1MDB: The Scandal that shamed Malaysia and Malaysians


July 30, 2016

The Guardian Editorial on Malaysian Politics

Investigations into the 1MDB development fund and a new security law are both cause for concern

Najib Razak needs additional powers for political survival

Malaysia’s new security law, due to come into force on Monday, would be alarming at any time. Its sweeping powers permit authorities to declare national security areas which are off-limits to protests, where individuals and premises can be searched without a warrant, and where killings by security forces need not result in formal inquests. Changes to the country’s criminal code, undermining the rights of suspects, are similarly concerning. Human rights groups warn that existing laws, including the colonial-era Sedition Act – which Prime Minister Najib Razak once vowed to repeal – have been used to detain and muzzle critics. The country’s Police Chief recently warned that protests by electoral reform group Bersih would be permitted only if participants avoided calling for Mr Najib’s resignation.

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The government says the National Security Council Act is needed to protect the public from a mounting global terrorism threat. It is striking, however, that it becomes law as the Prime  Minister faces growing pressure and planned protests over the multi-billion-dollar 1MDB development fund scandal, which has snowballed since emerging a year ago. Even his erstwhile patron, former premier Mahathir Mohamad, has joined forces with the opposition in an attempt to oust him.

Mr Najib has denied wrongdoing throughout and Malaysia’s Attorney-General cleared him over allegations that $681m was siphoned from the development fund to his personal bank account, explaining that the cash was a political donation from the Saudi Royal family. That explanation was itself striking, even given the Saudi Foreign Minister’s assurances that it was a genuine gift “with nothing expected in return”, and promises that most of it had been returned.

This month the US Justice Department filed civil lawsuits seeking to seize $1bn in assets, part of the $3.5bn it alleges high-level figures and their associates stole from the fund which Mr Najib founded and, as Chairman of its Advisory board, oversaw. (He is not named in the documents, which refer to him as “Malaysian Official 1”.) It alleges that money intended for the wellbeing of Malaysians was diverted to luxury properties, works by Monet and Van Gogh and even the making of The Wolf of Wall Street, though the movie’s production firm has denied any impropriety.

US Attorney-General Loretta Lynch told a press conference that misappropriated funds were laundered through a complex web of transactions and fraudulent shell companies with bank accounts in countries around the world; “We cannot allow the massive, brazen and blatant diversion of billions of dollars to be laundered through US financial institutions without consequences,” a colleague declared. One important question is how well such entities performed their duties. The US investigation – like the research of Clare Rewcastle Brown, whose London-based Sarawak Report has doggedly pursued concerns about 1MDB – is to be commended. This case concerns assets that rightfully belong to Malaysia’s 30 million citizens, but what has happened to them, and how, should concern the rest of us, too.

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/jul/28/the-guardian-view-on-malaysian-politics-a-scandal-meriting-the-worlds-attention

1MDB: The Scandal that shamed Malaysia and Malaysians

How a jailed former banker and a lone and dedicated British journalist broke a story that shook the world and shamed Malaysia and Malaysians

by Randeep Ramesh

On 22 June 2015, Xavier Justo, a 48-year-old retired Swiss banker, walked towards the front door of his brand new boutique hotel on Koh Samui, a tropical Thai island. He had spent the past three years building the luxurious white-stone complex of chalets and apartments overlooking the shimmering sea and was almost ready to open for business. All he needed was a licence.

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Justo had arrived in Thailand four years earlier, having fled the drab world of finance in London. In 2011, he and his girlfriend Laura toured the country on a motorbike and, two years later, they got married on a secluded beach. The couple eventually settled down in Koh Samui, a tourist hotspot, just an hour’s flight south of Bangkok. After trying out a couple of entrepreneurial ventures, Justo eventually decided that he would go into the hotel business. He bought a plot with an imposing house and began building: adding a gym, villas and a tennis court.

That June afternoon, he was expecting a visit from the tourism authorities to sign off on the paperwork. Instead, a squad of armed Thai police burst through the unlocked door, bundling Justo to the ground. The officers tied their plastic cuffs so tightly around Justo’s wrists that he bled on the dark tiled floor. The police quickly moved into his office, ripping out the computers and emptying the filing cabinets.

After two days in a ramshackle local jail, Justo was flown to Bangkok and paraded before the media, in a press conference befitting a mafia kingpin. Still wearing shorts and flip-flops, he was flanked by four commandos holding machine guns, while a quartet of senior Royal Thai Police officers briefed the assembled reporters on the charges against him.

