NY Times: A Stunning, Sudden Fall for Najib Razak, Malaysia’s ‘Man of Steal’


May 17, 2018

A Stunning, Sudden Fall for Najib Razak, Malaysia’s ‘Man of Steal’

Just a few months ago, the political machine led by Najib Razak, the gilded Prime Minister of Malaysia, appeared so indestructible that a multibillion-dollar corruption scandal seemed unlikely to derail it. The end came so quickly, so completely, that even his opponents were shocked.

For nearly a decade, Mr. Najib, 64, had unfettered control of his nation’s courts and coffers. His party had thrived by unfailingly delivering huge cash handouts at election time. The media was at his disposal; journalists he didn’t like, he shut down. Political foes were shoved into prison.

The pampered and spoilt son of a Prime Minister (Abdul Razak) and nephew of another (Hussein Onn), Mr. Najib enjoyed the friendship of President Trump, who after playing golf with him in 2014 gave him a photo inscribed, “To my favorite Prime Minister.” Last year, Mr. Trump hosted Mr. Najib at the White House, even as the United States Justice Department accused him of taking Malaysian state money.

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President Donald Trump and Disgraced Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak at White House in 2017

 

But his authority suddenly evaporated in the early hours on May 9, after Malaysia’s national elections delivered a commanding majority to the opposition, now led by the political titan who had once lifted Mr. Najib to power: the 92-year-old Mahathir Mohamad.

The opposition was fractious, and remains so, but it was galvanized by a single purpose: to deliver the ouster of Mr. Najib to an electorate furious at his excesses and emboldened by social media even as news outlets were being muzzled.

Now, Mr. Najib is suddenly vulnerable to criminal charges at home, as well as a reinvigorated effort by the Justice Department as it pursues billions of dollars missing from 1Malaysia Development Berhad, the country’s state investment fund supervised by Mr. Najib for years.

The details released from that investigation in the past three years painted a lurid picture of a Malaysian leader and his family members and friends living high on diverted public money.

Prosecutors say that hundreds of millions of dollars from the fund appeared in Mr. Najib’s personal account and was spent on luxury items, including a 22-carat pink diamond necklace, worth $27.3 million, for his wife. In all some $7.5 billion was stolen from the fund, prosecutors say, and spent on paintings by Monet, Van Gogh and Warhol and others worth over $200 million; on luxury real estate in the United States; and even on a megayacht for a family friend, Jho Low, who reveled in his Hollywood connections.

Those accusations, and others, became grist for social media outrage in Malaysia, frequently on private WhatsApp groups, but it seemed Mr. Najib still underestimated how much he was losing: a public that still valued some semblance of moderation, his once unbreakable Malay power base, even family members.

Mr. Najib’s stepdaughter, Azrene Ahmad, took to Instagram on Friday with an emotional condemnation of him and her mother, Rosmah Mansor, who had become widely known here for piling up designer labels, garlands of jewelry and a multi-million-dollar handbag collection that more than rivaled the shoe fetish of Imelda Marcos, the former first lady of the Philippines.

“Today marks the end of a day of tyranny that many have prayed for,” Ms. Azrene wrote, describing how she had “witnessed many trespasses, deals and handshakes these two made for the benefit of power and to fuel their appetite for greed.”

“The numerous offshore accounts opened to launder money out of the country for their personal spending,” she continued, cataloging her accusations against them. “The steel safes full of jewels, precious stones and cash amassed. Being made a cash mule.”

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Supporters of Mahathir Mohamad outside the National Palace in Kuala Lumpur on Thursday.CreditUlet Ifansasti/Getty Images

 

Mr. Najib’s brother, Nazir Razak, joined in, implicitly casting his brother’s ouster as a chance for progress. “Malaysia needs major recalibration, but all attempts under the old order failed,” he wrote on social media. “Now you can!”

 

Even the state-linked news media, which had spent years writing slavish articles describing Mr. Najib’s wisdom and Ms. Rosmah’s charitable ventures, dropped the multiple honorifics that once preceded his name.

By Saturday, a travel blacklist foiled Mr. Najib’s attempt to leave for Indonesia with his wife.

Mr. Mahathir, who was sworn in as Prime Minister on Thursday, has called Mr. Najib a thief and said he must face the consequences of his actions. “High or low, all are subject to the rule of law,” Mr. Mahathir said Sunday at a news conference.

“This totally changes everything,” said Ren McEachern, a former supervisory special agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation who specialized in international corruption. “Now that he’s out of office, there could be an appetite for criminal charges.”

Further, Mr. Najib’s removal from office is bringing new vigor to efforts by the Justice Department to pursue him, according to a person with direct knowledge of the investigation but who is not authorized to speak publicly. The department declined to comment on the case for this article.

After his defeat, Mr. Najib posted a Twitter message that was at least partly contrite. “I apologize for any shortcomings and mistakes,” he wrote, even as he maintained that “the best interests of Malaysia and its people will always be my first priority.”

But the saga of Najib Razak is one of astonishing insatiability and unaccountability. And it is an account of a political party — the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), which Mr. Najib led — that teethed on graft and patronage and collapsed under the weight of its own immoderation.

“For a long time, elites across the region have enjoyed a culture of impunity,” said Donald Greenlees, an authority on Southeast Asia at Australian National University. “There is no doubt that the decades of mostly one-party rule, the capture of state institutions, particularly the Judiciary, and the taming of the media led Najib to believe he was untouchable.”

