Controversial Islamic televangelist Zakir Naik has held “permanent residence” status in Malaysia for at least five years, Malaysiakini quoted the country’s Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi as saying on Tuesday. Hamidi, who met reporters in Putrajaya, the federal administrative centre of Malaysia, on Tuesday said that Naik had been staying in various countries.

“I would like to confirm that he holds a permanent residence status in Malaysia. But he is not a Malaysian citizen,” the online news portal quoted the deputy prime minister as saying.

Hamidi added that Malaysia would cooperate with India on any investigations involving Naik through mutual legal assistance. “The investigations cannot be carried out by Malaysia. But an MLA can be obtained if India has a relationship, an agreement with us,” he was quoted as saying.

A special court in Mumbai had on Thursday issued an open-dated, non-bailable warrant against Naik in connection with a case of money laundering registered against him by the Enforcement Directorate. The central agency had moved court earlier last week, saying that Naik had failed to show up despite repeated summons. The next day, the National Investigation Agency said that it would seek an Interpol notice against him to curb his movements out of Saudi Arabia, where he is currently based, if he failed to turn up before it by Monday (April 17), The Times of India reported.

In response, Naik challenged the Indian authorities to find him in Malaysia. “Such a cowardly investigation. They [India] have got no guts. If they want to interview me face to face, then come over here and talk. Come to neutral ground,” he was quoted as saying.

The Mumbai-born Naik said that he was not willing to present himself before the National Investigation Agency. “I told them that I am ready to be interviewed on Skype, phone and through video-conferencing. If I go there, they will torture me. So, why should I go there? They have done that to other Muslims and I have got proof,” he said.

The televangelist has been on the government’s radar since allegations arose that he had inspired one of the terrorists behind the Dhaka restaurant attack on July 1, 2016. He was also accused of meeting two brothers from Kerala who were among those who went missing in West Asia and were feared to have joined the Islamic State.