Welcome to Malaysia’s Brave New World


November 5, 2018

Welcome to Malaysia’s Brave New World

by: John Berthelsen

https://www.asiasentinel.com/econ-business/malaysia-brave-new-world/

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“Euphoria is dying off and bodies like Bersih, he continued, have started criticizing the new government. Many from civil society are keeping silent. “I suppose the saving grace is that Najib and his cohorts are gone. But that can’t console people forever.”_- J. Berthelsen

Six months into the rule of Malaysia’s new reform government, the bloom has started to fade as the Pakatan Harapan coalition attracts growing criticism while it seeks to find its feet against the political and economic debris left by the outgoing Barisan Nasional, driven from power on May 9 after six-plus decades in office.

The problems the government faces were starkly outlined on Nov. 1 by Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng in a marathon 14,000 word speech outlining the 2019 budget, in which he stated that the previous government, which he characterized as “kleptocratic,” had understated debt and liabilities by nearly 40 percent, rising to a stunning RM1.05 trillion (US$256.8 billion) in an effort to hide corruption, and that debts from the scandal-scarred 1Malaysia Development Bhd development fund could total as much as RM43.9 billion, not including RM7 billion in interest secretly paid on 1MDB debts using taxpayer money illegally.

To Malaysia’s credit, the frighteningly poisonous racial equation, in which ethnic Malays make up about half the population, the Chinese 23 percent and Indians 7 percent, with the rest split between expatriates and bumiputera tribes in East Malaysia, seems to have cooled markedly. The previous government’s attempt to use fundamentalists Islam to pound minorities has largely ceased although UMNO and the fundamentalist Parti Islam se-Malaysia continue to attempt to fan the flames. It remains to be seen what strains there are between the Chinese-dominated Democratic Action Party, Mahathir’s Parti Bersatu Pribumi, and Anwar Ibrahim’s moderate, urban Malay Parti Keadilan Rakyat – and what internal strains there are inside PKR.

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The country is faced with a long series of monumental tasks – rebuilding a judiciary that was thoroughly corrupted by the previous government’s 61 years in power. The education system is a shamble, built on Malay privilege instead of academic achievement.  Lim called attention to educational shortcomings with a long series of measures allocating funds to lower-income students, upgrading failing schools and educational infrastructure, training and vocational education programs. Other sources say the government is being hamstrung to a certain extent by a civil service loyal to the previous government.

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A series of murders including that in 2006 of Mongolian translator and party girl Altantuya Shaariibuu, AMBank founder Hussain Najadi and prosecutor Kevin Morais (pic above), all believed to be at the hands of high government officials, remain to be solved or even looked into.

The new government, caught by circumstances, has compounded its problems by campaigning against a deeply unpopular Goods and Services Tax (GST) implemented by the government of former Prime Minister Najib Razak, and then actually repealing it once in office, leaving a gigantic hole in government revenues.

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‘–at the same time it has agreed to go along with Mahahir’s ill-conceived hobby horse, another national car project.

…That is despite 30-odd years of his previous ill-conceived hobby horse, the Proton national car, which cost the treasury billions of ringgit and billions more to consumers in lost opportunity costs from paying through the nose for heavily tariffed competitors. “- J. Berthelsen

It is seeking to fill the hole with a variety of piecemeal taxes – at the same time it has agreed to go along with Mahahir’s ill-conceived hobby horse, another national car project. That is despite 30-odd years of his previous ill-conceived hobby horse, the Proton national car, which cost the treasury billions of ringgit and billions more to consumers in lost opportunity costs from paying through the nose for heavily tariffed competitors.

“There was a lot of euphoria when Pakatan won the elections, but expectations were also very high,” said a prominent business source in Kuala Lumpur. “They have a small window. If they don’t deliver, that window will start closing.  But unfortunately, politicians will be politicians. They are inexperienced, and the euphoria is wearing off. So far, we have had no exciting government programs. New Malaysia is like Old Malaysia, minus Najib Razak and his 40 thieves.”