Mr. Najib’s downfall was a vanishingly rare event in a region where democracy has retreated in recent years. In Malaysia, as in other places across Southeast Asia, elections had been deployed only to legitimize those in power. Yet without a single shot fired or a threat of a coup uttered, Mr. Najib was toppled.

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Ms. Azrene Soraya Ahmad–Najib Razak’s Stepdaughter

“The day I left home I left you a warning,” Ms. Azrene, his stepdaughter, wrote on Instagram. “There will come a reckoning when the people will punish you for your trespasses on them. There will come a day when God will punish you for your trespasses, the very people you swore to protect.”

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Malaysian Police Officers seizing equipment from the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) office in Kuala Lumpur in 2015. Billions of dollars disappeared from the state fund.

The Flawed Heir

Mr. Najib’s father, Abdul Razak, who also served as Prime Minister of Malaysia. Mr. Razak died in 1976. CreditRolls Press, via Getty Images

Mr. Najib’s pedigree was impeccable, and from an early age he seemed destined to take the helm at the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), which counts the betterment of the country’s ethnic Malay majority as its founding mission.

Educated at elite British schools, he acquired a chic English accent and a fondness for fine tailoring. Unlike his onetime mentor, Mr. Mahathir, he did not have an instant rapport with the rural Malay Muslim base, and early in his political career he struggled to speak Malay.

Still, the legacies of Mr. Najib’s father, who was the Second Prime Minister of Malaysia, and his uncle, who was the country’s third, helped make up for his lack of grassroots appeal. In interviews, Mr. Najib was smooth, gracious and somewhat distant.

“Najib grew up thinking that leading the country was his birthright,” said Rafizi Ramli, a top strategist for the opposition that ousted Mr. Najib and the National Front coalition. “He doesn’t realize that you have to earn the people’s trust and maintain the people’s trust. He is completely removed from Malaysia, the real Malaysia.”

But his reputation was tarnished years before he became PrimeMminister in 2009.

In 2006, when Mr. Najib was Deputy Prime Minister, the Mongolian mistress of one of his advisers, Abdul Razak Baginda, was killed, blown up by military-grade explosives (C-4). Two of Mr. Najib’s bodyguards were eventually convicted in her murder.

French investigators are still examining whether Mr. Najib, during his time as Defense Minister, might have personally profited from around $130 million in kickbacks related to a transaction for French submarines. Before she was killed, the Mongolian woman, Altantuya Shaariibuu, claimed she was owed half a million dollars for brokering that deal.

The biggest scandal of all exploded in 2015 when opposition politicians and muckraking journalists questioned what had happened to billions of dollars that had disappeared from 1Malaysia Development Berhad, the country’s state investment fund.

Mr. Najib oversaw the fund, known as 1MDB, and unveiled it in 2009 as a surefire way to bring further prosperity to Malaysians through smart foreign investments and development projects.

In 2016, the United States Justice Department dropped a bombshell: A person it referred to as Malaysian Official 1 had siphoned $731 million from 1MDB. Officials privately confirmed that Mr. Najib was Malaysian Official 1.

The Justice Department’s accusations continued: In total, over $4.5 billion in 1MDB funds was laundered through American banks, enriching Mr. Najib, his family and friends, prosecutors said.

It said $250 million went for a megayacht, complete with a helicopter pad and movie theater, built for Jho Low, a financier friend of Mr. Najib’s stepson, Riza Aziz. Mr. Low is accused of being central to the plot, and federal prosecutors said he used 1MDB funds to buy the actor Leonardo DiCaprio a $3.2 million Picasso painting for his birthday. The Australian model Miranda Kerr received $8 million in jewelry. (Both have since returned the gifts.)

Mr. Najib explained that $681 million deposited in his personal bank account was a gift from a Saudi patron. In 2015, after Malaysia’s Attorney-General gathered evidence of Mr. Najib’s involvement in 1MDB and seemed poised to press charges, Mr. Najib fired him. Subsequent Malaysian government investigations cleared Mr. Najib of any wrongdoing.

Malaysians were accustomed to a certain amount of grease in the country’s political system, but the extravagant sums linked to the 1MDB scandal shocked the public. United States federal prosecutors called the money-laundering scheme “massive, brazen and blatant.”

Mr. Najib moved to shut down critical news reports, or to spin it in the state media outlets. But he could not block everything.

News outlets including The Sarawak Report blog and the Malaysia-based newspaper The Edge joined The Wall Street Journal at the lead of the race to expose each detail. (The Edge was shut down at one point for three months, and The Sarawak Report website is still blocked in Malaysia.)

 

The Malaysian political establishment wondered how the son of a famously ascetic Prime Minister had grown so venal and careless. “If you want to steal this kind of money, why would you put it in your own account?” said James Chin, a Malaysian who is the Drector of the Asia Institute at the University of Tasmania. “It shows such arrogance.”

Blame the Wife

Mr. Najib’s wife, Rosmah Mansor, in 2014, leaving the Time Warner Center in New York, the site of one of their homes. Ms. Rosmah is known for her overseas shopping trips and a multimillion-dollar collection of Hermès Birkin handbags. CreditMichael Appleton for The New York Times

As the public grew angrier about the excesses, Ms. Rosmah became a frequent target of ire.

