President Donald Trump will meet with controversial Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak at the White House in September.
Senior U.S. officials confirmed the meeting on Wednesday. The Asian leader’s visit at the White House is set on September 12. A White House statement on the visit says President Trump is looking forward to “discussing ways to strengthen and broaden our bilateral relationship and expand regional cooperation with one of America’s closest partners in Southeast Asia.”
Najib is facing allegations of involvement in a billion-dollar scandal. The White House invitation is then being seen as a boost to the beleaguered leader’s international standing especially at a time when he is under increasing scrutiny for his dealings with state-owned development fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).
The U.S. Justice Department filed in July a civil complaint in a money-laundering case outlining how Najib allegedly received $731 million from the government that he himself oversaw. Najob was simply identified then as “Malaysian Official 1”. Investigators all over the world are tracing the money trail to Najib’s bank accounts.
The Justice Department sought in its civil lawsuits the seizure of about $1.7 billion in assets which it believes were bought with misappropriated 1MDB funds.
Najib was said to be very enthusiastic about the visit, and was eager to “emphasize his friendship” with Trump. He is believed to likely use the visit as a means to play down the potential for further probes on him.
The two leaders have met before and were even “old golfing buddies.” Media reports have it that Najib is keeping a photo of him with Trump in his office and signed by the American President with the words “To my favorite Prime Minister.”
Najib also joined Trump in the Saudi summit in May aimed at countering global extremism and terrorism. Najib was in the controversial photo dubbed by Trump’s critics as “supervillain photo”, although he was staying on the periphery.