Najib and his wife Rosmah Mansor have both been arrested and are expected to go on trial next year. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been confiscated by Malaysian and US authorities although hundreds of millions more, perhaps billions, remain outside he government grasp.  Jewelry, handbags, watches, cash and other riches belonging to Rosmah that have been confiscated total at least US$273 million, putting her in a league even above Imelda Marcos, the wife of the late Philippine strongman Ferdinand Marcos, who held the public record for corruption. It remains to be seen if the Najibs surpass it.

The businessman’s assessment could be a bit pessimistic.  The government has abolished with capital punishment and the press appears to remain largely free despite reluctance on the part of the government to abolish a “fake news” bill pushed through at the last minute by the previous administration in an effort to muzzle pre-election critics.

But a sedition act used against the previous government’s foes remains on the books and has been used against critics. Civic organizations including Suaram have called attention to government inactions on a variety of rights issues. There is also concern on the part of the Coalition for Free and Fair Elections, known as Bersih, and others that MPs from the thoroughly disgraced United Malays National Organization are migrating to Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia, headed by once and current Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, diluting the reformist zeal of the Pakatan Harapan coalition.  Although as many as 40 UMNO MPs are said to be contemplating such a move, Mahathir said they would be vetted individually and known crooks would be kept out.

But, said Kim Quek, a spokesman for opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim’s Parti Keadilan Rakyat in an email, “I foresee mounting tension when UMNO MPs slip into Bersatu, one after another quietly, causing endless suspicion…and mounting public disapproval.”

The headwinds outlined by Finance Minister Lim paint a pessimistic picture for both business and government. With the Trump administration cracking down on trade in Washington, DC, and the global economy beginning to slow, the budget, at a record RM314.6 billion, is forecast to run 3.7 percent of GDP in the red with economic growth expected to slow to 4.8 percent from 5.9 percent in 2017.  The ringgit, Malaysia’s currency, has fallen by 10 percent against the US dollar, in line with troubles across the world as interest rates rise in the United States, causing a flight out of emerging markets.

Lim, in his speech, set out a series of measures designed to help business and vowed to get government out of commerce, saying “clearly, government owned companies have been competing directly with private companies in non-strategic sectors. The outcome was the apparent ‘crowding out’ of private sector investments where private companies are unable to grow and compete.”

The private sector, he said, must lead, and the finance ministry is expected to establish a task force designed to evaluate and reduce duplication of functions,  a ray of hope that the country’s notorious rent-seeking government-linked companies, which funneled millions from inflated contracts to UMNO, could be cut back and its even more notorious cronyism could be reduced.

“Going forward, the government will focus its expenditure and investments only in strategic sectors and areas where the markets are unable to meet the needs of the people,” he said..

Nonetheless, business investment remains lackluster while the sector tries to figure out which way the government is going to go.

“Malaysia will undoubtedly be affected by the US-China trade war given that both these countries are among our top three trading partners,” Lim said in his budget speech. Exports remain a significant driver of the economy, particularly including electronics, oil and gas and palm oil.

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Comeback kids: Like Dr M, other political figures have had second and even third acts during their careers, including (from left) Netanyahu, Abe, Berlusconi and Churchill    

Leadership remains somewhat unsettled, with Mahathir, at 93 the world’s oldest government leader, committed to staying for two years after the formation of the government. Anwar Ibrahim, now 71, has been waiting in the wing for decades, from the time when he was Mahathir’s chosen successor only to be fired and jailed after disagreements in 1998. Although he said he would study abroad and recover from his most recent imprisonment, he forced a by-election to return to parliament a few weeks ago, disconcerting some of his followers, who accused him of acting too quickly.

In the meantime, two of Anwar’s deputies – Mohamad Azmin Ali, the Minister of Economic Affairs, and Rafizi Ramli, the Parti Keadilan general secretary,  are staging their own internecine squabble to become deputy party leader with an eye to succeeding Anwar, raising concerns over party – and coalition – unity.  Pakatan Harapan remains a work in progress. Azmin is said to be aligned with Mahathir, Rafizi with Anwar.

