7 August 2015

Pendapat

Pendapat Anda?

TMI

PKR today urged newly minted Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi to allow Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim to be put under house arrest to undergo medical treatment.

In a statement, the party’s strategic director Sim Tze Tzin, information chief Syed Ibrahim and communications director Fahmi Fadhil expressed their worries over the health of Anwar, who is currently serving a jail term in Sungai Buloh prison for sodomy.

“Keadilan urges Zahid, who is also the home minister, to use his new position to hasten Anwar’s medical treatment outside of jail, and allow Anwar to go through his treatment under house arrest,” they said in a statement today.

The trio said since Anwar was jailed on February 10, he had suffered from kidney problems, arthritis and a shoulder muscle tear.They said checks by the prison doctor did not help to alleviate his condition, adding that the PKR de facto leader needed hospital treatment.

Moreover, the condition of the prison with high humidity, insufficient ventilation, lack of a sitting toilet and only a bucket to shower exacerbated his condition, they said.

With Anwar due to celebrate his 68th birthday on Monday, the three leaders expressed hope that the former opposition leader would be allowed to undergo treatment under house arrest.

“This is not a political issue but an issue of humanity. The deputy prime minister can show his humane leadership,” they said.

In conjunction with Anwar’s birthday, the party has also launched a programme urging the public to send postcards to him on August 10. PKR has prepared 1,000 postcards available for purchase at RM50 apiece. The purchase can be made through PKR’s Maybank account at 5641 9102 5409 and proof of money transfer can be sent via WhatsApp to 012-936 8442.

“We urge all Malaysians to show their love to Anwar by purchasing the cards,” they said.

On February 10, the Federal Court found Anwar guilty of sodomising his former aide Mohd Saiful Bukhari Azlan in a condominium unit at Bukit Damansara, Kuala Lumpur, in 2008.

Anwar was handed a five-year jail term.

Anwar’s long political career has been twice interrupted by sodomy charges, first in 1998 after he was sacked from government, and now.

He and the opposition maintain that the charges were a political conspiracy to end his career.

Following his latest conviction, Anwar’s family filed a petition seeking a royal pardon which was subsequently rejected by the Pardons Board on March 16.

As a result, Anwar lost his Permatang Pauh parliamentary seat and a by-election last month saw his wife, PKR president Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, wining the seat.

She was subsequently appointed opposition leader.

5 August 2015

Pendapat

Pendapat Anda?

The Diplomat

Democracy and rule of law won’t magically clear society of cronies and corruption.

In 1971, more than forty years before the world would turn its attention to the so-called one percent and the problem of income inequality, Malaysia embarked on one of history’s boldest and most noble experiments to reduce social disparity. Malaysia’s New Economic Policy, or NEP, would seek to “eradicate poverty for all” and “eliminate identification of race by economic function and geographic location.” This polity that had achieved national independence just over a decade before, this country that was still a low-income emerging economy, was setting out to solve the massive problem of injustice and inequality over which other societies much more mature continued to struggle.

Malaysia was a democracy that hewed to the rule of law. The NEP would be Malaysia’s key political driver. Over the decades that followed, the NEP’s mantra would serve as a backdrop to almost all political discourse in the country. NEP-themed policies would, among much else, flesh out the concept of Bumiputera – an ethnic-driven formulation of native peoples in Malaysia.

It is difficult to grow an economy – look at train wrecks strewn around the world. But seeking to do so and at the same reduce ethnic- and rural-urban inequality, and maintain social harmony among diverse ethnic and religious groups is an order of magnitude more arduous. Malaysia succeeded: From tropical jungle, Malaysia has grown to have an average income now well above the world emerging-economy average. Its urban infrastructure and worker skills approach those in the first world. Malaysia’s top bankers, businesspeople, and entrepreneurs are admired everywhere. NEP reduced pockets of extreme poverty and created a significant, thriving, and successful Bumiputera middle class – a group of professionals and intellectuals whose contributions to Malaysian society would be the pride of any country.

And, although from time to time patchily diverging from the ideal, throughout this history Malaysia worked hard to maintain its young democracy and its adherence to rule of law, and to support a healthy vigorous open sphere of public debate. Sensitive racial questions were out of bounds, but open questioning of the government was lively. Top government officials routinely had the judiciary rule against them. And a national identity emerged, one that combined the best aspects of local culture and an easy-going, open-minded cosmopolitanism developed from, among other things, the many Malaysians who have seen significant international experience. More so than when at home, Malaysians outside Malaysia saw each other for the warm and lively friends they genuinely were for one another, people who felt driven by a mission to make their country better.

Since his 2009 swearing-in, Malaysia’s current prime minister has sought to articulate an international vision for a “coalition of moderates.” As leader of a successful moderate Muslim country, he carried an authority and credibility sorely needed in global discourse. He was widely accepted in international circles, and even famously golfed with Barack Obama.

All this is now at risk.