Justo was charged with an attempt to blackmail his former employer, a little-known London-based oil-services company named PetroSaudi. But behind this seemingly mundane charge lay a much bigger story.

Six months earlier, Justo had handed a British journalist named Clare Rewcastle Brown thousands of documents, including 227,000 emails, from the servers of his former employer, PetroSaudi, which appeared to shed light on the alleged theft of hundreds of millions of dollars from a state-owned Malaysian investment fund known as 1MDB (1Malaysia Development Berhad).

The documents that Justo leaked have set off a chain reaction of investigations in at least half a dozen countries, and led to what Loretta Lynch, the US attorney general, described last week as “the largest kleptocracy case” in US history.

According to lawsuits filed last week by the United States Department of Justice (DoJ), at least $3.5bn has been stolen from 1MDB. The purpose of the fund, which was set up by Malaysia’s Prime Minister, Najib Razak, in 2009, was to promote economic development in a country where the median income stands at approximately £300 per month. Instead, the DoJ alleged that stolen money from 1MDB found its way to numerous associates of Prime Minister Najib, who subsequently went on a lavish spending spree across the world. It also accused Najib of receiving $681m of cash from 1MDB – a claim he denied. Money from 1MDB, the US also claimed, helped to purchase luxury apartments in Manhattan, mansions in Los Angeles, paintings by Monet and Vincent van Hogh, a corporate jet, and even financed a major Hollywood movie.

The US Justice Department breaks the alleged theft down into three distinct phases: the first $1bn defrauded under the “pretence of investing in a joint venture between 1MDB and PetroSaudi”; another $1.4bn, raised by Goldman Sachs in a bond issue, misappropriated and fraudulently diverted to a Swiss offshore company; and $1.3bn, also from money Goldman Sachs raised on the market, which was diverted to a Singapore account.

“A number of corrupt 1MDB officials treated this public trust as a personal bank account,” Lynch told the press last week. “The co-conspirators laundered their stolen funds through a complex web of opaque transactions and fraudulent shell companies, with bank accounts in countries around the world, including Switzerland, Singapore and the United States.” PetroSaudi, which is not a party to the lawsuit, denied the US allegations and said that the DoJ’s asset-forfeiture claims are “no more than untested allegations”.

United States Department of Justice alleges that money from 1MDB was used to buy Claude Monet’s Nymphéas Avec Reflets de Hautes Herbes, valued at $57.5m. Photograph: David Levene for the Guardian

Najib, who has used every ounce of his power to obstruct investigations into the scandal – a charge he denies – is not mentioned by name in the US lawsuits, which refer to him as “Malaysian Official 1”. But the man at the centre of the intricate swindle depicted in the US lawsuits is an adviser to Najib: Jho Low, a Harrow-educated 29-year-old friend of the Prime Minister’s stepson. Low, a babyfaced young man who likes to party with Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton – and calls his Goldman Sachs banker “bro”, according to the DoJ – is accused by the US of masterminding the theft of $2bn from 1MDB, which was sent to bank accounts in Switzerland, Singapore and the Virgin Islands. Low has said that he has not broken any laws and was not being investigated.

Jho Low (pic right) and his sidekick Riza Aziz, who is the son of Rosmah Mansor, Malaysia’s notorious First Lady and wife of Prime Minister Najib Razak

Low’s sidekick is Riza Aziz, Najib’s stepson. Riza produced The Wolf of Wall Street – Martin Scorsese’s tale of corruption, decadence and greed – and both he and Low were thanked by name in Leonardo DiCaprio’s Golden Globes acceptance speech for best actor. In 2011, Low took a 20% stake in EMI, the world’s largest music-publishing company, for $106m – in the same year, he bought a $30m penthouse for his father at the Time Warner Center in Manhattan, overlooking Central Park. Riza’s Hollywood production company has said: “There has never been anything inappropriate about any of Red Granite Pictures or Riza Aziz’s business activities.”

All this and more is laid out in the US filing, which details claims of an amazing heist, carried out by conspirators who rinsed billions from the people of Malaysia through offshore accounts and shell companies in tax havens such as the Seychelles and British Virgin Islands. The scale of the enterprise echoes Balzac’s maxim that behind every great fortune lies a great crime.

Jho Low with Paris Hilton at an event in Paris. Photograph: GoffPhotos.com

The global effort to uncover Malaysia’s missing billions began with Xavier Justo. He leaked 90GB of data, including 227,000 emails, from his former employer PetroSaudi, an oil services company that had signed the first major deal with 1MDB. (PetroSaudi denies any wrongdoing.) Without these files, there would have been no reckoning.

