The immigration department said Najib and his wife, Rosmah Mansor, had “been blacklisted from leaving the country”.
A flight manifest circulated online showed the couple were due to take a private jet to Jakarta on Saturday morning.
Najib did not appear at Subang airport near Kuala Lumpur and the private jet, owned by Indonesian firm Premiair, did not leave the ground.
Najib said he and his family would respect the travel ban and stay in the country.
“I have been informed that the Malaysian immigration department will not allow my family and me to go overseas,” Najib tweeted. “I respect the directive and will remain with my family in the country.”
The US State Department has alleged in civil lawsuits that US$4.5 billion was looted from the state-run 1MDB fund through fraud and money-laundering funding yachts, Hollywood movies, jewellery for models, artwork and luxury real estate.
Last year, US attorney general Jeff Sessions described the scandal as “kleptocracy at its worst”.
Najib denies any wrongdoing.
After reports of Najib’s flight emerged yesterday (Friday), activists and journalists congregated at the small airport. Police were deployed outside the gate where protesters believed Najib would enter.
In one moment of tension, a van with tinted windows arrived and was surrounded by protesters who demanded that the vehicle be opened to reveal who was inside.
They rocked the van and one man shouted: “I hate Rosmah”. She is hugely unpopular, due to her supposed imperious manner and luxury shopping trips.
The van’s window was opened to show Najib was not inside and it was allowed into the airport.
There have been concerns that Najib would try to flee after his election defeat this week to avoid prosecution for his role in the 1MDB scandal.
A protester who surrounded the van, Raja Singham, 49, told AFP: “We have the right to know who is inside the car, as a citizen I will fight for that. We have suffered for so many years. I don’t want them to get out of the country.”
Yesterday Najib tweeted that he was planning a “short break” with his family while apologising for his “shortcomings and mistakes”.
“After over four decades in politics and the recent election campaign, which was regrettably personal and perhaps the most intense in Malaysian history, I will take a short break to spend time with my family whom I have not seen enough of in recent years,” Najib tweeted.
Incoming Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad says the king has agreed to pardon jailed opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, who will potentially become premier later this year.
Anwar was set to replace Mahathir until they fell out and Mahathir sacked and jailed him in 1998. He was released but he was jailed again under Najib in 2015.
Prime Minister Najib Razak concedes defeat in the week. Picture credit: YouTube