Her habit of taking chartered shopping expeditions to Europe and Australia, presumably at the expense of Malaysian taxpayers, became social-media fodder. Her Hermès Birkin handbag collection, one broker said, was worth at least $10 million.

“Rightly or wrongly, Rosmah was vilified as the major partner in the corruption and scandals associated with the Prime Minister,” said Lim Teck Ghee, a public policy analyst in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s capital.

In 2015, when Mr. Najib’s and Ms. Rosmah’s daughter married the nephew of President Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan, guests were astonished by their lavish wedding celebrations. Mr. Mahathir, who attended one party, recalled seeing soldiers lugging at least 17 trunks loaded with luxury gifts for the guests. “I had never seen that, even at royal weddings,” he said in an interview with The New York Times in 2016.

Fazley Yaakob, the husband of Mr. Najib’s stepdaughter, offered another story, which he recounted on Instagram after Mr. Najib lost the election. Before the two were married, Mr. Fazley wrote, Ms. Rosmah hired a witch doctor to assess the suitability of the union. The witch doctor warned against the marriage because Mr. Fazley, unlike others, would be able to resist Ms. Rosmah’s supernatural powers.

The pair married anyway. “All hell broke loose right after,” wrote Mr. Fazley, without detailing exactly what happened.

Mr. Najib was called the “Man of Steal” by Zulkiflee Anwar Ulhaque, one of Malaysia’s top cartoonists, who caricatured Ms. Rosmah with a giant diamond ring on her plump finger. Mr. Najib’s reaction was unforgiving. Mr. Zulkiflee, who is known by the pen name Zunar, was charged with nine counts of sedition and still could face up to 43 years in prison.

This year’s Election Day, Mr. Zulkiflee said, was “the happiest moment of my life,” and he hopes the charges will now be dropped.

During the campaign, Mr. Mahathir, who said he came out of retirement two years ago to join the opposition because he was so shocked by the cloud of corruption around Mr. Najib, succeeded in harnessing public angst over the rising cost of living to financial scandals linked to the Prime Minister. One that particularly resonated with rural Malays, some of whom ended up casting swing votes in favor of the opposition, was a farm subsidy program that, by some accounts, was missing around $750 million. Mr. Najib oversaw that program.

Those defections proved critical, though there was no assurance that Mr. Mahathir could still command his old popularity.

“1MDB was a key factor in the election result,” said Mr. Lim, the public policy analyst. “The long-running scandal became indelibly associated with the endemic high-level corruption in the country.”

 

Electronic advertising in Kuala Lumpur before the election promoted Mr. Najib and his coalition. Mr. Najib had predicted another victory at the polls this month. CreditUlet Ifansasti/Getty Images 

Failed Containment

Yet even as public outrage intensified, Mr. Najib seemed curiously removed from reality. In omnipresent campaign billboards, he hogged the limelight, his grin and upturned hands evoking less a statesman than a salesman. Malaysian voters were supposed to acquiesce to whatever deal he had on offer.

Mr. Mahathir said he had a falling out with Mr. Najib because of his protégé’s insistence that “cash is king,” both in politics and governance.

Under Mr. Najib’s leadership, the party ensured victory in 2013 by passing out hundreds of millions of dollars to party leaders to give to voters, according to his own aides.

The strategy was similar for 2018, analysts said, and Mr. Najib had predicted that the governing coalition would do even better in this month’s elections than it had in 2013, before the 1MDB scandal broke out.

On the eve of campaigning, Mr. Najib’s information minister, Salleh Said Keruak, bragged that the United Malays National Organization, or UMNO, would win easily, and that the party had access to a trove of government data on Malaysian voters. “We have it all at our fingertips,” he said.

Mr. Salleh wasn’t the only one to miscalculate. Local polling agencies predicted the elections would go to the National Front coalition, which is dominated by UMNO. Across the country, public flag displays supporting the National Front vastly outnumbered those of the opposition Alliance of Hope.

Still, there were murmurings of discontent. In a first, Malaysia’s Navy Chief reminded his sailors that the vote was secret so they should choose freely.

And though Mr. Trump met with Mr. Najib at the White House last September, the effort by a former top Republican operative, Elliott Broidy, to get them together again for golf failed, despite Mr. Broidy’s assurance to the White House chief of staff in a leaked email that he knew Mr. Najib well. Mr. Najib didn’t even get a customary photo op during the visit.

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A closed road outside Mr. Najib’s mansion, in the background, in Kuala Lumpur on Sunday. Credit Andy Wong/Associated Press

 

In the final months of the campaign, Mr. Najib fell back on tried-and-true money politics. The day before the election, he promised that Malaysians 26 and younger would not have to pay income tax if his coalition prevailed. Earlier, he offered significant pay raises to civil servants, who are mostly ethnically Malay rather than from Malaysia’s Chinese or Indian minorities.

“That has always been his style: When faced with difficulties, throw goodies at them,” said Oh Ei Sun, an analyst based in Kuala Lumpur and a former political secretary to Mr. Najib.

Other tactics were more iron-fisted. Shortly before campaigning began, Mr. Najib’s party pushed through a so-called fake news law that was the first in the world to use Mr. Trump’s rejoinder as it criminalized publishing or circulating misleading information. The law, critics feared, could land anyone who criticized Mr. Najib in prison for up to six years. His government also designed a broad gerrymandering scheme that diminished the impact of minorities who were unlikely to vote for him.

