British prime minister David Cameron is facing criticism for pushing ahead with a visit to Malaysia this week at a time when the south-east Asian nation’s leader is embroiled in an escalating corruption scandal and has stepped up a crackdown on dissent.
Malaysian premier Najib Razak has been urged to resign after media reports alleged some US$700m linked to a troubled state investment fund had ended up in his personal bank accounts.
Razak has denied taking any public funds for personal use, and his government has lashed out at criticism by mounting a crackdown on dissent that has seen two newspapers suspended and a British-based whistleblowing website blocked.
On Tuesday, the Malaysian premier removed his deputy Muhyiddin Yassin, who has openly criticised him over the scandal, just hours after the government sacked the country’s top attorney, who had been leading an official investigation into the corruption allegations against Najib.
Politicians and activists who have criticised the government have also been hit with travel restrictions, with one prominent opposition MP barred from leaving the country.
“There could have been a better time for the visit,” Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, Malaysia’s opposition leader, told the Guardian ahead of Cameron’s arrival in Kuala Lumpur on Thursday, the final stop of a four-nation tour of south-east Asia.