Malaysia’s scandal-ridden former prime minister Najib Razak and his wife have been barred from leaving the country, shortly after announcing plans for a short holiday, the Immigration Department said on Saturday.
A leaked flight manifesto showed that Mr Najib and his wife, Rosmah Mansor, were due to leave on a private jet to Jakarta, fuelling rumours that he was fleeing the country to escape possible prosecution over a massive corruption scandal involving the 1MDB state fund.
His coalition suffered a shocking electoral defeat this week which ended its 60 year-rule.
Later on Saturday, Mr Najib told a news conference in Kuala Lumpur that he was stepping down with immediate effect as president of the United Malays National Organisation as well as chairman of the National Front coalition.
He said his deputy, Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, will take over as president of UMNO, a party that dominates the coalition.
The announcement followed strong calls from the party for the 64-year-old to step down.
“We accept the people’s verdict with an open heart. Maybe this will be an opportunity for us to fix our weaknesses and shortcomings, although these are more a matter of perceptions than reality,” he said. “God willing, UMNO will continue to live.”
In his earlier statement on social media, Mr Najib said he was committed to “facilitating a smooth transfer of power”.
The Immigration Department, which had initially said there was no travel blacklist for Mr Najib, issued a brief statement that the ex-premier and his wife “have just been blacklisted from leaving the country”.
Mr Najib responded swiftly by saying he respected the department’s ruling and would stay with his family in the country.
His holiday plans came amid strong calls from his ruling Malay party, which dominates the National Front coalition, for him to step down over the election results.
The National Front, which has ruled Malaysia since independence from Britain, obtained only 79 of the 222 parliamentary seats, losing power to Mahathir Mohamad’s four-party alliance amid public anger over the 1MDB scandal and rising cost of living.
It was a remarkable comeback for Mr Mahathir, who was premier for 22 years until his retirement in 2003.
Mr Mahathir, who is now the world’s oldest elected leader at 92, has said his government will not go on a witch-hunt over the 1MDB fiasco but that Mr Najib will have to face court if he is found to be responsible.
The fund was started by Mr Najib when he took power in 2009, but it accumulated billions in debts and is being investigated in the US and several other countries.
US investigators said Mr Najib’s associates stole and looted 4.5 billion US dollars from the fund, of which some 700 million US dollars landed in Mr Najib’s bank account and some 30 million US dollars was used to buy jewellery for his wife.
Mr Najib denies any wrongdoing.
He sacked critics in his government, including an attorney general and a deputy prime minister and muzzled the media.
The new Attorney-General, Mohamed Apandi Ali, cleared Mr Najib in 2016, saying the money was a donation from the Saudi royal family and that most of it was returned.
Mr Mahathir, who was due to name his cabinet later on Saturday, has indicated that Mohamed Apandi would be axed for hiding evidence of wrongdoing.