However noble the goal of reducing social disparity, and however laudable the democracy, transparency, and rule of law to which Malaysia has desperately clung, this NEP half-century has seen the emergence of an increasingly hateful race-based narrative to Malaysia’s political and economic strategies. The Bumiputera concept has become conflated with questions of religion, and threatens the open society that Malaysia has built. That concept is now considered by many – both Bumiputera and non-Bumiputera alike – to hold back continued social development for the country. Significant Bumiputera and rural poverty remain. Ever more frequent accounts have appeared of government agencies intended to reduce Bumiputera poverty yet only enriching the elites of that group. A recent article by one of Malaysia’s most thoughtful interlocutors has had to ask:

Why after decades of rigourous development planning, 40% of Malaysian households earn only about RM1,847 a month? Why after more than four decades of the NEP, 75.5% of those at the bottom are Bumiputeras? Why in spite of the billions poured into education and boarding schools, 64.3% of the Bumiputera workforce have only SPM qualifications? Why some 90% of the unemployable university graduates are Bumiputras? Why of the $54 billion worth of shares pumped to Bumiputera individuals and institutions between 1984 and 2005, only $2 billion remained in Bumiputera hands today?

In March 2010 at an international investors’ conference, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak announced an urgent need for a revision to the NEP, towards a national development strategy more transparent, merit-driven, and market-friendly, and towards a new needs-based affirmative action. The prime minister had just won a resounding electoral victory; he had the backing of all Malaysians. (I am told by reliable sources that even Malaysia’s opposition MPs felt like standing up and cheering.)  But then elements within the prime minister’s political party mounted significant pushback, the moment passed, and he did not stay the course. Open democratic process has not kept in check the rise of extremists rallying together the Bumiputera grassroots, good people who have been told this time will be different, this time more of the same will help them, despite its having failed to do so these last 50 years.  Since 2010 no one has been able to recount significant action on that announcement.

A Malaysia of Cronies

All this is background. The practice continues to worsen in a Malaysia of cronies undermining good intentions and exploiting for self interest the very instruments designed to help others. The latest most visible instance of this is 1Malaysia Development Berhad, or 1MDB, an investment fund set up to steward the nation’s resources. Elsewhere in the world, international scrutiny of sovereign wealth management vehicles has led to their applying the highest possible standards of financial probity; indeed, among the world’s most respected, successful, and scrupulously managed of those is Malaysia’s own Khazanah Nasional. By contrast, 1MDB has seen billions of dollars of public money moved around the world in suspicious circumstances, with allegations that hundreds of millions of dollars were funneled into the prime minister’s personal bank accounts. (Malaysia’s anti-corruption agency has ruled that the money came from legitimate “donations,” without specifying who the donor was.) All of this has dragged down in the world’s eyes Malaysia’s otherwise globally esteemed financial infrastructure.

And the egregious actions continue: shutting down the press has become the next step in that escalation. In July 2015 Malaysian authorities blocked a website that had become a significant and honest whistleblower on high-level developments in Malaysia. That same month Malaysian authorities suspended The Edge newspaper for its reports on 1MDB. Criminal defamation litigation threatened by the prime minister against the Wall Street Journal on its 1MDB reporting turned into a fiasco of the most basic legal ineptitude. Towards the end of July Najib removed from Cabinet his own deputy prime minister, the government’s most significant and prominent voice to raise questions on 1MDB. While four different official Malaysian government investigations are underway, there has now been a sudden replacement of the attorney-general and chief prosecutor. The deputy public prosecutor and others involved in the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission have been arrested. The prime minister moved four members of the 1MDB parliamentary committee into his cabinet, thereby shutting down all further proceedings even as the committee’s official report comes due. Opposition MPs have been prevented from leaving the country on their way to discussing 1MDB and the political crisis in Malaysia.

In all this turmoil, many of Malaysia’s most remarkable leaders and numerous ordinary people have spoken out on the need for the country to get back to its roots. The country again needs to have a government that runs for the well-being of its people. Malaysia’s current political leadership no longer articulates a vision that serves Malaysia’s people. Malaysia’s leadership is no longer one admired by and hopeful for others around the world.

One of Britain’s greatest friends – a former colony that admired and reflected the grand British ideals of democracy, rule of law, free speech, and egalitarianism – has gone rogue.

It does not take authoritarian autocracy to run a country into the ground. Regardless of the system of government, it takes only political elites out of touch with their people, a co-opted judiciary, an electoral process that even while open fails to surface progressive leadership, and a system that keeps to the law but fails to protect those speaking truth to power. Malaysia now has all of these sorry attributes.

 

5 August 2015

Pendapat

Pendapat Anda?

Malaysiakini

There seems to be no end to the incredulity by the country’s top executive in clearing both the prime minister as well as the government backed investment mammoth, 1MDB – perception wise.

The latest twist saw an unsigned MACC statement clear the RM2.6 billion found in our premier’s personal account – as mere donation money – after many weeks of allowed speculation and feigned ignorance to the existence and nature of the personal accounts.

Notwithstanding the Malay translation is derma falls within the ambit of the MACC as suapan : ‘suapan’ ertinya – (a) wang, derma, alang, pinjaman … atau apa-apa manfaat seumpama itu yang lain;

This definition then opens the door wide open for the person responsible – in receiving or paying a bribe – to be in violation of Section 3 and Section 50 of the MACC Act respectively.

Specifically Section 16 of the Act highlights that those found guilty can be jailed up to 20 years. Clearly if the executive is seen to hamper the anti-corruption agency; it is a move most detrimental to our parliamentary democracy.

While the MACC resolves its wide-ranging dilemma from releasing unsigned statements to last minute prayers for a corrupt-free regime plus integrity to prevail; we are left wondering on the roles of the following institutions :

Bank Negara – our central bank. For the first time in Malaysian history, our governor is being sought after by the IGP for investigations related to section 124B for activities being detrimental to parliamentary democracy – in the exact moment the public awaits the outcome of a task force she jointly chairs – investigating none other than 1MBD and the PM (chair of 1MDB advisory board).

