KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia – Former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said Monday that disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff was paid $1.2 million to organize his 2002 meeting with President Bush, but denied the money came from the Malaysian government.
Mahathir told reporters he was aware a payment was made to Abramoff, but he didn't know who made it. He said he had been persuaded by the U.S. think tank Heritage Foundation to meet with Bush at the time.
"It is true that somebody paid but it was not the (Malaysian) government," Mahathir said. "I understood some people paid a sum of money to lobbyists in America but I do not know who these people were and it was not the Malaysian government."
Mahathir said the Heritage Foundation believed he could help "influence (Bush) in some way regarding U.S. policies."
Mahathir visited the White House at a time when this Southeast Asian country had emerged as a key U.S. ally in the war on terror, following Mahathir's crackdown on suspected Islamic militants although he had been consistently critical of Bush's foreign policies.
Abramoff, once among Washington's top lobbyists, pleaded guilty last month to charges that he and a former partner concocted a fake wire transfer to make it appear they were putting a sizable stake of their own money into a 2000 purchase of casinos.
Abramoff also has pleaded guilty to charges stemming from an investigation into his ties to members of Congress and to the Bush administration.