Justo’s connection to PetroSaudi was his long friendship with one of the company’s two founders, a Saudi national named Tarek Obaid. The two men had met back in the late 1990s, when they both partied regularly in the nightclubs of Geneva. By 2006, the two men were inseparable: Justo had become an established businessman, running a large financial services firm, Fininfor, and the owner of a Geneva nightspot named the Platinum Club. Justo regarded Obaid as a “younger brother”, and in 2008, lent him $30,000 and a desk in the Fininfor offices to help start up PetroSaudi.

Obaid and Justo were an unlikely pair, brought together by a love of the high life. Justo, the son of Spanish immigrants to Switzerland, did not go to university. Obaid is a graduate of Georgetown University’s prestigious  Walsh School of Foreign Service. His brother, Nawaf, served as a special adviser to the Saudi ambassador to the UK. Obaid’s PetroSaudi co-founder, Prince Turki bin Abdullah, is the seventh son of the late King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, who ruled Saudi Arabia from 2005 until his death in 2015.

When Justo left Geneva in 2009, PetroSaudi was little more than a name on a calling card, formally incorporated in London with an address at an anonymous business unit near Victoria. Two years later, it had taken in $1.83bn.

PetroSaudi’s business was access capitalism: opening doors with the help of friends in high places. The basic idea was to capture a piece of the huge oil revenues being generated by state-owned firms in developing countries – treasure chests waiting to be unlocked by a firm that was a “vehicle of the Saudi royal family”, which could count on the “full support from the kingdom’s diplomatic corps”. PetroSaudi told potential partners that it controlled oil fields in central Asia, which it would put up as collateral to secure cash from state investors.

This was the pitch that landed PetroSaudi’s founders a meeting with the Malaysian Prime Minister in August 2009. Aboard a 92m megayacht off the coast of Monaco, Obaid and Prince Turki spent the day with Najib, his adviser Jho Low, and other members of the prime minister’s family. Snapshots taken at the meeting have the look of a holiday cruise – baseball caps and shorts – but their discussion was serious business. What resulted was a decision for Low and Obaid to work together on a deal that would allow them both to control mind-boggling sums of money.

Although Low held no formal position in the Malaysian government, he had become a trusted confidant to the Prime Minister. Despite his youth, Low had been instrumental in working with Goldman Sachs to set up a sovereign wealth fund to invest the revenues of an oil-rich Malaysian state.

Around the time that Low and Najib went boating with the PetroSaudi founders, the Malaysian central government took control of the wealth fund – which was soon renamed as 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) and given a mandate to promote economic development in Malaysia. The fund had more than $1bn to spend, and Prime Minister Najib had the sole power to approve investments and to hire and fire board members and managers. Low appeared to facilitate transactions – according to the DoJ, he even attended board meetings of 1MDB and acted as a link with the PM.

But, according to the US Justice Department, the deal was merely a “pretence” for “the fraudulent transfer of more than $1bn from 1MDB to a Swiss bank account” controlled by Low – “a 29-year-old with no official position with 1MDB or PetroSaudi”. PetroSaudi has always maintained that all 1MDB funds were paid to entities owned by its shareholders.

The multibillion-dollar joint venture deal was completed with extraordinary speed – in less than a month. Shortly after the yacht meeting, on 28 August 2009, Obaid had introduced Low to Patrick Mahony – the company director who handled PetroSaudi’s business affairs. According to documents seen by the Guardian, Low and Mahony met for lunch in New York on 9 September to discuss the joint venture.

After dining at Masa – a sushi restaurant where the set menu costs $540 a head – Mahony emailed Low the next day with an offer: “We know there are deals you are looking at where you may want to use PSI [PetroSaudi] … we would be happy to do that. You need to let us know where.” PetroSaudi said the documents seen by the Guardian are unreliable, stolen, fake and that they have been selectively quoted.

Less than three weeks later, the deal was done. PetroSaudi would contribute $1.5bn in oil and gas assets to the joint venture, while 1MDB would inject $1bn in cash.

This drawing by Vincent Van Gogh, worth $5.5m, was allegedly bought with money from 1MDB, according to the US authorities. Photograph: Frank Baron for the Guardian

According to the US court filing, 1MDB transferred $300m into an account belonging to the PetroSaudi joint venture, but the remaining $700m was sent to a Swiss account at RBS Coutts, controlled by a Seychelles-registered shell company named Good Star. The US justice department complaint alleges that Jho Low, and not PetroSaudi, was the beneficial owner and sole authorised signatory of Good Star. US authorities claim that officials at 1MDB provided false information to banks about the ownership of the Good Star account in order to divert the $700m.