Any threat and harassment against the governor – the bastion of Malaysia’s economic and financial well-being – is certainly a threat against our parliamentary democracy.

As arrests and investigations become the prevailing order – we are left asking : Does BNM have anything to comment on the massive inflow of fund? How did the transfer of RM2.6 billion escape the AMLA automated alert?

Who was the deep-pocketed donor allegedly from the Middle East that donated this money to the PM? An immediate disclosure of the nameless Middle East donors must be made as Israel also is in the Middle East.

Was the donor from SRC international and how was the money utilised? Was the money used to fund the Barisan Nasional’s 2013 general election campaign?

Fourth Estate under attack

Affronts within the executive have also taken place with the PM sacking of his deputy and members of his cabinet who were vocally critical against him and the 1MDB fiasco.

Whilst the sacking can be replaceable with other like-minded yet less outspoken Umno / BN leaders;  the same cannot be said for the removal of the attorney- general in the background of a rumored, purported charge sheet against our premier.

In his place we have a new AG, no less a former Umno member and disinterested in either disclosing the interim AG’s report on 1MDB or updates on the now derailed investigations by the 1MDB  task force. The main cause for the derailment is the often used phrase of being detrimental to parliamentary democracy.

Whither the PAC? Courage of members easily wilt in the face of cabinet upgrades – whilst the remaining members of the quorum are blocked from continuing meetings , deliberations, or downright access to the PAC office.

The Fourth Estate is also not spared by our executive – latest victims include The Edge Financial Daily – whose dogged interest in exposing the 1MDB saga has cost it a three-month ban. Whistleblower site Sarawak Report is not only blocked but there is also an arrest warrant on its owner.

Clearly, the Fourth Estate is being severely attacked – a move that is most detrimental to our parliamentary democracy .

Malaysians – on the other hand – will not enjoy rights enshrined under Article 10 of our Federal Constitution – as those assembled against the prime minister’s involvement in allegations of embezzlement and corruption are spuriously arrested – the list of 37 arrested include an octogenarian and a minor in last Saturday’s #DemiMalaysia rally.

?Such systematic dismantling of democratic principles of separation of power threatens our parliamentary democracy .

The more the prime minister strengthens his authoritarian and emperor-like grip, the more frail our parliamentary democracy becomes.

Such growth of authoritarianism will only bring the country into further ruin and disrepute.

Malaysians cannot live with an emperor.  All agencies and democratic institutions must be reminded to achieve this aim and end the reign of the Emperor Prime Minister.

The well-being of the rakyat and survival of the nation are predicated on a working and thriving parliamentary democracy.

5 August 2015

Pendapat

Pendapat Anda?

TMI

In light of the country’s mounting financial scandals and weakening ringgit, Opposition leader Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail has urged members of parliament from both sides of the divide to put aside their differences and work towards an action plan for the sake of the nation.

In a statement today, Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail also said the comedy of errors committed by Putrajaya over the RM2.6 billion channelled into the prime minister’s accounts did not instill confidence in the people that the government will handle the matter properly.

She said the statement by the Dewan Rakyat Speaker that the bi-partisan Public Accounts Committee (PAC) , which is in the midst of probing debt-ridden state investor 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB), cannot continue their meetings, raised many questions.

“The people who have been waiting to hear the explanation by 1MDB CEO Arul Kanda and former CEO Datuk Shahrol Halmi were disappointed as this was the second time their scheduled hearing was postponed.”This postponement does not bode well for the democratic process in Malaysia and will only create negative perceptions of the integrity of PAC,” Wan Azizah said.

She urged all MPs and civil society to come together for the sake of the nation given the current political developments in the country.

“We are running out of time. The Malaysian ringgit is losing its value, investment sentiments are on the decline and the government’s actions are affecting the country’s image on the world stage.

“We need to set aside our differences and work together to bring change,” she added.

The bipartisan panel was scheduled to continue its inquiry with former 1MDB CEO Shahrol in Parliament yesterday, and Arul today, while Mohd Hazem Abdul Rahman, who served as 1MDB’s CEO from March 2013 to January 2015, was scheduled to appear before the panel tomorrow.

However, a Cabinet reshuffle that saw the PAC chairman and three of its members elevated to the administration resulted in Speaker Tan Sri Pandikar declaring that all PAC proceedings, including its ongoing inquiry into 1MDB, temporarily suspended pending the appointment of a new chairman and members.

Pandikar’s view has been disputed by PAC opposition members as well as the Bar Council, which said the committee could still function as it had the required quota, and that DAP’s Dr Tan Seng Giaw as deputy chair could take over the functions of the chairman.

5 August 2015

Pendapat

Pendapat Anda?

TMI

A warrant of arrest for Sarawak Report editor Clare Rewcastle-Brown is not enforceable outside Malaysia, lawyers said, adding that it is also very unlikely that the British national will step foot here anytime soon for police to pick her up.

They said the Malaysian authorities were dreaming and their act only showed they were making a fool of themselves as the offence she was being investigated for was not a crime in the United Kingdom.

They said any extradition attempt on Rewcastle-Brown with the assistance of the crown  public prosecutor in Britain would fail.

Lawyer Joshua Teh said the warrant was only enforceable against Rewcastle-Brown if she came to Malaysia to submit to the investigating agency.