None of these efforts worked. “The Najib brand is toxic,” said Mr. Chin of the University of Tasmania. “There was no way he could run away from this.”

On Sunday, Mr. Najib and Ms. Rosmah were still secluded in their mansion in Kuala Lumpur. A bodyguard at their home, who asked not to be identified in the press out of fear of reprisals, said that the stream of confidants who once knocked at their door had stopped. Even their housekeeper, he said, had deserted them.

Hannah Beech and Richard C. Paddock reported from Kuala Lumpur, and Alexandra Stevenson from Hong Kong. Sharon Tan and Austin Ramzy contributed reporting from Kuala Lumpur, and David D. Kirkpatrick from London.

 

A version of this article appears in print on , on Page A10 of the New York edition with the headline: The Spectacular Fall of Malaysia’s ‘Man of Steal’.

Azrene Soraya Ahmad on Najib Razak and Rosmah Mansor


May 11, 2018

Azrene Soraya Ahmad (Daughter of Zero Lady of Malaysia)  on Najib Razak and Rosmah Mansor

by Azrene Ahmad

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Bismillahirahmanirahim. Today (May 9, 2018) marks the end of an era of tyranny that many have prayed for. I grew up looking up to these two individuals, loving them and respecting them. There was a time when I would have walked through the fires of hell and back for them. As I grew older, I saw the selfishness and greed of one above all else.

I experienced firsthand emotional, physical and mental abuse at the hands of the one on the left. I witnessed firsthand the same abuse she caused onto the one on the right. I witnessed many trespasses, deals and handshakes these two made for the benefit of power and to fuel their appetite for greed. I witnessed the side deals made behind the back of the one on the right.

The amount of money in brief cases exchanging hands and being spent like water not for the benefit of the rakyat but to be spent like water on jewels, bribery of officials and used in the pursuit of gaining more power. Shamans, witch doctors, aesthetic doctors and the like walking the pathways of my home for one reason or another but mostly to bring to heel and gain dominion over their peers and over their family members, even to cause harm on those who were audacious enough to cross them.

The numerous offshore accounts were opened to launder money out of the country for their personal spending. The steel safes full of jewels, precious stones and cash amassed. Being made a cash mule or even crystal shoes mule carrying these quietly into and out of the country was no fun either, let me tell you. The countless attempts to sell me into marriage to the highest bidder or even persons with the highest position that will be able to help them gain political and social advantage.

The greed, avarice and pride that grew with each step that was gained closer to the top position. Nothing could stop their reign of terror and yet I stayed out of loyalty and duty. When this terror was then focused on me and became too unbearable a burden to carry, I decided to leave. Thus began my self imposed exile from this unfortunate family.

When I married the man of my choosing after exhausting all ways of trying to convince them to release me from my bond, my new family unit was harassed and exposed to countless cruel, intolerable, degrading treatment at the hands of one Rosmah Mansor and her collaborators. Unchecked, she engaged different government machinery, civil servants, media and members of Parliament to harass the family. Many other creative methods too were used to terrorise us and shut all ways of providing for the family and our children.

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Najib Razak : “Too scared of his bed partner to exercise any semblance of mercy”, says Azrene Soraya Ahmad

Throughout all of this and despite numerous attempts to seek help from the Prime Minister it was all to no avail. In fact, he covered his wife’s tracks instead. The one person who could have helped, refused to do so and turned a blind eye and a deaf ear. Too scared of his bed partner to exercise any semblance of mercy.

Just as he was too scared to stand up for the rights of the people when he realised something malignant had creeped into 1MDB but instead this family resorted to committing this disgustingly treasonous act of stealing from their people billions of dollars which they proceeded to use not just as their personal coffers to the detriment of the people but to bribe, extort, silence, maim, and kill.

 

Azrene Soraya Ahmad (Rosmah Mansor’s Daughter)

The day I left home, I left you a warning. That one who has been elected into office has power only at the will of the people. They are there to serve the people, not the other way round. There will come a reckoning when the people will punish you for your trespass on them. There will come a day when God will punish you for your trespasses the very people you swore to protect.

GE-14: On Polling eve, Altantuya’s Dad reaches out to Mahathir


May 8, 2018

On Polling eve, Altantuya’s Dad reaches out to Mahathir

by Susan Loone

Hours before Malaysia goes to the polls tomorrow, the father of murdered Mongolian national Altantuya Shaariibuu has reached out to former Premier Dr Mahathir Mohamad along with a message for all Malaysians.

In a brief message to the Pakatan Harapan chairperson, Dr Setev Shaariibuu hoped that Malaysians would be able to find freedom and justice in this bitterly-fought election.

“Malaysia people, please remember Altantuya in the election,” Setev said in the message sighted by Malaysiakini.

If Malaysian people make a wrong choice, you may all lose, like this murder (of his daughter Altantuya),” he added.

Accompanying the three-sentence message, which was signed by Setev, was a photo of the retired university lecturer with the Malaysian flag.

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Mahathir is contesting the Langkawi parliamentary seat, and if Harapan seizes Putrajaya from BN, the nonagenarian would return as “Prime Minister”.

