Frank Smith examines the huge bribery scandal surrounding Malaysian leader Najib Razak, and his efforts to quell criticism both at home and abroad.
Malaysia has been plunged into what is arguably the worst crisis of its 48-year independence over allegations that large sums of money were transferred into the private account of the Prime Minister Najib Razak.
The Prime Minister has faced mounting pressure during the past year over reports that hundreds of millions of dollars were siphoned off from a state-owned development company which he set up in 2009 and reportedly has debts of $11 billion.
Foreign journalists have been reporting on the scandal, which has not featured in the local press after threats from Najib’s staff that their activities would be monitored.
One foreign report put the total at $700 million, which had been routed into his personal accounts. Under pressure, the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) acknowledged that 2.6 billion ringgit (or $670 million) had been transferred into Najib’s accounts but said that it was not linked to the development company, 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB). The MACC did not identify the source of the money and claimed that investigations were continuing. Some reports indicated that the money was from a Middle Eastern source.
There has been a torrent of comments on social media in a country where the citizens know they cannot expect openness or any reporting remotely critical of the government.
That has left the public open-mouthed at the lack of public accountability and resulted in a torrent of comments on social media in a country where the citizens know that they cannot expect openness or any reporting remotely critical of the government.
‘I’m sure that this announcement by the anti-corruption agency sets the stage to clear Najib of any wrongdoing,’ said Rafizi Ramli, an opposition MP with the People’s Justice Party, ‘but it will not be able to quell public anger and mistrust over the matter.’
Najib’s response has been to fire his deputy Muhyiddin Yassin and other cabinet members who had called for answers over the mystery money-including Najib’s attorney-general who had been investigating the transfer of cash.
It soon became apparent why through the website Sarawak Report, which is run by an Englishwoman who soon brought down the wrath of Najib on white people in general.
Sarawak Report said it had acquired documents that had been verified, which revealed that the attorney-general Gani Patail had been on the verge of bringing corruption charges against the Prime Minister and a company director Dato Shamsul Anuar bin Sulaiman. The documents sent to the website were apparently in their final draft stages. They provided for the prosecution of the prime minister under Section 17 (a) of the MACC Act, which allows for up to 20 years in jail under section 24 of the act. The law provides for a fine of not less than five times the value of the bribe taken or 10,000 ringgit, whichever is higher.
The warrant states that the Prime Minister and Shamsul Anuar and ‘another person still at large, Nik Ariff bin Faisla Kamil, on December 26 2014 at the AmIslamic Bank, Bangunan Ambank Group in Kuala Lumpur, as an agent of the Malaysian government, namely the prime minister of Malaysia and special adviser of SRC International, did secretly obtain a sum of money amounting to 27m ringgit that was paid through the company Gandigan Mentari and Ihsan Perdana to your account at AmPrivate Banking-1MY no 211201101880-with the principal aim of obtaining a loan from Kumpulan Wang Persaraan pension fund.’ A second charge dated for the same day referred more specifically to the prime minister’s position of trust with SRC International.
An insider is reported as telling Sarawak Report that the Attorney-General Patail arrived at his office on the Monday morning after the story broke in the Asian Wall Street Journal and Sarawak Report. ‘He was finalising it. He went to his office and found he could not go in. Ali bin Hamsa, the Chief Secretary to the government, was waiting and told him that he was dismissed. He could not even get his papers.’
As well as dismissing his Attorney-General, the Prime Minister effectively carried out a coup d’etat against the main centres of power in Kuala Lumpur by dismissing the head of Special Branch, a very powerful position in the country, the Deputy Prime Minister and four members of the investigating Parliamentary Accounts Committee who were elevated without choice to positions in cabinet while its work was declared suspended. Other dissident cabinet critics were unceremoniously dismissed.
Malaysia has issued an arrest warrant for a campaigning British journalist and sister-in-law of Gordon Brown, the former Prime Minister, for her investigations into the financial controversies swirling around the country’s leader, who suffers not only from lack of popularity with the public but within his own party, where he is subjected to constant sniping from the former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamed, who led the country for two decades in the early 1980s and successfully launched it on the path to development. Malaysian police said that the arrest warrant for Clare Rewcastle Brown would be circulated internationally for activities detrimental to parliamentary democracy and disseminating false reports about Najib.
Ms Rewcastle Brown is the London-based founder and editor of Sarawak Report, a website that has reported intensively on allegations of corruption and illegal logging in Malaysia, where she was born to a colonial police officer. The former BBC journalist, who is married to Andrew Brown, Gordon’s younger brother, said she did not believe that Kuala Lumpur had ‘a chance in hell’ of extraditing her from Britain for the alleged offences.
She described the warrant as ‘irrational’ and ‘counter-productive’ as she said it would give her a wider platform to discuss the controversies covered by Sarawak Report, which has been blocked in Malaysia as a ‘threat to national security’.
Malaysia has accused her of conspiring with opposition politicians to publish forged documents on 1MDB in a bid to smear Najib and topple his government.
Najib has consistently denied any personal financial benefit or impropriety and lashed out at ‘white people’ trying to interfere in Malaysian affairs, singling out Ms Rewcastle Brown and Sarawak Report.
Mohamad Salleh, the commissioner of the federal police criminal investigation department, said that the arrest warrant would be circulated to Interpol, the cross-border policing agency, and its regional counterpart, Aseanpol.
‘They are trying to arrest me for some kind of action against democracy, which is ironic given that it is the Malaysian government which has been taking actions against democracy by silencing free media and closing down my blog and indeed several newspapers and arresting a number of people who have done nothing more than raise some perfectly valid issues,’ said Ms Rewcastle Brown in a television interview.
Malaysian officials claim that a Swiss businessman detained in Bangkok was part of a plot to sell data for $2.7 million via a Malaysian businessman for use by Sarawak Report as part of a campaign to smear the prime minister.
Xavier Justo is accused of trying to blackmail his former employer, PetroSaudi, a British-Saudi oil company, over its business dealings with 1MDB. Ms Rewcastle Brown dismissed the allegations of her role as ‘bunkum’.