“The warrant has no value outside Malaysia. It was just obtained to put on a show to the Malaysian public,” he told The Malaysian Insider.

Teh said the warrant of arrest only showed that Rewcastle-Brown was wanted by Malaysian authorities.”Police can only arrest and detain her if she on Malaysian soil,” he added.

He said this in response to a report quoting the head of the Criminal Investigation Department Datuk Seri Mohmad Salleh that police had obtained a warrant of arrest for Rewcastle-Brown and would begin the process of obtaining help from Interpol and Aseanapol to facilitate her detention.

Mohmad said Rewcastle-Brown, who is based in the UK, would be investigated under Section 124B and 124I of the Penal Code, which relate to activities that are detrimental to parliamentary democracy.

Mohmad in a statement last evening said the warrant of arrest was obtained from the Kuala Lumpur High Court.

Section 124I pertains to the dissemination of false reports which was likely to cause public alarm and those found guilty can be jailed for up to five years.

Section 124B, meanwhile, allows for imprisonment up to 20 years for actions that are detrimental to parliamentary democracy.

Rewcastle-Brown has been accused of using allegedly false or tampered information in Sarawak Report’s exposes on 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB), obtained from former PetroSaudi International employee Xavier Andre Justo.

The Sarawak Report website was blocked by Malaysian Internet regulators more than two weeks ago purportedly because the site carried false information that could disrupt “national stability”.

Lawyer Datuk N. Sivananthan said British prosecutors would not render any assistance to their Malaysian counterparts to extradite her as the United Kingdom did not have an offence for action that were detrimental to parliamentary democracy.

“It is definitely not an offence there and so extradition is out of question,” said Sivananthan, who is also a International Criminal Court counsel.

Lawyer S.N. Nair described the act of the police similar to pulling wool over gullible Malaysians’ eyes to demonstrate that they were doing something against the “white woman”.

He said Malaysia and the United Kingdom may have an understanding to extradite a suspect but the British government would be unlikely to render assistance because the offence under section 124 of the Penal Code was something alien there.

“The crown public prosecutor there will not do anything illegal to send Rewcastle-Brown to Malaysia as the public and media there are vigilant,” said Nair, an ex-police officer who has handled extradition cases.

Nair said the warrant of arrest for Rewcastle-Brown was only a starting mechanism and the Attorney-General of Malaysia would have to seek the cooperation of his British counterpart to arrest her.

“They will decline to act based on the evidence presented by the Malaysian A-G if they feel there was no case.

“If there was a case, prosecutors in England have to go the court to obtain a warrant and the court may decline such an application,” he added.

Looking at the evidence from press reports, Nair said it was virtually impossible for any application for warrant of arrest or extradition order to succeed.

“This act by the police is an exercise in futility and waste of public funds,” he added.

4 August 2015

Pendapat

Pendapat Anda?

Asia Times

Malaysia’s stock market was down over 10 percent at end-July after Prime Minister Najib Razak, fighting to extend his six-year tenure in the wake of the 1MDB debt and campaign funding scandal, sacked his deputy and other cabinet members openly challenging him.

His public approval rating at 45 percent has suffered since the United Malay party won re-election last year, despite the opposition getting a larger vote total.

His predecessor Mahathir Mohamed did not think he deserved another term for lack of economic and political vision, as the household debt burden, which soared to 85 percent of GDP through government programs to boost consumption, is no longer sustainable to offset falling oil exports.

Foreign investors, with respective one-third and one-quarter ownership in the local bond and equity markets, were once enthusiastic about early promises to change the state-dominated business and financial sector model. But the results were meager and with the currency now at a 15-year low as the region’s worst performer, aversion is spiking as in the Asian financial crisis aftermath.

The sovereign wealth fund investigation into $11 billion in accumulated debt has also begun to scapegoat international finance houses as during the early 2000s. Goldman Sachs has been singled out for high bond underwriting fees and the aggressive style of its Asia head.

The son of a wealthy Malaysian business executive, who started a fund in New York and expanded 1MDB’s portfolio into luxury real estate, has been accused of shady foreign practices and steering $700 million into Najib’s account.

As a central bank task force examines such conspiracies, asset sales to other government-linked companies, with stock exchange heavyweight Tenaga Nasional just bidding for a power unit, will be the main channel for servicing obligations and staying afloat.

GDP growth may be only 4 percent this year as the PMI manufacturing index fell below 50 in June, and April introduction of a goods and services tax to narrow the chronic 3-percent range budget deficit caps domestic demand.

Property and construction after a long upswing have stalled as bank credit growth drops to single digits, with personal non-performing loans rising.

The central bank has held rates despite ringgit depreciation to 3.8/dollar to discourage a further borrowing binge, which has been the main factor cited by ratings agencies for a likely sovereign downgrade.

Fitch Ratings last month maintained an ‘A’ grade on the prospect of household deleveraging amid the allegations swirling around the prime minister. To allow banks to handle workouts, short-term Islamic government securities issuance, which soaked up liquidity, has been stopped, effectively halving the global ‘sukuk’ universe to $50 billion in 2015, according to Standard & Poor’s.

External accounts show a dwindling current account surplus to 1.5 percent of GDP as both high tech and natural resource exports sputter. International reserves have dropped 20 percent this year to just over $100 billion as they are used for currency intervention, and domestic and foreign-based capital outflows accelerate.

