Malaysia's defeated UMNO party asks for its money back

FILE PHOTO: Malaysia’s former Prime Minister Najib Razak attends the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) 72th anniversary celebrations in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia May 11, 2018. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha/File Photo

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Malaysia's defeated United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) has asked police to return to the party millions of dollars seized from properties linked to former prime minister Najib Razak.

A week after Najib's defeat in an election on May 9, police raided his home and other properties as anti-graft agents relaunched an investigation into what happened to billions of dollars missing from an insolvent state fund founded by Najib during his nearly ten years in power.

During the raids, police seized cash, jewellery and luxury items estimated to be worth millions of dollars.

UMNO said in statement late on Thursday that the money was campaign contributions and party funding left over after the election and it was seized while it was in the process of being transferred to the party's new leadership.

"As such, UMNO seeks to recover these funds and requests the police to release these funds and return them to the party after completion of all due process and investigations by the relevant authorities," the party said.

Out of power for the first time since independence six decades ago, UMNO said it needed the money to recover from its defeat.

"UMNO is in the process of rebuilding and the return of our party funds will help in this process," the statement said.

Najib quit as president of UMNO a day after the election, and was replaced by his deputy Ahmad Zahid Hamidi.

The new government is led by 92-year-old Mahathir Mohamad, a former prime minister and UMNO leader who joined the opposition to defeat his erstwhile protege after becoming convinced of his corruption.

UMNO has long been known for its 'cash politics', as the party has built its support among ethnic Malays through a system of patronage.

The UMNO statement noted that Mahathir had handed back 1.2 billion ringgit ($301 million) to the party and its 3 million members when he stepped down as party president in 2003.

Malaysian police's head of commercial crime is holding a press conference on Friday related to 1Malaysia Development Berhad, the state fund at the heart of the scandal.

On Thursday, Najib concluded a statement to anti-graft agents related to transactions of $10.6 million into his bank account that investigators had traced to a former unit of 1MDB.

($1 = 3.9830 ringgit)

(Reporting by Rozanna Latiff and Joseph Sipalan; Writing by Simon Cameron-Moore; Editing by Darren Schuettler)