Nov 19th 2016
Billions are stolen; only a whistle-blower goes to jail
IT IS more than two years since Malaysians began asking awkward questions about 1MDB, a state-owned investment firm from which billions of dollars are missing. But Malaysia has yet to prosecute anyone in connection with the scandal, perhaps the gravest in its history. Instead, on November 14th a local court handed a prison sentence to Rafizi Ramli, an outspoken opposition politician who has done much to educate the public about the affair. If Mr Rafizi’s appeal is rejected he will spend 18 months in jail.
Mr Rafizi’s offence was to leak details from a report into 1MDB’s dealings which had been produced by Malaysia’s auditor-general, but which the government had declared classified. Mr Rafizi had publicised a brief passage from the report to support speculation that the state firm’s massive losses could have delayed certain payments to Malaysian veterans (the organisations involved reject this claim). The government had initially promised that the auditor-general’s report would be released to the public in full, as is the convention. Now it is using the Official Secrets Act to silence those who refer to it.
Mr Rafizi’s conviction may prevent him from defending his parliamentary seat at the next general election. It adds to a string of legal battles hampering the opposition, which is readying for polls that may be called next year. Anwar Ibrahim, the opposition leader, has been imprisoned since 2015 on flimsy sodomy charges. A corruption case is presently being pressed against Lim Guan Eng, the chief minister of Penang (an opposition stronghold).
The whitewash in Malaysia contrasts with dogged investigations continuing abroad. On November 11th a banker who had handled some of 1MDB’s money was convicted in Singapore of forgery and of failing to report suspicious transactions; he was sentenced to 18 weeks in jail. In July investigators from America’s Department of Justice alleged that more than $3.5bn had been “misappropriated” from 1MDB, and that hundreds of millions of dollars had been paid to Malaysia’s prime minister, Najib Razak.
Mr Najib denies wrongdoing. Having last year purged critics from his party, his position looks secure; an aide boasts that the prime minister is matey with Donald Trump, America’s president-elect. In a typically brazen response to questions from the Nikkei Asian Review, published the day after Mr Rafizi’s sentencing, the prime minister said that Malaysian authorities had “led the way” in investigating allegations of wrongdoing linked to 1MDB. His answers were submitted in writing; Mr Najib might have struggled to say such things in person with a straight face.