In May, a $2 billion sovereign bond was placed to boost holdings, but fund flow tracker EPFR shows steady debt and equity exit since the first quarter. Outward FDI from both private and state companies is a strong trend, as they diversify risk and react to slim infrastructure pickings in Najib’s ambitious Economic Transformation Program now compromised by debt and political baggage.

These elements are also pervasive in Thailand where the stock market was off the same 10 percent at end-July on the MSCI index. It is tied with Malaysia for ASEAN’s greatest household debt, which was pushed by the Yingluck administration’s rice farmer and auto buying schemes before she was ousted by the military.

The generals postponed the election timetable into late 2016 as a new constitution is drafted and former government officials face trial for misconduct, including in agricultural credit.  Informal money lenders and external corporate and financial institution borrowing add to the debt load which altogether is estimated at 125 percent of GDP. Balance sheet bloat in both countries regardless of criminal intent remains scandalous, and investors need to see that fiscal and political houses are equally in order.

4 August 2015

Pendapat

Pendapat Anda?

South China Morning Post

Can the prime minister weather a full-blown wealth-fund scandal and a fractious party?

Malaysia’s deputy prime ministers have rarely had it easy. To play the role of the utterly loyal number two while hinting at one’s potential as a future number one requires extreme political adroitness.

Most have failed and faded into ignominy as also-rans. Others are now fierce critics of the government.

So when Muhyiddin Yassin was booted out of the cabinet on Tuesday for his attacks on his embattled boss, Prime Minister Najib Razak – who is fighting allegations that he took money from the 1MDB state wealth fund – it seemed like history repeating itself.

An already polarised country is being thrown into deeper turmoil with the capital Kuala Lumpur swirling with ominous rumours of arrests and more sackings, including that of well-respected central bank governor Zeti Akhtar Aziz, all because she is investigating the 1MDB scandal.

Charge sheets allegedly showing that Najib was about to be prosecuted for corruption surfaced on Thursday. Public prosecutors have denied their existence.

The government has also had to come out to say it is not planning to arrest Muhyiddin. Meanwhile, civic groups are planning to launch street protests.

Above all, many Malaysians are still in shock at the ruthlessness of the sacking. To some, it was un-Malay, alluding to the gentle, softer manners of the majority race.

Muhyiddin also told the media that he learned about his firing an hour before it was announced. When asked if he was about to be sacked, his boss merely nodded, Muhyiddin said while mimicking Najib’s gesture, to derisive laughter.

It was only two days earlier that Muhyiddin had voiced his strongest criticism yet of the 1MDB scandal that has ensnared Najib, who is chairman of the fund. The deputy prime minister said he, too, did not know the answers to so many questions about the debt-laden fund and The Wall Street Journal report that US$700 million from the fund had been funnelled into Najib’s personal accounts.

His statements were mild compared with the salvos unleashed by former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad. But the sacking came swiftly. Sources told the South China Morning Post that Muhyiddin’s camp did not see it coming.

Muhyiddin is now the second deputy prime minister in the history of Malaysian politics to be sacked from the cabinet. Anwar Ibrahim, dismissed in 1998 after disagreeing with Mahathir’s handling of the Asian financial crisis, is in jail over a sodomy conviction.

Muhyiddin remains deputy president of the Malay-centric Umno, the largest party in the ruling coalition. He has said he does not intend to rock the boat. But nobody expects calm waters ahead.

The two men came together in a marriage of convenience. One is from a pedigreed political family; the other rose through the ranks steadily at the state level in Johor, the birthplace of Umno.

Najib is the son of Malaysia’s second prime minister and secured the top job by waiting patiently in the wings as deputy prime minister for several years, and even after the ruling coalition’s massive losses in the 2008 election. He took over from PM Abdullah Badawi only a year later.

Muhyiddin, who was the chief minister of Johor for nearly a decade until 1995, had appeared as if he was in no hurry to assert himself.

But the 1MDB scandal proved too hard to resist taking on. Along with Muhyiddin, Najib sacked other ministers who had also been vocal about 1MDB. Attorney general Gani Patail, who was involved in the investigation into the wealth fund controversy, was also fired.

Since the firings, a leaked, undated video has emerged online, showing Muhyiddin, in a private conversation, reporting that Najib had told him that he did take the US$700 million.

Najib has denied taking any money for “personal gain”, rejecting the accusations as malicious lies to force him out of office.

With the sackings, he has shown he is bent on staying on until the next election, due by 2018. But can he last that long and will Umno stay united?

The Malay ground in Malaysia is in strife. Umno has lost favour with vast sections of the urban Malay middle class that has abandoned it in droves since the 2008 election, when the ruling coalition lost its two-thirds majority in parliament.

But broad swathes are also disillusioned with the opposition alternatives of Anwar’s party, Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) and the Partai Islam Se Malaysia (PAS). PAS is now being torn apart, with defectors rumoured to be setting up a new political party in the coming months.

In the past, when two deputy prime ministers left the cabinet, the ensuing infighting left Umno in shreds.

In 1986, after quitting as deputy to Mahathir, Musa Hitam joined forces with another Mahathir nemesis, Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, to challenge the top leadership post of Umno. Both lost, but the bruising battle split the party for several years, into Semangat 46, or “Spirit of 46”, harking to the founding year of Umno, and Umno Baru, a newly constituted party.

In 1998, when Anwar was sacked, he launched the Reformasi protests against his former boss. Umno again split as defecting members joined Anwar to form PKR.