That raises the spectre of Mahathir and Anwar continuing to try to do in each other despite public pledges of amity, including Mahathir campaigning for Anwar in the Port Dickson by-election that brought him back into the parliament.

“The Harapan guys thought that since they couldn’t get worse than Najib, people would continue to support them,” another source said. “They forget that there will always be alternatives; if not in the next five years, then in the next 10 maybe.  Inflation is creeping up; wages have not gone up; new taxes are being introduced and people still struggle to put food on the table. Business is slow; businessmen are not re-investing as they are unsure of this government’s policies.”

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Award winning Journalist John Berthelsen

Euphoria is dying off and bodies like Bersih, he continued, have started criticizing the new government. Many from civil society are keeping silent. “I suppose the saving grace is that Najib and his cohorts are gone. But that can’t console people forever.”

The Boys In Blue Catch Up With The Masters Of The Universe – Comment–Sarawak Report


The Boys In Blue Catch Up With The Masters Of The Universe – Comment

November 4, 2018

 

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Thank you to you Clare  too for your tenacity and persistence. 1MDB  won’t  go away until Najib and his cohorts are punished for money laundering and corruption

In a recent commentary the former US Ambassador to Malaysia, John Malott, expressed his pride in the ordinary men and women of his country’s law enforcement, who had done such a wonderful, dogged and persistent job on bringing the perpetrators of 1MDB to book.

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Ambassador John Malott

He was right. The issues around this scandal are not to do with politics, they are to do with law and order and the vital principle that laws, once made, must apply equally to all. As a result, as predicted by Sarawak Report, the US Department of Justice issued indictments yesterday, not only against Malaysia’s fugitive financier Jho Low, but also against leading executives of the US banking giant Goldman Sachs.

Some in Malaysia have understandably expressed a little scepticism about the role of the United States in this matter. After all, big power politics have so often operated with no respect for justice whatsoever and evidence abounds of lobbying efforts funded by Najib and his cohorts to undermine the work of the Department of Justice in this case as well.

However, the point of the rule of law and its application to all, is that it benefits all and in this inter-related world corruption is a global menace. Receiver countries in the kleptocratic network have now belatedly come to appreciate that serious problems accompany the advent of very large sums of dirty money in the hands of a few highly criminal entities.

It was in the interests of the United States to deal with 1MDB, therefore, as well as being the right thing to do in the minds of the humble officials and their political bosses, who sorted out this giant kleptocratic theft. Otherwise, the beneficiaries of corrupt billions – filtered without being taxed through the off-shore system – can start to negatively influence politics and decision-making in the United States and other recipient countries.

The criminally super-rich can become super-powerful: sponsoring political parties and so-called think tanks; bribing officials and confusing the public with a deluge of false information all to increase their own position and power by undermining democracy.

Kleptocracy is a Global Danger

Obama’s Attorney General, Eric Holder, introduced the Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Unit in 2014 to counter the threat of laundered billions finding their way into the United States, after decades during which global regulators had dangerously turned a relative blind eye to extra-judicial corruption and money laundering.

1MDB happens to have been one of the first major strikes by that unit of the Department of Justice and FBI. Last year the present Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, upheld the value of its work.

It is hugely significant that this department has now moved to indict senior figures within one of the United States’ own most powerful financial institutions, Goldman Sachs, who are now charged with actively conspiring with then Prime Minister Najib Razak’s agent, Jho Low, to steal billions and bribe officials in Abu Dhabi and Malaysia in order to make big kickbacks for themselves.

Those officials are stated as including ‘Malaysian Official One (MO1), ex-Prime Minister Najib Razak, and plainly also include the former Chairman and CEO of Abu Dhabi’s Aabar sovereign fund, who received vast kickbacks for siphoning money out of the Goldman bond structures (using the fund’s ownership of the private Falcon Bank).