When contacted through his lawyer in Mongolia’s capital Ulaanbaatar, Setev said he would like the new government, which will be formed after Wednesday’s polls, to take his civil case against the federal government seriously.

“She was murdered 12 years ago but there is still no resolution in her case. How long must we wait?” Shaariibuu said.

“Also, May 6 was her birthday. She would be 40 if she were alive today. Since her birthday coincides with Malaysia’s election campaign, I’d like to send a message to all good citizens in the country – please do not forget Altantuya, vote wisely!” he said.

On May 2, Putrajaya filed a motion for leave at the Federal Court to appeal against the Court of Appeal’s decision to reinstate the government as a defendant in the suit filed by Setev and the family of the late Altantuya, who was murdered on Oct 19, 2006.

RM100 million suit

According to the family’s lawyer Sangeet Kaur Deo, the family would have to file an affidavit in reply to the motion by June 6.

The Shah Alam High Court had in August last year allowed the government to strike out the application by the family, citing “no reasonable cause of action.”However, a three-member appellate court bench led by Justice Mohd Zawawi Mohd Salleh unanimously reversed the High Court decision and allowed the family’s appeal.

They ruled that there are triable issues and the government was reinstated in the RM100 million suit.

Setev and Altantuya’s two children, Mungunshagai Bayarjargal and Altanshagai Munkhtulga, filed the civil suit in 2007.

Chief Inspector Azilah Hadri and Corporal Sirul Azhaar Umar, who were convicted for the murder of Altantuya, and the government, were named as defendants in the suit.

Altantuya was murdered in October 2006 at a secluded forest in Puncak Alam, near Shah Alam. Azilah and Sirul were found guilty and sentenced to death by the Federal Court in 2015.

However, Sirul fled to Australia before the verdict by the Federal Court was delivered. He was arrested by the Australian authorities and still remains in the Villawood Immigration Detention Centre in Sydney.

Najib’s slow death on Myanmar Times


February 21, 2018

Najib’s slow death

Living under the tawdry and sinking regime of Prime Minister Najib Razak must seem to Malaysians like death by treacle.

They are drowning in a gluey black sea of venality the likes of which has not been seen in this region since the days of President Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines.

The mounting litany of shameful episodes that have riven that nation all appear to be traceable to the hapless PM, who is also the head of the dominant political party, the United Malays National Organisation.

Things are so bad that last week the UMNO-owned newspaper, Utusan Malaysia, carried an outrageous editorial that tried to exonerate Najib and shift the blame elsewhere. It failed, of course, because it was arguing against facts that indicate to all Malaysians that Najib is steadily sinking into the treacly pit of corruption and maladministration into which he has plunged his country.

If you think this is over the top, just consider a few of the more damning indictments against the PM and his band of gangsters, cheats and philanderers.

First, there are the missing billions of taxpayers’ money. It is hard to truly comprehend the full magnitude of this gigantic, nepotistic malfeasance, and even the illustrious New York Times took three pages to try to do it.

Suffice to say that Najib’s stepson, Riza Aziz, the offspring of the PM’s second wife Rosmah, is the man apparently responsible for most of the woes brought about by this debacle – otherwise known as 1MDB.

The initials stand for 1Malaysia Development Berhad, a sovereign wealth fund that has lost billions due to corruption and mismanagement, and is still weighed down by massive nonperforming loans.

The fund appears to be almost entirely controlled by Najib, Aziz and a flamboyant Penang Chinese conman called Jho Low – no relation to Jennifer Lopez, though he mixes with Paris Hilton and other Hollywood starlets.

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Why and how? There is no clear answer, except to recall that Najib is under the sway of Rosmah Mansor, a shopaholic wrecking ball, who shrugs off ridicule and ignores how her actions thwart her husband’s premiership.

In truth, the personal damage to Najib is piffling compared to the disastrous effect the huge 1MDB losses are having on the already fragile Malaysian economy.

An opposition MP has called the fund fiasco “the mother of the mother of the mother of all scandals in the history of Malaysia”. He may be right. Certainly, there are already worries that if and when 1MDB collapses, the nation’s financial system may take a hit that will dwarf the effect of the Asian Financial Crisis in 1997.

And bear in mind that Malaysia’s resource-dependent economy is already in trouble due to the depressed price of its key exports, petroleum oil and palm oil.

Last month, Najib announced US$1.5 billion in spending cuts and said Malaysia’s economic growth would fall from 6 percent to between 4.5pc and 5.5pc this year.The economic woes have been compounded by diminishing political support at home.

In the last general election two years ago, Najib vowed to reverse the drop in votes that his UMNO-led coalition had witnessed under his predecessor, PM Abdullah Badawi.

It did not happen. His government ceded even more seats and lost four state assemblies and the overall popular vote to the opposition People’s Alliance, led by Anwar Ibrahim.

Since that chastening experience, Najib has clung onto the UMNO leadership by appeasing his key support base, the nation’s Malay-Muslim majority, and marginalising the minority Chinese and Indian communities.

This shocking move was his only option, or else he would have faced the same fate as Abdullah, who was elbowed out after his election failure by UMNO party men.

Concurrently, Najib has reversed his promise to dump the colonial-era Sedition Act, and instead applied it with increasing frequency against oppositionists, lawyers, journalists and academics.