But Umno may not suffer such a fate this time. Like many Asian countries, Malaysian democracy is rife with the politics of patronage. And Najib has ensured the loyalty of the Umno rank-and-file: at a party meeting in March, more than 160 out of 191 division chiefs pledged their endorsement of him.

Sources told the Post that Najib also has the support of most members of the supreme council, the highest leadership body in the party and, barring other more damaging evidence, can ride out the storm until the party elections next year.

For Umno unity to come undone, some mighty machinations and even more money would be needed to establish a whole new source of patronage.

Few expect Najib to survive the current crisis, but for now, it would appear he has done enough to pacify the different “warlords” who control the different sections of the grass roots.

When this reporter interviewed him in 2009 soon after he took office, I asked Najib how he would deal with them. He waved aside the question and quipped: “Don’t forget, I am the biggest warlord.”

With the sackings, he has ensured his opponents will not forget.

4 August 2015

Pendapat

Pendapat Anda?

TMMO

Founder and editor of whistleblower website Sarawak Report (SR) Clare Rewcastle-Brown has questioned Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s failure to explain from the very beginning that the RM2.6 billion found in his accounts had come from “donors” and not from 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) as previously suspected.

Defending SR’s reports on the funds, the Sarawak-born British journalist pointed out they had been based on information obtained from the investigation on 1MDB, which she said had suggested the possibility of a link between Najib and money from the troubled state investor.

“Gosh! How come the PM didn’t clear all that up immediately on Day 1 then? What we said was that the information had come from the investigation, because it was believed by investigators to be linked.

“How else would we have obtained it?” she wrote in an email reply to Malay Mail Online yesterday.

Rewcastle-Brown also suggested that these donors come forward and reveal their identities.

The London-based journalist did not contest the conclusion that the RM2.6 billion had not come from 1MDB although she noted that it was made by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) after the series of arrests of some of the agency’s own leading investigators.

“People can reach their own conclusion about this latest MACC statement,” she added.

She went on to question the purpose of the donation, saying that if it had been used as suspected for Barisan Nasional’s Election 2013 campaign, the ruling pact would have broken election laws by exceeding the legal limit for political funding.

Yesterday, former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad had made a similar point in his blog.

Rewcastle-Brown also took a swipe at Najib, asking him if it was okay for “white foreigners” to influence to outcome of the federal polls, after alleging that the funds had originated from an Abu Dhabi bank.

Last weekend, Najib had said in a speech during an Umno divisional meeting that “white people” should stay out of Malaysia’s administrative affairs.

As an example, the prime minister had singled out Rewcastle-Brown’s whistleblower site.

Other than SR, several other international media organisations have written extensively on 1MDB and Najib’s alleged involvement in the state owned fund.

An article by the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) recently claimed that US$700 million (RM2.6 billion) was funnelled through 1MDB into Najib’s private account.

Najib has not directly denied the claim, but has repeatedly said that he has never taken 1MDB money for personal gain.

A special government task force comprising officials from the Attorney-General’s Chambers, the MACC, Bank Negara Malaysia and the police was set up to investigate the allegations in WSJ.

Some of the key investigators from the task force however have been hauled up by the police for a separate investigation on information leaks.

– See more at: http://www.themalaymailonline.com/malaysia/article/why-didnt-najib-explain-rm2.6b-donation-from-day-1-sarawak-report-editor-as#sthash.TCzm4uMY.dpuf

4 August 2015

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WSJ

Anticorruption group says money was from ‘donor contribution’ but doesn’t identify donor

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia—Malaysia’s anticorruption agency said Monday that 2.6 billion ringgit (about $700 million) was deposited into Prime Minister Najib Razak’s personal account and that the money was from a “donor contribution,” not from 1Malaysia Development Bhd, a state investment fund also known as 1MDB.

The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission didn’t say, however, who the donor was, nor the purpose of the contribution. MACC officials didn’t immediately respond to further queries.

“Results of the investigation found that 2.6 billion ringgit alleged to have been deposited into an account belonging to the Prime Minister was a donor contribution and not from 1MDB,” the commission said in a statement.

On July 2, The Wall Street Journal reported that Malaysian investigators had traced nearly $700 million of deposits into what investigators believe were Mr. Najib’s personal bank accounts after the movement of cash among agencies, banks and companies linked to 1MDB. The Journal has reported that the original source of the money was unclear and that the government investigation hadn’t detailed what happened to the money that allegedly went into Mr. Najib’s personal accounts.

The prime minister’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. Mr. Najib, who heads 1MDB’s advisory board, previously has denied any wrongdoing or taking any money for personal gain.

Authorities so far have detained eight people and are currently seeking two former 1MDB executive directors to assist the investigation into the activities of 1MDB, which had racked up more than $11 billion in borrowings while facing a cash crunch.

3 August 2015

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WSJ

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak is trying to contain fallout from investigations into the troubled state investment fund 1Malaysia Development Bhd., which has amassed $11 billion in debt. Here are five things to know.

1:

Why is Mr. Najib under scrutiny?

In addition to questions raised about Mr. Najib’s oversight of 1MDB, investigators looking into the fund have traced nearly $700 million of deposits into what they believe are his personal bank accounts, The Wall Street Journal reported. The original source of the money is unclear and the government investigation doesn’t detail what happened to the money that allegedly went into Mr. Najib’s personal accounts. The turn marked the first time Mr. Najib had been directly connected to the 1MDB probes. Mr. Najib denied taking any money for personal gain.