“A three-count criminal indictment was unsealed today in federal court in the Eastern District of New York charging Low Taek Jho, also known as “Jho Low,” and Ng Chong Hwa, also known as “Roger Ng,” with conspiring to launder billions of dollars embezzled from 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), Malaysia’s investment development fund, and conspiring to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) by paying bribes to various Malaysian and Abu Dhabi officials.  As part of the three-count indictment, Ng is also charged with conspiring to violate the FCPA by circumventing the internal accounting controls of a major New York-headquartered financial institution (Financial Institution), which underwrote more than $6 billion in bonds issued by 1MDB in three separate bond offerings in 2012 and 2013, while Ng was employed at the Financial Institution as a managing director.  Ng was arrested earlier today in Malaysia, pursuant to a provisional arrest warrant issued at the request of the United States.  Low remains at large.” [DOJ Criminal Indictment]

The ‘Financial Institution’ referred to is clearly Goldman Sachs. In a related move at the start of this week, Malaysia’s own Attorney General challenged in the UK High Court a 2017 judgement by the private arbitration service the LCIA (London Court of International Arbitration) in favour of Abu Dhabi to the tune of some $4.5 billion, on the very grounds that the entire arrangement could plainly have been seen as a fraudulent attempt to steal Malaysia’s public money. Malaysia’s Attorney General ought by justice win his case.

Justice For Goldman Sachs?

In the process of facilitating all this theft, Goldman Sachs made one of the biggest series of profits in the history of banking out of three questionable bond issues for 1MDB, surreptitiously raised via opaque off-shore instruments to the detriment of transparency over the handling of public finances.  The details are now laid out in the US criminal indictment, matters which were ignored for nearly a decade by the bank’s own hierarchy.

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Tim Leissner  pleaded  guilty and agreed to cooperate.

Although the financial world had politely wondered at the enormous payments secured by Goldman Sachs in raising $6.5 billion for 1MDB ($600 million in fees), no one at the bank appears to have examined or reviewed the deals arranged by their Asia Golden Boys, Tim Leissner and Roger Ng – any more than they had checked ‘Dr’ Leissner’s fake academic qualifications.

Sarawak Report exposed 'Dr' Tim Leissner's dodgy PHd in 2016

 

America’s most powerful bank at the very least failed to adequately scrutinise these eye-watering deals, which are now acknowledged to have been criminal by Leissner, who has pleaded  guilty and agreed to cooperate.

The likelihood is worse, that some of the most senior figures were complicit (the bonuses that year were exponential all round) and/or there were systemic problems at the bank, that caused money laundering alerts to fail. Such systemic problems could hardly have been hard to detect by such a major institution concerned to stay within the law.

This Story Spreads Wider Than 1MDB

Roger Ng Chong Hwa, ex-Goldman Sachs, Deutsche Bank

Malaysia’s mysterious Mr Ng (left)has now finally also been arrested and will likely be shipped to the United State to face the music.

He ought to emulate his former boss and cut a deal. Mr Ng’s antics include a long career of collaboration with Malaysia’s worst kleptocrats, including equally obscure and complex off-shore financial deals involving Goldman Sachs and the Sarawak Government of Taib Mahmud.

Prior to that Mr Ng was a player in Deutsche Bank, which was also extensively in business with the Taib family fortune, particularly with regard to Kenanga Holdings, a jointly owned investment house with CMSB, Taib’s family owned conglomerate.

A thorough clean out of Malaysia’s dirty kleptocratic dealings is what is needed out of 1MDB and beyond that a thorough clean out of the global banks who have proven happy to deal with regimes like these.  Ultimately, a thorough clean out of the off-shore system is required.

There is only one jurisdiction who can force this through and that is the Department of Justice of the United States.

