old Mahathir then pushed back the time line to one to two years. Anwar concurred, saying he planned to travel and spend time with his family after more than three years of imprisonment.

The men have presented a united front to the public, giving Mahathir a free hand at rooting out corruption and getting to the bottom of a sprawling scandal over state fund 1MDB before Anwar steps in.

That public stance belies decades of enmity between them: Mahathir fired Anwar as his deputy in 1998 over a dispute on how to respond to the Asian financial crisis. Anwar was later jailed for committing sodomy and abusing power, which he denied, then subsequently imprisoned for another sodomy conviction. Anwar has said that the charges were politically motivated.

Read Q&A with Anwar about how he is ready to govern.

Anwar has shown signs of impatience. Despite saying he would spend a year away from politics, he returned to campaign for a parliament seat just five months after his release. He was then allowed a seat in the top circle of the ruling Pakatan Harapan’s presidential council, while holding no cabinet position. He also became the chairman of a parliamentary caucus for reform and governance.

1MDB Scandal

On the 1MDB scandal, Anwar said Malaysia “will not compromise” in its talks with Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and the bank “must bear responsibility.”

The nation has a responsibility to uncover any crimes the investment bank may have committed, Anwar said, adding that he’s not sure whether Malaysia can get the $7.5 billion it’s seeking from Goldman as compensation for the scandal. Malaysia filed criminal charges against the bank in December.

QuickTake: How Malaysia’s 1MDB Scandal Shook the Financial World

Units of the bank were accused of making false statements in documents submitted to a local regulator in arranging $6.5 billion bond offers for 1MDB. Goldman officials have said the bank raised money for 1MDB without knowing it would be diverted, and that it’s cooperating with authorities.

“It’s not feasible or tenable to assume that the higher, top personalities in Goldman Sachs” aren’t aware, Anwar said. He said the country now has sufficient safeguards over the banking sector but cautioned against complacency.

“However rigid the safeguards, if you have crooks running the system they can always navigate,” he said.

Malaysia may consider a discussion to drop the charges should Goldman Sachs pay the sum, Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng told reporters in January. The allegations against Goldman were filed by Attorney General Tommy Thomas as the nation’s top prosecutor, while the finance minister isn’t formally authorized to make decisions on criminal charges.

Goldman’s top executives have millions at risk from the 1MDB scandal. Equity awards to Chief Executive Officer David Solomon and his predecessor Lloyd Blankfein are subject to clawbacks if the results of the 1MDB proceedings “would have impacted” the board’s pay decisions for senior executives. Goldman also said it will defer payouts of long-term cash awards granted in January 2011 to three executives, who have since retired, until more information is available regarding 1MDB.

Former senior Goldman banker Tim Leissner has pleaded guilty to charges including conspiring to launder money, while another ex-employee Roger Ng remains in custody in Malaysia as he faces extradition to the U.S. to face related allegations. - Bloomberg