Trump plans to meet scandal-hit Malaysian leader in September

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FILE PHOTO: Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak speaks at the opening of the International Conference on Deradicalisation and Countering Violent Extremism in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

FILE PHOTO: Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak speaks at the opening of the International Conference on Deradicalisation and Countering Violent Extremism in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, January 25, 2016. REUTERS/Olivia Harris/File Photo

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump plans to meet Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, who is embroiled in a corruption scandal at home, on Sept. 12 at the White House, the White House said on Wednesday.

The U.S. Justice Department has been conducting a criminal probe of 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), a fund founded by Najib Razak, which is facing money-laundering probes in at least six countries, including the United States, Switzerland and Singapore.

In civil lawsuits, the Justice Department has sought to seize a total of about $1.7 billion in assets it says were bought with misappropriated 1MDB funds.

The Wall Street Journal, which first reported the plan for a meeting, said Najib has been eager to emphasise his friendship with Trump at a time of U.S. scrutiny over alleged corruption in the Malaysian administration.

The Journal quoted people close to Najib as saying he would likely use the White House visit to try to play down the possibility of further investigations.

Trump looks forward to "discussing ways to strengthen and broaden our bilateral relationship and expand regional cooperation with one of America’s closest partners in Southeast Asia," said a White House statement announcing Najib's Sept. 12 visit.

Relations between Malaysia and the United Stated soured last year after the Justice Department filed lawsuits in connection with the 1MDB scandal and Najib sought to strengthen ties with China.

U.S. relations with Malaysia, which the United States sees as an important partner in standing up to China’s extensive territorial claims in East Asia, had improved under former President Barack Obama, who in 2014 became the first U.S. president to visit the country in 50 years.

(Reporting By Mark Hosenball, Steve Holland and David Brunnstrom; Editing by Dan Grebler)

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