Budget 2019:Tough Times Ahead for Malaysia


Budget 2019:Tough Times Ahead for Malaysia–The Price of UMNO’s Fiscal Indiscipline

Domestic Demand to grow at 5 and 4.8pct in 2018 and 2019

by Bernama@www.malaysiakini.com

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BUDGET 2019 | Domestic demand growth is expected to remain resilient at five percent and 4.8 percent this year and in 2019 respectively, steered by sustained private sector expenditure.

READ THIS:

https://www.malaysiakini.com/news/450171

According to the Economic Outlook 2019 report released by the Ministry of Finance today, private sector growth expenditure is expected at 6.5 percent this year and 6.4 percent in 2019, constituting about 72 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Meanwhile, the report said public sector expenditure is anticipated to further decline to 0.9 percent in 2019, after recording a marginal growth of 0.1 percent this year, mainly due to lower investment by public corporations.

“Private consumption will remain the major growth determinant, expanding by 7.2 percent and supported by a stable labour market, benign inflation and conducive financing conditions.

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“Other factors such as the zerorisation of the Goods and Services Tax, subsidised pump prices, the general elections, FIFA World Cup season, and termination of toll collection on two highways, provide further impetus to household spending,” the report said.

Private investment, the report said, is expected to grow 4.5 percent this year, accounting for 17.3 percent of GDP with capital outlays concentrated in the services and manufacturing sectors.

It is expected to post a higher growth of five percent next year, attributed to capital spending in technology-intensive manufacturing and services sectors, it added.

According to the report, as Malaysia moves towards digital technologies and the Industrial Revolution 4.0, investment will focus on catalytic industries.

These include the Internet of Things (IoT), software, advanced electronics, smart machinery, automation and robotics, automated guided vehicle, aerospace and medical devices.

On the other hand, public consumption is anticipated to expand marginally by one percent this year, in line with the continuous efforts by the government to rationalise and optimise expenditure without compromising the quality of public service delivery.

In 2019, the report said, public consumption is expected to expand 1.8 percent on account of higher spending on emoluments as well as supplies and services.

As for public investment, it is expected to decline 1.5 percent and 5.4 percent in 2018 and 2019 respectively, mainly weighed down by public corporations’ lower capital spending.

Nevertheless, sustained federal government capital formation is expected to continue to support overall growth of public investment. Despite lower capital spending by public corporations, some of the ongoing projects are expected to continue in the oil and gas industry.

The report said capital spending in the utilities and transport segments is projected to continue to expand capacity and upgrade services.

Meanwhile, federal government development expenditure will be channelled mainly to upgrade and improve transport, infrastructure and public amenities, as well as enhance the quality of education and training.

“In line with steady economic growth, Gross National Income (GNI) in current prices is expected to grow 5.6 percent in 2018 to RM1.4 trillion, while gross national savings (GNS) is anticipated to increase marginally by 0.4 percent to RM387.8 billion with the private sector accounting for 82 percent of total savings.

“With the level of GNS continuing to exceed total investment, the savings-investment gap is expected to record a surplus between 2.5 percent and three percent of GNI, enabling Malaysia to continue to finance its growth primarily from domestic sources.

‘’Growth momentum in GNI is also expected to continue next year expanding 7.1 percent to RM1.5 trillion, with the private sector accounting for 86.9 percent of total savings, while GNS is anticipated to grow 3.4 percent,” the report noted.

Total investment is projected to increase five percent to RM366.8 billion, leading to lower savings-investment surplus, ranging between two percent and three percent of GNI.

Where is 1MDB’s Brader Arul?


October 28, 2018

Where is 1MDB’s Brader Arul?–Braders  MIA

by R.Nadeswaran

http://www.malaysiakini.com

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Brader Arul probably back to Sitiawan to sell Boe-Tie Chendol

COMMENT | Six months ago, he was a much sought-after speaker. Not so for pre- and post-dinner entertainment but to propagate to the masses that everything is hunky-dory in a company called 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB).

He undertook a series of 30 roadshows throughout the country. However, for all intents and purposes, they were political gatherings in support of the then ruling party. The blue buntings and minders dressed in blue vests with the “dacing” logos gave away the charade.

