by BINOY KAMPMARK
JULY 28, 2015
He is, like many of his colleagues in the United Malays National Organisation (Umno), a stubborn barnacle. The Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak has struggled cleaning up the mess that ensued after revelations that he has been effectively ransacking the Malaysian state during his time in office. Pity a country with natural resources, and government policies that pride connections over industry; sleeping partners over industrious ones.
The so-called 1MBD revelations have done much to tarnish, and possibly sink Najib in the kleptocratic maelstrom. The 1Malaysia Development Bhd, Fund or 1MDB, has been riddled with rotten apples, and there always was a looming question as to whether one of them came from the PM’s office. Najib, for one, founded the body while heading its board of advisors. During the course of his stewardship, the government investment fund accumulated a weighty $11 billion in debt. Promised ventures have not taken place: the failure to develop the Tun Razak Exchange project, and the lack of promised contributions from partners.
After some investigative digging on the part of the Sarawak Report and Wall Street Journal, a link was supposedly established between Najib’s personal accounts held at AmPrivate Banking in Kuala Lumpur and the 1MDB money trail. Amounts totalling $US681,999,976 (RM2.6 billion in local currency) was wired from the Singapore branch of the Swiss Falcon private bank owned by Abu Dhabi fund Aabar into the AMBank account on March 2013 ahead of the General election. Such is the nature of “strategic partnerships”.
Then came the amount of RM42 million stemming from the notorious SRC International Sdn Bhd, another company with links to 1MDB. The money also happened it find itself in Najib’s accounts and came from unaccounted funds provided by the public pension fund KWAP.
The exposure has produced more than a flutter in Malaysian politics. Malaysiakini mocked the prime minister’s reaction to questions on the scandal as he left an open house gathering with former prime minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi: “Okay lah.”
For the Malaysia Chronicle, Nawawi Mohamad would suggest that Malaysia was “now in real danger” because Najib had been “cornered like a wounded beast”. Indeed, the publication seems to be mournful, casting a thought back to the potential of a person who might well have been “the best prime minister Malaysia ever had.” And hence the point. If corruption is to be done, it should not be a tax expenses claim that produces a moral convulsion, but a traditional ransacking of the treasury with the aid of bankers. This model has after all prevailed in Malaysia for decades.
The obvious response by the government is to strangle the lines of communication and exposure. Stamp on whistleblowers, badger the media outlets that dare print those details, and, if possible, shut down whistleblower sites and prosecute the disclosers. Last week saw Malaysian authorities blocked the UK Sarawak Report website for carrying “unsubstantiated content” that would “disrupt peace and order, and in the bigger picture could destabilise the nation and the economy.”
Authorities have also gone further in seeking to target Clare Rewcastle-Brown. The Malaysian Home Ministry has made more than faint mutterings that it would like to seek Britain’s cooperation in extraditing the editor of the Sarawak Report, provided that a prima facie case is established.
Home Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi resorted to the great excuse that states have used with impunity, from war crimes to mass theft. The difference with other minds on the world stage of impunity is that they have expressed that position far more competently. “As the concept of sovereignty is respected by all, I’m sure the British does [sic] not give its blessings to its citizens interfering in the affairs of other countries.”
He obviously hasn’t been reading the news. As the Sarawak Report contended, the publication had committed no offence recognised under UK or Malaysian law. “Otherwise homosexuals could have been dragged from the streets of London and sent over to KL in droves.”
The bone of contention is not that the 1MDB documents were untrue, but that they had been published with “ill intentions”. Equating a meddling intrusion into Malaysian politics with a criminal assault, the minister could only tell reporters that, “There was already a working relationship between the Malaysian police and Scotland Yard.”
Rewcastle-Brown is confident that the British government will hold firm on this. Najib, she argued, “had better articulate a reason. ‘Truths annoying to the Malaysian prime minister’ do not cut muster with British law.”
Even in Malaysia, where the cornering and muzzling of press outlets and publications has been a matter of course for those disclosing uncomfortable facts, political dissent can be noted. The former International Trade and Industry Minister, Tan Sri Rafidah Rafidah Azziz, was far from impressed. “We ban some publications. It does not solve anything, really. If at all, its making more people upset.”
Najib will, for all of this, duck and weave within a system that was, in a sense, perfected by the strong man of Malaysian politics, Mahathir bin Mohammed. Even as Mahathir distances himself from his former protégé, having withdrawn support for his leadership, his mark on Malaysian kleptocracy remains.
Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: [email protected]