2:

Why did Mr. Najib shake up his cabinet?

Mr. Najib dismissed five ministers—including his deputy, Muhyiddin Yassin—and a deputy minister. Mr. Muhyiddin had publicly raised questions about the government’s decision to suspend two local publications over their reporting on 1MDB. Mr. Najib said the cabinet change was needed for “strength and unity.” Wan Saiful Wan Jan, chief executive of Malaysia-based think tank Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs, said of the shakeup, “instead of providing good answers to the many criticisms, the prime minister has chosen to remove his critics.”

3:

Why were the two newspapers closed down?

The Edge Weekly and The Edge Financial Daily, both owned by The Edge Media Group, have been reporting on the troubles faced by 1MDB. Mr. Najib’s new deputy premier, Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, suspended the publications for three months because the extensive reporting on 1MDB was deemed to be “prejudicial or likely to be prejudicial to public order.” The company said it will launch a court challenge.

4:

Has anyone been charged with a crime?

Authorities have detained five people, none identified or charged, to assist in the investigation. The central bank is also seeking two former 1MDB executive directors to assist in the investigation while a bipartisan parliamentary committee probing 1MDB’s activities has also summoned Low Taek Jho, a young Malaysian financier who helped set up the fund. Mr. Low previously has denied wrongdoing and has said he never had a formal position at 1MDB, characterizing his role as an occasional adviser.

5:

What is ahead for parliament’s probe?

The committee hearings have been halted after Mr. Najib appointed four members from the committee to his cabinet, meaning they can no longer be on the panel. The committee will have to appoint new members in October before proceedings can continue. The committee was scrutinizing an interim report on the fund prepared by the auditor-general and was scheduled to interview 1MDB top executives in August.

30 July 2015

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The Diplomat

The country suspends two newspapers.

Malaysia’s Home Ministry has suspended two newspapers for three months after the latter published a series of reports exposing corruption in a government-managed investment company that implicated Prime Minister Najib Razak. Meanwhile, a news website was blocked in the country last week after a government agency found it guilty of publishing unverified information in relation to the similar corruption issue.

The licensing permit of The Edge Financial Daily and The Edge Weekly was suspended because their 1MDB reports were deemed by the Home Ministry to be “prejudicial or likely to be prejudicial to public order, security or likely to alarm public opinion or is likely to be prejudicial to public and national interest”.

The 1MDB issue refers to the controversial financial transactions of the company that allegedly benefited some politicians, including the prime minister. Early this month, the Wall Street Journal published a report linking Najib to a bank money transfer totaling $700 million. The government is currently investigating 1MDB as Najib denies the allegations. Some opposition leaders including former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad have called for the resignation of Najib over the 1MDB scandal.

The Edge is challenging the suspension order by filing a judicial review. It emphasized that its reports were based on hard evidence and that it has already handed over bank documents to government investigators.

“Our report is based on evidence corroborated by documents that include bank transfers and statements. How can the work that we have done be deemed as a political conspiracy?”

Meanwhile, the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) has ordered the blocking of the Sarawak Report “based on complaints received from the public” that it is spreading misinformation about the 1MDB issue. Sarawak Report described the order as a “blatant attempt to censor our exposures of major corruption.” It dismissed the “strong arm, anti-democratic media clamp-down” as a futile attempt of the ruling party to hide the truth about the financial mess.

The blocking of Sarawak Report and the suspension of two papers of The Edge were viewed by many as an attack on Malaysia’s media sector. “Blocking a website and threatening critics with prosecution will not make the firestorm over alleged government corruption go away,” said Brad Adams, Asia director of Human Rights Watch.

The Center for Independent Journalism asserted that the blocking of Sarawak Report “without a clear, legitimate purpose and without reference to a proper law authorising such blocking of content is a breach of the guarantee to freedom of expression.”

Meanwhile, uman rights group Suaram urged the government to uphold truth and transparency.

“This latest action by MCMC is totally against its own mission statement which is “providing transparent regulatory processes to facilitate fair competition and efficiency in the industry”.

The Lawyers for Liberty group reminded authorities that “journalism is not a crime.” It added that “Press freedom is an indispensable component of any modern and democratic society as it functions as a form of check and balance against government excesses. Such authoritarian behaviour unfortunately sends a chilling message to the press to self-censor on issues such as 1MDB or else they may invite retaliation.”

But Datuk Abdul Rahman Dahlan, who is the urban wellbeing, housing and local government minister and director of strategic communications of the ruling party Barisan Nasional, defended the suspension order issued by the government against The Edge:

“The government suspended The Edge publications because there was a real possibility that the contents of their reporting were not authentic.  If this possibility turns to be true then the impact on the government and the economic stability due to irresponsible reporting cannot be understated.”

Aside from condoning corruption, the government is now accused of silencing the press. Reacting to the perceived media persecution, five local media networks have banded together and are planning to hold a public rally on August 8 to assert the right the free speech.

30 July 2015

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The Telegraph

As David Cameron arrives to talk trade, Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak’s bank accounts, his wife’s handbags and her son’s Hollywood deals are making the headlines

David Cameron might have hoped that his few final hours in Malaysia at the end of a four-day, four-state whirlwind trade tour of South East Asia would have been the chance to start winding down before heading home.

Instead, he finds himself flying in to a deepening controversy on Thursday as a multi-billion dollar scandal engulfs his host Najib Razak, the prime minister of the former British colony.

