US President Donald Trump welcomed Malaysia's prime minister to the White House today, 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 USD 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 yesterday. "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."
Trump is expected to visit the region later this year for summits in Vietnam and the Philippines.