He didn’t exactly draw big crowds or enthral them with his mantra. But the media copiously repeated his chants through interviews.

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Brader Apandi silenced

On eve of Election Day on May 9, he declared that the roadshow had achieved its objectives, claiming more and more people were beginning “to understand and accept the issues facing the 1MDB”.

Forty-eight hours later, Arul Kanda’s world came tumbling down. So did the fate of thousands of others who thought that their shenanigans and tom-fooleries had been adequately covered so that they could continue ripping the nation.

Despite the entire hullabaloo and the worldwide coverage of the US Department of Justice findings, Arul Kanda had once famously boomed: “I have no idea of the identity of Malaysian Official 1 (MO1) in the report and do not want to speculate”— even after BN propaganda chief Abdul Rahman Dahlan’s admission on the identity.

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Brader Ali Hamsa put to pasture

These prophetic words were plentifully and profusely reproduced in the subservient mainstream media in its election propaganda. After all, wasn’t he the Messiah who had arrived from the Middle East to save 1MDB? Wasn’t he willing to face all and sundry in any debate at anytime and anywhere? Wasn’t he touted by some sections of the Royal Military College alumni that only a “budak boy” could put the house in order?

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Flamboyant Brader Irwan Serigar Abdullah  put in cold storage pending trial

Wasn’t he the man whose magic wand could turn bad to good; wrong to right; losses to profits; and anything he touched would turn into gold?

Creative accounting

Those who questioned any activities of 1MDB were treated as “enemies of the state” and he was the much-sought after person by news persons in the BN-related media houses. He attached labels on his detractors. He could do no wrong. And their responses were spiked by editors.

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 MP Tony Pua –The Luke Sky Walker of The 1MDB Saga

After Petaling Utara MP Tony Pua  made a series of satirical videos, Arul Kanda bellowed: “He is a hypocrite and would make a great comedian.” He described fellow Malaysiakini columnist P Gunasegaram (pic below)  a “coward”. But when the writer invited Arul Kanda to a public discussion on 1MDB, the latter chickened out. The last we heard on the issue was: “I will await their (his lawyers’) legal advice on how best to clear my name and to let the facts stand on its own.”

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T

hen the facts and figures which Arul Kanda and company were fudging with some sort of creative accounting emerged. On May 23, the new Finance Minister revealed that 1MDB was unable to pay its debts. For that too, he had an answer— he didn’t know financial details of the company.

Wasn’t he the same guy, who went on the roadshows to tell Malaysian voters “the truth” among which was his claim that the 1MDB’s debt of US$7.75 billion is backed by US$11 billion in assets?

Why the sudden interest in Arul Kanda? On Thursday, Najib Abdul Razak and former Treasury chief Irwan Serigar Abdullah pleaded not guilty in the Sessions Court in Kuala Lumpur to six counts of criminal breach of trust (CBT) of RM6.64 million of funds belonging to the government.

The offences were alleged to have been committed at the Finance Ministry Complex in Putrajaya between December 21, 2016 and December 18, 2017. Wasn’t this done for 1MDB which was then under Arul Kanda’s watch? And wasn’t he aware of these arrangements when he went on his roadshows?

Let’s digress. Najib wanted to gag the media when he was first charged with offences related to SRC International last month, claiming he did not want a “trial by media”. He failed.

It is the same Najib now, trying to provide his defence via the media. He spoke to reporters after the proceedings, proclaiming innocence.

This man and his infamous wife have been striped of their titles by The Ruler of Negri Sembilan and are now on bail pending trial for corruption, money laundering and abuse of power.

“My conscience is clear that the decisions were taken in the interest of the nation, in context of when you receive certain money, you will have to pay it back.

Otherwise, we would be at default and it would lead to a collapse of the bond market. That would be very serious.”

In a Facebook post, Najib said four of the six charges were related to a settlement with the International Petroleum Investment Company (IPIC), where the government had to pay US$1.2 billion in arrears last year.