Nor is it just Mr Najib who is under attack from his foes in Malaysia amid allegations that he ended up with $700 million in his personal accounts from a state investment bank that he founded.

The Malaysian leader’s wife Rosmah Mansor has been derided for her alleged penchant for luxury and free-spending ways – claims that her husband has dismissed as political assaults.

And Riza Aziz, her son from her first marriage and Mr Najib’s step-son, is also a staple in the gossip as well as financial pages.

He has emerged as a major Hollywood film producer with multi-million property deals in Manhattan and Los Angeles since becoming close friends with a Malaysian playboy investor during their education in London.

So who is Najib Razak?

He’s the 61-year-old scion of Malaysian political royalty with UMNO, the Malay nationalist party that has ruled the country since independence from Britain in 1957. His father was the country’s second prime minister and his uncle its third. Mr Najib inherited his late father’s seat as an MP at 23 and later rose through the party ranks as chief minister of his home state and the serving in the Cabinet portfolios of education, defence and finance as well as deputy prime minister.

It is an impressively lifelong dedication to public service that has coincided with his family becoming one of the country’s richest. His personal profile was low until he married his second wife in 1987.

And Rosmah Mansor?

Ms Rosmah has repeatedly been criticised for her love of the good things in life. Earlier this year, she said she was the victim of “wildly exaggerated” allegations, published by the Sydney Morning Herald, describing her the “first lady of shopping” after reports that she had spent $75,000 on a single trip to a designer boutique.

She was also widely assailed for a reported claim that she lamented about having to pay $300 for a house call by hair stylist. And series of photos showing her holding at least nine Birkin handbags – items that normally sell for between $10,000 and $150,000 each – went viral on social media.

And she has denied allegations that she ever intended to buy a diamond ring worth $24 million that was shipped under her name to Malaysia in 2011 but then returned to the US jeweller. Mr Najib also went public to deny that that his wife bought the diamond ring for his Kazakh in-laws or that they had any links to the “Russian mafia”, as a regional media outlet had claimed.

And the Hollywood connection?

Riza Aziz, his British-educated step-son, has emerged in the film business as a major Hollywood player with his production company Red Granite Pictures (most notably with The Wolf Of Wall Street blockbuster).

He has also made the headlines in the US over complex property deals reportedly conducted with Jho Low, a Malaysian financier whom he met while studying at the London School of Economics and who became famous for sharing jeroboams of champagne with the likes of Paris Hilton.

As the New York Times documented, Mr Low began making some very expensive property deals in the United States in 2010. Those deals included acquiring a $24 million apartment in Manhattan that three years later was sold to a shell company controlled by Mr Aziz for a reported $33 million, according to the newspaper.

A similar transaction was playing out on the West Coast, the investigation continued. “Mr Low bought a contemporary mansion in Beverly Hills for $17.5 million, then turned around and sold it, once again to the prime minister’s stepson.”

And what about 1MDB?

That is the state investment fund that Mr Low encouraged Mr Najib to found and oversee. He helped channel Arab investment into a series of deals with the Malaysian government.

And how’s that going?

1MDB has reported debts of $11 billion. And $700 million of its funds allegedly ended up in Mr Najib’s personal accounts, according to a Wall Street Journal investigation that has been widely reported elsewhere. Mr Najib has consistently denied any wrongdoing or making any financial benefit from the operations of 1MDB.

This week, he sacked his deputy prime minister for breaking ground and saying publicly that the scandal was damaging their party He also replaced his attorney-general who was overseeing the investigation into the allegations.

So why does the family seem to be doing so well financially?

Mr Najib’s office, in a statement, told the New York Times that the prime minister does not track how much Mr Aziz earns or how such earnings are reinvested. As for the prime minister himself, the statement said he had “received inheritance”.

It noted that the family’s lifestyle was not unusual for a person of the “prime minister’s position, responsibilities and legacy (of) family assets”.

No allegations of wrongdoing have been confirmed against Mr Najib. But it is not the first time that he has been the subject of intense questions about his finances as political opponents have previously focussed on a long-running bribery inquiry in France involving a submarine order that Mr Najib commissioned while he served as defence minister.

Didn’t Mr Cameron just speak out on corruption during his Asian tour?

He did indeed, during a speech in Singapore on Tuesday delivered just a few hours after Mr Najib purged his government ranks of officials raising questions about the 1MDB scandal.

The British prime minister warned that foreign fraudsters and corrupt officials can no longer “stash dodgy cash” in London’s luxury property market as he announced a major review of ownership rules.

He said that the international community has “looked the other way for far too long” when it comes to corruption“, which he called “one of the greatest enemies of progress in our time.

He continued: “We simply cannot afford to side-step this issue or make excuses for corruption any more. We need to step up and tackle it.”

So will he be “side-stepping” such allegations in Kuala Lumpur on Thursday?

Malaysian opposition MPs have urged the British prime minister to use his visit to press Mr Najib on the allegations, warning that otherwise the trip would appear to be a vote of support for the beleaguered leader. Privately, one senior opposition figure told The Telegraph that the timing of the visit was “nuts” and “boggled the mind”.

But this tour is all about the realpolitik of international trade for Mr Cameron. He is visiting Malaysia to try and drum up British business deals and secure Malaysian co-operation in security measures to combat Islamic radicals. And he knows he won’t get far with that if he embarrasses his host, however embattled he may be.

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