Unesco has postponed an award it planned to give to Rosmah Mansor, the Malaysian prime minister’s wife, at the last minute in a sign of the growing international fallout from a corruption scandal engulfing the country’s leaders.
Irina Bokova, the Unesco director-general, wrote to Ms Rosmah this month saying Malaysia’s first lady was to receive the award at an event in New York this Thursday, according to the Malaysian government.
The award was to recognise efforts to counter extremism through the education system and honour the work of Permata, a Malaysian organisation that works with children and teenagers. Permata was founded by Ms Rosmah.
However, Malaysia’s ambassador to the UN was told in an email that it would be deferred to 2017 because of questions about Permata’s funding, according to a Malaysian government statement on Tuesday.
Questions surrounding the Malaysian prime minister and his family have intensified after US prosecutors outlined detailed allegations this summer concerning Malaysian state investment fund 1MDB.
While Najib Razak, Malaysia’s prime minister, was not identified by name in the US court documents, the description of “Malaysian Official 1” matches his personal details and responsibilities. US prosecutors say that this official received funds misappropriated from 1MDB. Mr Najib denies any wrongdoing.
Riza Aziz, Ms Rosmah’s son from a previous marriage, was named by US prosecutors in the court documents. He is co-founder of Red Granite, the film studio behind The Wolf of Wall Street, a Hollywood film allegedly produced with funds diverted from 1MDB. Red Granite denies wrongdoing and says it is co-operating with inquiries.
Malaysia’s leaders are battling severe international pressure over alleged large-scale corruption at the country’s state development fund
Tengku Sariffuddin, the Malaysian prime minister’s press secretary, said in a statement on Tuesday that Permata was funded by the Malaysian government under an allocation published in the government budget and approved by parliament.
“We deplore attempts to politicise the work of an exemplary organisation whose only aim is to improve the lives of children,” he said, adding that Ms Rosmah and Permata had now declined the award “to avoid any further distraction”.
Ms Rosmah is frequently a target of criticism on social media for her allegedly lavish lifestyle. Supporters of the prime minister dismiss these attacks as politically motivated.
Ms Bokova, who assumed leadership of Unesco in 2009, is running to be secretary-general of the UN.