Malaysia Blocks UK-Based Critic


July 22, 2015

Malaysia Blocks UK-Based Critic

by John Berthelsen

http://www.asiasentinel.com/politics/malaysia-blocks-uk-based-critic/

Claire BrownAfter months of devastating reportage by the UK-based Sarawak Report, the Malaysian government has had enough, attempting to block the internet site, edited and mostly reported by former BBC reporter Clare Rewcastle Brown.  However, almost immediately, social media have come alive with alternate routes to the site, making the government attempt look futile.

Readers attempting to access the site on July 19 were greeted with a notification in Malay and English by the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission that “This website is not available in Malaysia as it violates the National Law.” As far as can be determined, it is the first time the government has closed down a website and it is reminiscent of an action by former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad in 1986 when, infuriated by detailed reporting on a variety of scandals, he ordered two Asian Wall Street Journal reporters out of the country within 72 hours.

Malaysia’s Center for Independent Journalism condemned the blockage, saying that “For any restriction on the guaranteed right of freedom of expression to be legitimate, it must firstly be authorized by a specific law. There must also be adequate provision for a website that has been blocked to appeal and challenge the decision of MCMC.  

The government’s action came at the end of a week during which it attempted to prove Brown had used documents allegedly doctored by Xavier Justo, a Swiss national now in jail in Thailand, to lay out detailed charges of massive fraud surrounding the scandal-ridden 1Malaysia Development Bhd. state-backed investment fund.  According to local media, Justo downloaded 2 million emails from PetroSaudi International, a Middle Eastern oil exploration company through which stolen funds are alleged to have passed. Justo was once an officer of the company but was paid the equivalent of US$5 million to leave. Apparently he sought to sell the documents to the highest bidder in Singapore. Brown did not pay for them.

Brown, on the Sarawak Report page,  called the commission’s action “a blatant attempt to censor our exposures of major corruption through the development fund 1MDB, including the information that nearly US$700 million of 1MDB-related money was paid into the Prime Minister of Malaysia’s personal AmBank account in KL just before the last election. This information has already long been disseminated and backed up by other major global news organizations, so we can only assume that the MCMC is fearful that we are about to bring out further revelations.”

The New Straits Times, owned by the United Malays National Organization, quoted a Thai Police lieutenant general as saying Justo had confessed to doctoring emails he had obtained from PetroSaudi International. But the Associated Press reported that Thai officials had refused to share any information on Justo with Malaysia.

In any case the allegations against Brown were almost immediately knocked down today [July 20] by an equally detailed report by The Edge Financial Daily, Malaysia’s leading business publication, titled “How Jho Low & PetroSaudi schemed to steal money from the people of Malaysia via 1Mdb.”  The article supports virtually every charge Brown has made against Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak and the officials of 1MDB.

The 2,800 word article, complete with flow charts, describes in overwhelming detail the money trail by which US$1.83 billion was stolen from 1MDB by individuals connected PetroSaudi International and diverted into various accounts at banks in Singapore, New York, Switzerland and London by Jho Low, the young tycoon and family friend of Najib’s who was instrumental in setting up 1MDB in 2009, as well as two PetroSaudi officials and officers of 1MDB itself.

The government has threatened to pull the publishing licenses of both the financial daily and its affiliated publication The Edge Weekly over their aggressive reporting on 1MDB.

As the charges over 1MDB have continued to pile up – including one by Sarawak Report and the Wall Street Journal that US$680 million had been diverted from companies connected to the investment fund had ended up in Najib’s own account – Najib’s UMNO allies have pulled out all the stops, using the New Straits Times and other party-owned, Malay-language newspapers, radio and television and an army of bloggers to attempt to discredit the reports. 

Bloggers and government officials over the past three weeks have issued a barrage of charges against Brown, including one by a onetime employee of Radio Free Sarawak, also started in 2010 by Brown that the former employee had participated in faking evidence against the government.  But his charges have been largely discarded, partly because of an email he presented as “proof” had been doctored.  He has never written for or edited the Sarawak Report, Brown said. A picture of a man identified as Brown’s “mastermind” online forger of documents in the UK turned out to be the manager of a bus station in Norwich.

To most middle-class Malaysians, the government’s campaign against Brown and the international media including the New York Times and the Washington Post carries little weight. It is clear, especially since the stories have been backed up by local reporting on The Edge Financial Review, Malaysian Insider, Malaysiakini and other websites, that 1MDB faces a huge financial crisis.  It has struggled to find the money to meet its loan obligations and a planned IPO looks dead for the foreseeable future.  It has dismissed its auditors twice after they refused to issue unqualified reports. 

But the question is how the scandal plays in the kampungs, the rural villages in the Malay heartland that provide UMNO with a reliable supply of votes.  UMNO’s support has been draining away in successive elections although now, with the opposition near collapse, and with an election three years away, it remains to be seen if UMNO can repair itself.  Its component parties in the Barisan Nasional, or ruling national coalition, have become irrelevant.  The next big test is the Sarawak state election, which must be held before August 2016.  At the moment, say political analysts in Kuala Lumpur, the Barisan holds a strong lead, if not an insurmountable one.

5 thoughts on “Malaysia Blocks UK-Based Critic

  1. I cannot fathom the logic and reasoning behind MCMC latest move. It is so counter productive and archaic to assume silencing should remain the preferred option to manage a dissenting view. What they need to know that there already exist an on line culture of respectful disagreement and debate. Yet the Govt. continues on the beaten track to meticulously show the world that accountability needs to be hidden. Might as well spell out the Miranda warning, considering the right to express is no longer an option.

  2. The UMNO Baru-BN propaganda war is getting more and more stupid by the day e.g. barring Rafizi and Tony Pua from leaving the country.

    I guess the stupidos think that this effort to portray Rafizi and Tony as “criminals who will try to flee the country” is going to work i.e. fool the people in the rural kampungs.

  3. When Najib was confronted with the alleged scandal, Najib coyly announced, “Let no stones be unturned, and the truth shall prevail!”.

    As more detailed investigations started to reveal the magnitude of the scandal, Najib is now “quickly moving the boulder to cover all the stones” and threatens “in the interest of National security, the culprits who leaked the audit trails information shall be prosecuted.” Haha, this is Najib’s hypocritical promise of transparency of government and accountability of government.
    __________________

    Dennis,

    When I sat with him at the Maybank Malaysian Open Golf 2010 maquis at Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club as we chatted for 15 minutes, Najib told me that he wanted to “make Malaysia great again”. I did not realise then that what he meant was to mess the country up thoroughly. He is a straight faced lying and corrupt leader. He also turned out to be a weak one who is now acting tough. He can do what he likes now but the signs are there that his days at the office are numbered. Repression is a sign of a collapsing regime. Even the Malays in the rural heartland will realise that he is up to no good when he no longer has the goodies left to bribe and feed them. –Din Merican

  4. After all is said and done, at the end of the day, it comes down to the electoral decisions of 15 million Malays, (minus the Low Yat 200; we know where they will stand when the goodies are handed out)

    Malaysia is what it is because the Rakyat, (i.e. a majority of them), is what it is.

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