Kuala Lumpur: Malaysia`s premier called Friday for greater transparency in political funding, drawing immediate ridicule from critics who attacked his failure to explain massive transfers to his own bank accounts.
Najib Razak is under pressure over the discovery, first aired by a Wall Street Journal investigative report last month, that nearly $700 million had been deposited into his personal accounts.
Najib, 62, initially rejected the allegation as "malicious" and part of a political conspiracy, but his government has since said he did receive political "donations" from overseas, while refusing to provide details.
On Friday, Najib lamented Malaysia`s lack of adequate regulations on political donations and election spending.
"Therefore, there is an urgent need to regulate political funding to ensure accountability and transparency in the interest of healthy political practices," he said in a statement.
He said his government would form a committee "with the aim to formulate a political funding plan of integrity".
He made no reference to the allegations against him.
Detractors immediately pounced.
Senior opposition figure Lim Kit Siang said Najib was trying to "run away" from explaining the $700 million.
"Until he has answered this question, he has no moral authority to make any proposal," Lim said.
"It is a magic show to divert public attention," said one posting on Najib`s Facebook page, one of hundreds to skewer the premier shortly after his comments.
Another said: "Set up whatever committee. If you are corrupt, you are corrupt. You will have to answer on judgement day."
The financial scandal is the biggest crisis of Najib`s six-year tenure, and centres on allegations that hundreds of millions of dollars went missing in deals involving state-owned investment company 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), which he launched in 2009.
The fate of those funds remains unclear.
But Najib and 1MDB vehemently deny that the $700 million transferred to his accounts included any 1MDB money.
Political analysts warn that damage from the episode could spell future electoral disaster for the ruling coalition that has governed for 57 years.
It already is steadily losing ground among a new generation of voters seeking greater political freedoms and an end to corruption.
Political uncertainty stemming from 1MDB has contributed to a recent slide in the ringgit currency to 17-year lows, analysts say.
Two weeks ago, Najib sacked his deputy premier who had called for transparency on 1MDB, his attorney general who was investigating it, and brought into his cabinet key members of a parliamentary committee that also was pursuing a probe.