In documents seen by the Guardian, on 30 September 2009 PetroSaudi appears to direct that the $700m be paid into an account controlled by the company – but three days later, when the compliance department at RBS Coutts requested further details about the name of the beneficiary account, the address given by 1MDB was the Good Star account. On the same day, 2 October, Low emailed Mahony to say “Shld be cleared soon”. PetroSaudi told the Guardian: “No money put into the joint venture by 1MDB was misappropriated or is missing. Its investment was repaid with profit … All transfers from 1MDB were paid with the full approval of the 1MDB board.”

According to documents seen by the Guardian, the Good Star transaction made Obaid, then 32, and Mahony, then 33, very rich men. Records indicate that on 30 September 2009, Good Star agreed to pay $85m to Obaid, which the Seychelles company described as a fee for “brokering services”. The money was deposited into Obaid’s Swiss JP Morgan account. At the same time, emails and legal documents indicate that Mahony was given a contract as “investment manager” for Good Star. On 20 October, Obaid emailed his contact at JP Morgan to request that $33m be transferred into an account belonging to Mahony.

Four days later, Mahony began discussions to set up an offshore company to buy a £6.7m townhouse in Notting Hill – and by 12 November, contracts for the house had been exchanged. The former banker created a numbered bank account in Switzerland, and all payments for the purchase were made from this account, via a British Virgin Islands company that Mahony had set up.

In response to questions from the Guardian, PetroSaudi said the payment to Obaid was not a brokerage fee and that the transfer of $33m to Mahony had nothing to do with the PetroSaudi-1MDB joint venture.

Laura and Xavier Justo were blissfully unaware of their friend Obaid’s changing fortunes. The couple were sunning themselves on Thailand’s Andaman coast in December 2009 when Obaid rang Justo offering him a director’s position in London with PetroSaudi. He told Justo the company had become an overnight success, but it needed someone who could help it grow.

Justo rejected Obaid’s initial offer, but he was eventually persuaded by the temptation of a well-paid “adventure”. According to Justo, Obaid promised him a salary of £400,000, “millions in bonuses” and the perk of a £10,000-a-week flat in Mayfair, central London. Justo pitched up in London in spring 2010, and by June was a PetroSaudi director. But he was kept out of the lucrative Asian business. Instead, Justo, a native Spanish speaker, was tasked with launching a new operation in Venezuela, and spent much of 2011 flying between London and Caracas.

Laura and Xavier Justo in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

Between September 2010 and May 2011, 1MDB agreed to lend an additional $830m to the joint venture with PetroSaudi – bringing 1MDB’s total investment to $1.83bn. Of these new payments, US officials allege, $330m was paid into the Swiss account they say was controlled by Low, on the basis of a request by Obaid – who is identified in the US legal complaint as “PetroSaudi CEO”.

Emails and bank records seen by the Guardian suggest that in the nine months from September 2010, Obaid transferred $77m from his Swiss JP Morgan account to his PetroSaudi co-founder, Prince Turki bin Abdullah. According to the US authorities, banking records show that in the spring of 2011, Prince Turki also received $24m from the Good Star account controlled by Low – and that “within days”, $20m from these funds was transferred to an account belonging to the Malaysian Prime Minister, Najib Razak.

Meanwhile, Low was becoming known on the New York club scene as a fixer for the global super-rich – snapped by paparazzi swigging magnums of Cristal with R&B singers and Hollywood stars. According to US authorities, Low spent $100m from the joint venture transactions on properties in Hollywood and $40m on New York apartments. The funding for The Wolf of Wall Street, the US complaint alleges, can be directly traced to the billion dollars diverted from the PetroSaudi joint venture.

In the meantime, Justo was growing disaffected with working conditions at PetroSaudi. According to his wife, Laura, the first sign of discontent was his discovery that his salary payments were only about half of what Justo said Obaid had offered him – a slight that was compounded when he learned that the promised multimillion-pound bonus would be considerably less than that – more like six figures than seven.

There were other niggles, too. He complained to Laura that he was often paid late, and sometimes not at all. He claimed that he ended up paying rent on the flat in Mayfair that was supposed to be covered by his employers.

Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street. Photograph: Allstar/Paramount Pictures

At first, Justo told Laura, he thought these were just mishaps – nothing malicious, just poor corporate bookkeeping. But he became increasingly dismayed by Obaid’s behaviour. Justo told friends that Obaid had become “arrogant” after striking it rich. Justo was especially disturbed by what he described as changes in his younger Saudi friend – telling other people that Obaid had become irrational, and displayed “uncontrollable” rage.
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Justo and Obaid’s long friendship, stretched to breaking point over 12 months of highly charged corporate life, finally snapped. At the end of 2010, Justo missed a flight for an important meeting. He apologised to Obaid, but according to Justo, his friend “went mad”, sending him a stream of abuse, via text messages and emails.

Sick with worry, Justo decided to resign in March 2011. In the angry email exchanges that followed, Obaid called Justo “arrogant” and a “smart ass”. In April, things came to a head in Mayfair. Amid the marble, dark leather and metal art deco detailing of the exclusive Connaught hotel bar, Mahony and Justo hammered out the terms of his departure. According to Justo, Mahony had agreed to pay him about 6.5m Swiss francs (£5m) in severance. However, in the midst of a heated conversation, Mahony’s phone rang. It was Obaid, who apparently told Mahony to settle on 5m Swiss francs (£3.85m). Justo, who had poured his heart out to Mahony, telling him he was at his “lowest point emotionally”, shed tears. A day later, Justo claims that he was told his severance package would, in fact, be 4m Swiss francs (£3m).

As the rancour set in, Justo took a copy of the data on the PetroSaudi servers. In September 2013, a little more than two years after he had left PetroSaudi, Justo sent a fateful email to Mahony. Justo was insistent that he be paid what was owed to him, warning that he had a file of information on PetroSaudi. “The official side paints a nice picture but the reality is commissions, commissions, commissions,” he wrote.

In the furious exchanges that followed, Mahony accused Justo of blackmail. Mahony presciently told his former colleague: “What troubles me so much is the way in which I see this situation ending – with the destruction of you.”

A few months later, over a Chinese meal in London, the journalist who would break open the 1MDB scandal first heard rumours about an extraordinary heist in Malaysia. Clare Rewcastle Brown met a contact at a restaurant in Bayswater who showed her screen grabs of internal documents from PetroSaudi: on a single printed page, there were highlights of PetroSaudi’s dealings with 1MDB, under the heading “Thousands of documents related to the deal (emails, faxes and transcripts)”. She recognised the names and the deal. Her heart skipped a beat. “A bomb went off in my head,” Brown recalled. She knew right away that this was a huge story.

Ms. Clare Rewcastle Brown

Rewcastle Brown is a classic British rebel at the heart of the establishment. She was born on the island of Borneo – part of which now belongs to Malaysia – when it was still part of the British empire, where her father was a colonial policeman and head of the local intelligence service. Her brother-in-law is the former British prime minister Gordon Brown. After working as a reporter for the BBC, in 2010 Rewcastle Brown set up Sarawak Report, a website dedicated to uncovering corruption in the place of her birth.

Working out of her tiny kitchen in central London, she published story after story exposing corruption in the timber and oil industries that were despoiling the country’s rainforests for profit. Her email was hacked and she received death threats, but she carried on, regardless. Early in 2013, Malaysian politicians labelled her an “enemy of the state”. Rather than be cowed, she considered this a badge of honour. In person, Rewcastle Brown is a curious mix of the bawdy and the brave, almost to the point of recklessness. Her mantra: “I just want the story.”

After the meeting in Bayswater, Rewcastle Brown knew she needed to get the 1MDB documents. The first hurdle was that the source of the PetroSaudi papers apparently wanted millions for the information. It was money she did not have.

Another stumbling block was that no journalist in Malaysia wanted to touch the story. In Malaysia, Prime Minister Najib had just won a tightly contested election, and was flush with power. Rumours were swirling around the cache of PetroSaudi documents – some said the Russian mafia was behind the data dump, while others speculated that it might be an elaborate trap, set by the Prime Minister to ensnare his critics.

Undeterred, Rewcastle Brown arranged with her contact to meet the source in Thailand. In October 2014, she pitched up at the lobby of the Plaza Athénée hotel, in Bangkok. She had told her husband she was hoping to meet a “balding bespectacled short Swiss guy”. Instead, into the foyer stepped Xavier Justo – muscular and 6ft 6in tall. Rewcastle Brown was faced with a “physically imposing, extremely elegant” man. “Oh my God,” she thought. “This guy is going to duff me up.”