Most recently, Anwar has been jailed for five years after a dubious sodomy conviction, while one of the nation’s popular cartoonists has been detained for drawing caricatures that lampoon the farcical Anwar trial.

Not only do these actions signal a premier running scared – as would be expected after the 1MDB catastrophe and his election setback – but they are grotesquely hypocritical.

Tarring Anwar with sodomy conveniently distracts attention from the fact that Najib, a notorious philanderer in his early days like most UMNO leaders, may be complicit in the murder of a Mongolian model.

The demise of this woman, the lover of the PM’s closest adviser and many Malaysians suspect also Najib’s mistress, is under investigation due to a $155 million kickback in an intertwined submarine deal negotiated when Najib was defence minister.

All of this led Utusan to issue its absurd editorial that – wait for it – blamed America for the country’s woes. It even accused Washington, which has criticised Anwar’s jailing, of copying the opposition leader’s behaviour.

According to Utusan, “The US wants to ‘sodomise’ our legal and judicial system, even though the majority of Malaysians agree with the court’s decision.” Well, that is a moot point. Certainly the voting pattern suggests most Malaysians would happily accept Anwar as their next PM.

 

The Rebranding of Altantuya Shaariibuu’s Surrogate Lover–Dr. Abdul Razak Baginda


December 14, 2017

The Rebranding of Altantuya Shaariibuu’s Surrogate Lover–Dr. Abdul Razak Baginda

by Mariam Mokhtar@www.asiasentinel.com

Image result for perfume of arabia macbeth

“Here’s the smell of blood still. All perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand.”–In William Shakespeare’s Macbeth

Oxford-educated Dr. Abdul Razak Baginda, the one-time adviser and close confidante of Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, who was once romantically linked to the murdered jet-setting Mongolian translator and party girl Altantuya Shaariibuu, has popped up after years of discreet absence in the UK.

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The  disheveled and frightened-looking Abdul Razak Baginda

For someone who has been out of the public eye for the past decade, Razak Baginda has wasted no time, propelling himself onto the Malaysian lecture circuit over the past six months but at the same time inadvertently reminding the public he had been a key figure in what had been the biggest scandal in the country’s history until an even bigger one blew up over the state-backed investment company 1Malaysia Development Bhd., the subject of a US Justice Department investigation into the looting of public assets.

Razak Baginda is very different from the disheveled and frightened-looking man who emerged from jail on October 31, 2006, acquitted without trial of abetting the murder of Altantuya, who was alleged to have once been Najib’s paramour. The 28-year-old mother, who was believed to have been pregnant at the time, was shot twice in the head by one of Najib’s bodyguards and her body was blown up with military explosives in a patch of jungle outside the suburban city of Shah Alam.

The allegation that Altantuya had been Najib’s mistress was revealed by the late private investigator P Balasubramaniam, engaged by Razak Baginda to stop Altantuya from creating a scene outside his house. According to a letter found after her death, she was demanding a cut of kickbacks from a multi-billion ringgit Malaysian government deal to purchase submarines from the French.

Razak Baginda once was one of the closest advisers to Najib, then the Defense Minister and Deputy PM (2000-2008), on government arms procurement projects. The political analyst was involved in the purchase of two Scorpene-class submarines and one Agosta-class submarine from the French naval dockyard unit DCN (Direction des Constructions Navales). The deal was worth around RM5 billion.

Hasty departure for the UK

On his release and acquittal, Razak Baginda was swamped by reporters who tried to interview him, but was guarded by a wall of policemen. A month later, at a press conference, he was guarded by a team of lawyers who monitored his answers. He immediately decamped to England, ostensibly to complete a doctorate at Oxford.

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 The Rebranded Dr. Abdul Razak Baginda–Founder, Center for Global Affairs (ICON).

Seven years later, on October. 26, 2015, Razak Baginda emerged to deliver his first public talk in Kuala Lumpur at a “Special Forum” called “Reforming Malaysia: A Conversation with Razak Baginda.” The session was organized by a new think tank he had founded, called the Center for Global Affairs (ICON).

The former Malaysian PrimenMinister, Mahathir Mohamad once said, “Melayu mudah lupa” (Malays easily forget) and Razak Baginda probably thought that Malaysians would have forgotten about him and the brutal murder.

Living abroad helped Razak Baginda avoid the glare of publicity and the anger of the Malaysian public who were furious at the High Court’s handling of the trial. The motive for the murder was never established although the murderers were said to have been offered RM50,000 for the killing.

Wife Implicates Najib

Few can forget the hysterical shout of Baginda’s wife, Mazlinda Makhzan, at the time of his arrest: “Why charge my husband, he does not want to be the prime minister?” an apparent reference to Balasubramaniam’s statement that Najib had passed Altantuya on to the political analyst because it wouldn’t look good to have a foreign mistress when he was elevated to become the country’s leader.

Importantly, there were also unexplained phone texts between Najib and Razak Baginda’s lawyer, Mohamad Shafee Abdullah, which alluded to Najib’s alleged interference in the case. One message read, “Pls do not say anything to the press today. i will explain later. RB (Razak Baginda) will have to face a tentative charge but all is not lost.”

Altantuya’s father, Setev Shaariibuu, has not received any justice for the murder of his daughter and has continued to demand that the Malaysian government give him answers about her death.