Let us put this into perspective. N is the owner of a hospital. Money, say RM100,000, has been set aside for payment to the food contractor, RM100,000 for pharmaceuticals and RM50,000 for cleaning services. N tells the finance director, S, to “pakat” with him to pay a bank loan unrelated to the hospital. S then instructs A, the chief executive officer to remit RM250,000 to the bank to prevent foreclosure.

Is it acceptable for N to come out and claim that those transactions had to be done to avoid embarrassment to the hospital and other loans will be recalled? It is true that N, S and A received no personal gain. But wouldn’t that be wrong in the eyes of the law?

We will leave it to the legal eagles to sort this out but on the issue of 1MDB, IPIC and related issues, the silence from Arul Kanda is deafening. He had previously talked about “solid assets” and “units” which could be converted to cash. Where are they?

For someone who came with his guns blazing, giving Najib cover, Arul Kanda appears to have taken to the bunker as the bombs drop all around him.

For a man who thumped his chest and said “take me on”, he has become as silent as a church mouse. Malaysians are not exactly watching a double-tragedy play like Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet”, but it is worth asking: “Where art thou, Arul Kanda?”


R NADESWARAN is keeping track on the key players who put their hands in the cookie jar in the name of development. Comments: citizen.nades22@gmail.com

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

Malaysia:The Rule of Law must prevail and Justice must be done


October 27, 2018

The Rule of Law must prevail and Justice must be done–The Case Against Najib Razak, former Malaysian Prime Minister and Finance Minister

 

Mahathir: Saudi Minister’s U-turn is ‘immaterial’, RM2.6b is from 1MDB

by Annabelle Lee & Hariz Mohd  |  @www.malaysiakini.com

Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad has dismissed the Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister’s apparent U-turn on the source of former premier Najib Abdul Razak’s infamous RM2.6 billion donation as “immaterial”.

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This is because the government “knows” that the money is indeed from 1MDB. At a press conference at the Bersatu headquarters tonight, Mahathir confirmed that Saudi Minister Adel Ahmed Al-Jubeir had called on him recently and had denied that the donation had come from Riyadh.

When pressed on why Adel had contradicted his 2016 statement – where he confirmed that the donation had indeed been from Saudi royalty – the Prime Minister said he did not inquire further.

Asked if the denial was done to appease the Pakatan Harapan government, Mahathir answered “maybe, but I don’t know what he was thinking”.

Saudi Minister Foreign Minister Adel Ahmed Al-Jubeir

Following a bilateral meeting with Najib in Istanbul in 2016, Adel (photo) had told the press that the RM2.6 billion had been a “genuine donation”.

“We are aware of the donation and it is a genuine donation with nothing expected in return. We are also fully aware that the Attorney-General of Malaysia (Apandi Ali) has thoroughly investigated the matter and found no wrongdoing. “So, as far as we are concerned, the matter is closed,” he was quoted as saying by Bernama.

‘It comes from 1MDB’

Today, when asked further which of Adel’s statements on the donation were to be believed, Mahathir contended that providing documentation of the transaction was more important. “It is immaterial.“[…] What is important is documentary proof that the money comes from 1MDB or from Saudi (royalty).

“You can’t transfer large sums of money without (any) record. If they say it is from Saudi Arabia, show the records. If they say it is not from Saudi Arabia, we’ll have to find out where it comes from.“As far as we know, it comes from 1MDB,” he said.

The US Department of Justice (DoJ) has affirmed that the sum had originated from 1MDB and ended up in Najib’s personal bank accounts before being transferred to another account controlled by Jho Low.

Malaysia: Avoid the Arabisation Trap


October 24, 2018

Malaysia: Avoid the Arabisation Trap

by  |  Phar Kim Beng

@www.malaysiakini.com

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“Come what may, Malaysia should not be enmeshed in the geo-political, even petty morass of West Asia. Whether or not Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS photo) was directly involved in the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi on October 2 at the its Istanbul consulate, the fact is Malaysia lacks the strategic depth to contain or constrain the behaviour of Saudi Arabia”.–Phar Kim Beng

Anyone familiar with the Middle East will know the phrase “a friend of my enemy is my friend”. It is also a testament to how dangerously fluid the tribal dynamics in the Middle East can be.

