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Trump welcomes scandal-hit Najib to White House

  • Andrew Beatty

    Agence France-Presse

Washington, United States | Wed, September 13, 2017 | 12:59 pm
 Trump welcomes scandal-hit Najib to White House Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak (left) meets with US President Donald Trump (R) and others in the Cabinet Room of the White House on Sept. 12, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Agence France-Presse/Brendan Smialowksi)

US President Donald Trump welcomed Malaysia's prime minister to the White House Tuesday, amid questions about his guest's involvement in a spiraling corruption scandal.

Trump greeted Prime Minister Najib Razak at the West Wing with a handshake and warm thanks, brushing aside criticism for hosting a man being investigated by the US Justice Department.

"I want to thank you very much for all the investments you have made in the United States," Trump said during a joint appearance in the Cabinet Room, heralding a Boeing deal worth "20 billion dollars." 

Trump also hailed Najib's "major role" in countering the Islamic State group and other jihadist groups. "He's been very very strong on terrorism in Malaysia and a great supporter from that standpoint. That's a very important thing for the United States,” he said.

The run-up to Najib's visit had been dominated by questions about his entanglement in an ongoing US Justice Department investigation.

The veteran prime minister faces allegations that billions were looted from a sovereign wealth fund, 1Malaysia Development Berhad ( 1MDB ), in complex overseas deals that are being investigated by authorities in several countries, including the United States.

Both the prime minister and the fund deny any wrongdoing, but the Justice Department has filed civil lawsuits to seize assets, from high-end real estate to artworks, it says are worth about $1.7 billion.

The White House had refused to say whether Trump would raise the issue, preferring to shift the focus onto relations with a key partner in South East Asia.

Although the White House insisted there was no snub, Najib's opponents are sure to see the cancellation of a joint public appearance in the Oval Office as a sign of unease.  

"Look, we're not going to comment on an ongoing investigation being led by the Department of Justice," said press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Monday. "That investigation is apolitical and certainly independent of anything taking place tomorrow."

"The United States and Malaysia have had a 60-year relationship and partnership built on common economic and security interests, and that continues."

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak arrives outside of the West Wing ahead of meetings with US President Donald Trump at the White House on Sept. 12, 2017 in Washington, DC. Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak arrives outside of the West Wing ahead of meetings with US President Donald Trump at the White House on Sept. 12, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Agence France-Presse/Mandel Ngan)

Trump is expected to visit the region later this year for summits in Vietnam and the Philippines.

Ahead of his arrival at the White House, Najib sought to play up majority-Muslim Malaysia's role as a partner in countering violent extremism.

He reiterated that message when the two leaders met face-to-face: "We are committed to fight Daesh, IS, Al-Qaeda, Abu Sayyaf -- you name it," he said.

"They are the enemy of the United States, they are also the enemy of Malaysia.  We will do our part to make sure our part of the world is safe."

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