Two policemen, Chief Inspector Azilah Hadri and Corporal Sirul Azhar Umar, were found guilty of Altantuya’s murder in a trial that critics said was carefully orchestrated to keep from answering questions who had hired them to kill her. Sirul is now languishing in the Villawood Detention Center outside Sydney, vigorously wheeling and dealing for his release and asylum. Azilah remains in a Malaysian prison.

Razak Baginda probably thought that he could lead a quiet life by relocating to England but he didn’t reckon on the persistence of SUARAM, the Malaysian Human Rights NGO, which complained to the French authorities about the Scorpene deal in November 2009. That triggered a preliminary inquiry and a judicial investigation in Paris in 2012.

Investigative stories Tell Tale of Scandal

The investigation was the subject of a multiple series of investigative stories by Asia Sentinel that won the Society of Publishers in Asia award for excellence in investigative reporting – Asia’s version of the Pulitzer Prize.

Finally, years later, on July 18, 2017, Razak Baginda was indicted in France for “complicity of bribery, acceptance of bribes and concealment of misuse of company assets.”  Two officials of a DCN subsidiary were also indicted on charges specifically of having bribed Najib Razak.

On August 4, the SUARAM adviser, Dr Kua Kia Soong said, “The first indictment of the arms maker shows that SUARAM’s suspicion of commission paid to Malaysian officials in the Scorpene deal is well founded, and we have been vindicated.”

Asia Sentinel reported that the French investigation had revealed that Terasasi HK Ltd., a company owned by Razak Baginda and his father, received €30 million in “consultancy works,” the accepted terminology for kickbacks. Terasasi existed only as the name on the wall of a Hong Kong accounting company. As Asia Sentinel reported, French investigators also uncovered evidence that a Malaysia-based shell company, Perimekar, owned by Baginda’s wife, had received another €114 million in “consultancy services.”

The money was said to have been passed on to the United Malays National Organization with the full knowledge of then-Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe, among others, according to evidence provided to Asia Sentinel.

Timely Rebranding

Baginda’s rebranding is timely, especially as Malaysia’s 14th General Election is due soon. He could have retired a rich man from his alleged kickbacks from Scorpene and lived a life of luxury in England. He could have avoided the scrutiny of the Malaysian public.

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Malaysia’s Infamous Couple–Prime Minister Najib Razak and his FLOM Rosmah Mansor

“He probably thinks that the Malaysian public have forgotten (and forgiven him),” said a social cynic who declined to be named. “He believes he has done nothing wrong, especially as the courts did not find him guilty of Altantuya’s murder.”

It is highly likely that Razak Baginda is repositioning himself in the Malaysian political world, according to a Kuala Lumpur-based political analyst. “Perhaps, Najib summoned him to return as his confidante,” he said. “Najib’s Washington trip was a wash-out. It was probably arranged on the advice of his foreign advisers. The Malays disapprove of Trump’s anti-Islam and anti-Muslim policies.”

A Malay, Muslim and Malaysian, the political analyst “will be in a better position to advise Najib on foreign matters. He is probably testing the waters and seeing how the Malaysian public react to him over a range of issues like education, religion and radicalization.”

However, it is more likely that the French indictment may have spurred Baginda’s return to Malaysia over a desire to remain free.  Malaysia does not have an extradition treaty with France, unlike Britain. His stay in England would be risky.

Razak Baginda dismissed the French charge and said, “The French legal process is different from the Malaysian legal process. The term ‘charged’ in the context of the inquiry means placing the said individuals under ‘formal investigation’.”

We now see the comeback kid, Razak Baginda, re-engaging with Malaysian politics. He appears to be pushing the right buttons on many subjects. More importantly, as long as Najib is around, there is money to be made. ICON has held several forums and issued press releases with alarming regularity.

Pretensions as Oracle

This is proof that he wants to be heard on a range of subjects, upon most of which many Malaysians agree. On radicalization, he has urged the Home Ministry to monitor students, who studied in the middle-east, and warned that Malaysia was losing its reputation as a moderate nation. He has warned that the prominence of religion in schools will lower the quality of education. He questioned the failure of Malaysian leaders to confront the nationalists.

Razak Baginda has defended the bloated Malaysian civil service and blasted the journalist John Pennington for an article in “Asean Today” that unfavorably compared the Malaysian civil service with its Singaporean counterpart.

He also criticized Najib for his silence on the Rohingya issue at the 31st ASEAN Summit in Manila, saying it was a “missed opportunity” and then, on the following day, offered a groveling apology to Najib, saying “I got it wrong.”  He praised Najib’s sincerity in helping the Rohingyas, raising the issue with the Myanmar state counselor, Aung San Suu Kyi, and with President Trump. Saying that Najib’s actions were unprecedented, Razak Baginda described him as bold and strong, willing to voice his displeasure over a matter he cared about.

“Never before has a fellow ASEAN leader brought out what could be regarded as a domestic issue of another member country,” he said. “Kudos to the prime minister, as it shows his commitment to help the Rohingya.”

Still Buddies?

So are Najib and Razak Baginda in constant contact? Or is he positioning himself and working towards a smooth transition to become Najib’s political analyst? On his re-emergence onto the Malaysian socio-political scene, Suaram’s Kua said: “He seems to have a knack of seeking publicity when he’d be better off staying out of media attention. He’s more of a liability for Najib by showing up all over the place and reminding us of Altantuya. But he seems pretty gung-ho about his ‘freedom from prosecution’. We shall see.