Just a few decades ago, Qatar was a friend of Saudi Arabia. Qatar is now its enemy, as well as that of United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt, all of which appear to dislike the warm and receptive attitude of Qatar to Muslim Brotherhood, Turkey, Iran and other groups that the first four countries dislike.

In the Middle East, the literature of Orientalism is wrong on many things but not necessarily flawed on the other: when a group of people or nation hates you, they hate you forever. Obversely, when they love you, they love you forever too; at which point effusive expressions like “habibi” (my love) will come sprouting out from their lips, like honey that oozes non-stop.

But then the line that separates love and hatred is a fine one in the Middle East – what we Asians called ‘West Asia’. When you fail to appreciate their kings, crown princes, perhaps even their austere concept of culture, you are considered an “outsider” who cannot truly appreciate the internal elegance, beauty and structure of the Middle East.

It is not without some truth, to be sure. The late Professor Fred Halliday, who taught International Relations at the London School of Economics and Political Science, used to say that the Middle East is seen through the optic of sheer desert and sands. Yet, the Middle East is actually surrounded by many strips of water, such as the Red Sea, the Suez Canal, the Persian Gulf, the Gulf of Aden, the Straits of Hormuz, all of which lead to the Indian Ocean. There are more seas around the Middle East, it appears, then in the whole of Asia.

When the optica are skewed, as Edward W Said (author of ‘Orientalism’, a book that discusses the West’s patronising representations of “The East”) once said, it lends itself to a corpus of travel writings, literature and travelogues that focus on all things on the land, not everything else which the Middle East can offer. Thus, the Middle East is seen through the lens of a fixed framework.

One of these fixed frameworks, sadly, has proven to be true: the Middle East nations appear bent on going on a war path against one another, especially against Iran, and lately, the Muslim Brotherhood.

Fortress of the Ahl Sunnah Wal Al Jamma

The reason, once again, appears simple. The four countries mentioned earlier seem to believe that they are the fortress of the Ahl Sunnah Wal Al Jamma (a Sunni Islamic sect of Islam), which can withstand the pressure and manipulation of Iran.

Qatar, the Houthis in Yemen, even Lebanon too, have fallen under the influence of the Shi’ite.

Even the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Palestine and Syria are considered the defenders and fronts of Iran, albeit doing the biddings of Iran in Qatar, Yemen, Syria, and last but not least, Turkey.

But Qatar, Yemen, Syria and Turkey are not necessarily pro-Iran or pro-Shi’ite. Almost all of them want a region that is peaceful, with the exception of President Bashar Al Assad in Syria.

Come what may, Malaysia should not be enmeshed in the geo-political, even petty morass of West Asia. Whether or not Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS photo) was directly involved in the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi on October 2 at the its Istanbul consulate, the fact is Malaysia lacks the strategic depth to contain or constrain the behaviour of Saudi Arabia.

Defence Minister Mohamad Sabu made the right decision to pull back Malaysian peacekeepers from there. It was also wise to cancel the King Salman Centre for International Peace (KSCIP) in Putrajaya.

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f Malaysia is further entangled with the Middle East/West Asia, Malaysia would not have one any leeway to escape the spillover effects of their radicalism. It is better to be safe than to be sorry.

Look at businessperson Low Taek Jho, better known as Jho Low. He allegedly swindled 1MDB to work with false companies in the UAE and Saudi Arabia. Tens of billions of US dollars have been lost, and will not be recovered.

All such madcap adventures began with the fawning of the yacht and wealth of the Middle East or West Asia, many of which were allegedly rented to mislead the Malaysian and other governments.


PHAR KIM BENG is a multiple award-winning head teaching fellow on China and the Cultural Revolution at Harvard University.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.