Both men have to tread a cautious path, said a political analyst, “but do they care? There is only so much Razak Baginda can do to help Najib, because one wrong step could make the whole Altantuya and Scorpene scandal blow up in Najib’s face, and further reduce his chances in GE-14. Even if it were true that Najib and Razak Baginda have resumed their cozy ties, it is established that they need one another to keep their secrets safe. Remember the adage about keeping your friends close, but your enemies closer still.

Perhaps Najib is willing to take that chance, especially after the warning issued by the American Attorney-General, Jeff Sessions, on Dec. 4, when he said that Malaysia’s 1MDB scandal was the worst example of kleptocracy he had ever seen. Razak Baginda may need Najib to prevent an attempt by the French to subpoena him to the Scorpene trial, but Najib has an equal need to prevent Razak Baginda from giving evidence.

Mariam Mokhtar is a Malaysia-based journalist and a regular contributor to Asia Sentinel

 

Malaysia: The Huff and Puff of Budget 2018


October 29, 2017

Malaysia: The Huff and Puff of Budget 2018

Image result for Najib and Zahid at Budget 2018Two Jokers in a Unity Pact to safeguard a kleptocratic and corrupt Malay-centric regime with 2018 Budget Proposals

 

COMMENT | Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak and his team should learn how to manage public perception, than recycling year after year the same huffs and puffs that will just fade away after the general election.

Right after the election, we will again see the likes of minions Jamal Md Yunos (UMNO Sungai Besar division leader) and Gerakan Merak leader Mohd Ali Baharom (known also as Ali Tinju), veteran Abdul Rani Kulup, lecturer and Muslim convert Redzuan Tee Abdullah, Perkasa’s Ibrahim Ali, Isma’s Abdullah Zaik and extremists like Zakir Naik, becoming the heroes.

There will be others like the self-styled “Raja Bomoh” Ibrahim Mat Zin who hog the headlines. So far, Ibrahim has never been prosecuted despite appearing on the grounds of the Kuala Lumpur International Airport and making a nuisance of himself.

Image result for Hussain Najadi murder

To date, the investigation into the protest over a cross erected by a church in Taman Medan has not proceeded any further. What about the probe into people missing in action, such as Pastor Raymond Koh and several others? What about the death of Teoh Beng Hock and former customs officer Ahmad Sarbani Mohamed and the murder of banker Hussein Najadi?

What was the motive behind the killing of former Mongolian model Altantuya Shariibuu? Who was behind the Scorpene submarines scandal and after Abdul Razak Baginda was charged in France, why have investigations on the Malaysian side stalled? Who was behind the death of deputy public prosecutor Anthony Kevin Morais?

Instead of prosecuting people for their wrongdoings, we see the MP of Batu, Tian Chua agreeing to go to jail over a small matter which could have been solved at a personal level and coming out more as a hero of the people.

There will then be the same old issues again – the banning of use of the term “Allah” by non-Muslims; stateless Indian children; Chinese schools being threatened to be closed down; the likes of Abdullah Hussain’s book “Interlok” where Indians were called by names; and yes, a thousand and one issues that UMNO and its proponents would try to harp on.

Ordinary Malaysians like me are already fed up with all the polemics by now because the leaders have lost their credibility. A decision would have been made a long time ago.

We can only wait for the coming general election, when we will come out once again in droves like in the previous general election.

Outstanding problems

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That is why despite all the huffs and puffs of the budget, we know it will not bring the country forward. While we will take what is rightfully ours, most of us look at the 1MDB scandal as the bigger problem that Najib has failed to solve.

For a long time, the Chinese community have been harping on the need for more Chinese schools. However, the Ministry of Education has been moving snail-slow on approval of the Chinese schools.

Applications for a new school have gone into a “black hole”. When I showed the news about 10 new Chinese schools being greenlit by Putrajaya to the chairperson of the board of governors of the affected school, he merely said, “Year after year, election after election, it is nothing but empty promises”.

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Economist Ramon Navaratnam@ASLI Public Policy Studies

Chairperson of ASLI’s Centre for Public Policy Studies, Ramon Navaratnam, pointed out to me that Sekinchan has had the most productive paddy growers in the country.

“Yet, they are not given the incentives to become even more productive,” he said. “The government should focus on the strengths of each community and boost their productivity even further.”

Licenses for fishing are given to cronies when the fisherpeople themselves are unable to get more licenses. With these cronies and Ali Baba licence holders, the prices of goods rise. The real beneficiaries are not the fisherpeople themselves, but some cronies.

Likewise, I pointed out the plight of taxi drivers in this country. Although mostly Bumiputera, they too have been earning pittances. Now with Uber and Grab, who is most badly hit? Taxi licenses should not be given to a consortium, but to individual taxi drivers to motivate them to work even harder.

According to Ramon, budget proposals must address the “structural problems of low productivity, rising unemployment, inflation, the weak ringgit, the brain drain, sustainability and the fight against extremism and bigotry.”

As fellow columnist R Nadeswaran rightly put it, “The prime minister, his ministers and the government must stop treating Malaysians as fools by making all kinds of statements which more than not, appear like a page from Grimm’s Fairy Tales”.


STEPHEN NG is an ordinary citizen with an avid interest in following political developments in the country since 2008.

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