But Justo admitted that he was just as scared as she was. According to Rewcastle Brown, he seemed “very, very nervous” and repeatedly warned her that “the people we were dealing with were ruthless, had huge amounts of money and were very, very powerful – and they could do what they liked to us”.

Justo told Rewcastle Brown that he wanted $2m in exchange for the PetroSaudi-1MDB documents. It was, he said, the money he should have been paid when he left PetroSaudi.

Although he shared a few documents at the meeting, Justo was adamant: no cash, no data. Rewcastle Brown needed to find a rich person prepared to pay for the papers.

At around this time, concerns about 1MDB had begun to spread in Malaysia. Financial analysts pointed out that the fund was not generating enough cash to cover interest payments on the billions of dollars of debt it had acquired. The hundreds of millions that had been spent on art work, jewellery, real estate, gambling and parties did not realise any return on the “investment”. By 2014, Prime Minister Najib’s political opponents had taken to taunting him with the accusation that the wealth fund should be renamed “1Malaysia’s Debt of Billions”.

In August 2014, Najib received another political blow. Mahathir Mohamad, the towering figure of modern Malaysian politics who served as Prime Minister from 1981 to 2003, announced that he was withdrawing support for Najib, his former protege. In the weeks that followed, Mahathir became more vocal in his criticism, warning that 1MDB was adding to Malaysia’s dangerously high debt levels.

This warning went unheeded. The fund’s debt swelled. By November 2014, 1MDB owed almost $11bn. Najib, who chaired the fund’s advisory board, appeared unconcerned, telling the state news agency that the government was not liable for the debt if the fund went bankrupt.

As the crisis deepened, Rewcastle Brown continued her quest for a person willing to pay Justo for the PetroSaudi-1MDB documents. She noticed that some of the most searching reporting on the scandal had appeared in Malaysia’s best-selling business weekly, the Edge. Sensing that she may have found a wealthy ally, Rewcastle Brown contacted the Edge’s owner, Tong Kooi Ong, a former banker turned media tycoon, who owned a number of business publications.

In January 2015, Tong, Rewcastle Brown and Justo met in a five-star Singapore hotel, the Fullerton. Tong booked a conference room, and brought a number of IT experts, as well as the editor of the Edge, Kay Tat. At the meeting, Justo laid out the 1MDB joint venture, making the same claims that the US Department of Justice would set out 18 months later: namely that hundreds of millions of dollars that were intended for economic development in Malaysia had instead been diverted into a Seychelles-based company. The man at the centre of the transaction was alleged to be Najib’s adviser and family friend, Jho Low.

It was a potentially huge scoop. Tong agreed to pay Justo $2m. Tong and Rewcastle Brown were immediately handed disk drives with the data. But the payment was never made. Justo did not want the money in cash, and he worried that a large transfer of funds into his account would look suspicious. Tong offered Justo one of his Monets as collateral – but Justo declined, and said “no, I trust you”. Rewcastle Brown finally had the documents she had been chasing for 18 months.

On 28 February 2015, Rewcastle Brown posted the first big story online – under a typically unrestrained headline: “HEIST OF THE CENTURY!” The article claimed to show how $700m had disappeared from the 1MDB joint venture and found its way into various offshore companies and Swiss bank accounts.

The impact of the article was felt around the world. In the US, law enforcement officials who had been alerted to reports that Low was spending huge amounts on New York apartments now had a fix on the possible source of his wealth.

While researching the story, Rewcastle Brown had teamed up with the Sunday Times, which helped her decrypt the files Justo had given to her. The paper ran an interview with Mahathir, the former Malaysian Prime Minister, who called for an immediate investigation and a full audit. “Somebody must be doing something stupid to part with $700m for no very good reason as far as I can see,” he said.

In Malaysia, the response was immediate. On 1 March 2015, 1MDB’s management claimed that it had exited the joint venture in 2012, and that it had received back its investment in full, with an additional profit of $488m. PetroSaudi claimed that the $700m had all gone to “PetroSaudi-owned entities” – denying, in other words, that companies controlled by Jho Low had received payments in the deal.

Not long before Rewcastle Brown’s story broke, 1MDB’s bonds had been effectively downgraded to junk. After another £200m of Malaysian government funds were required to plug a hole in 1MDB’s finances, Najib bowed to the inevitable and ordered investigations by the country’s auditor general and the parliamentary accounts committee. Soon, the country’s central bank and anti-corruption agency were also looking at 1MDB. Malaysia’s top policeman was reported as saying that the prime minister would also be investigated.

Najib tightened his grip on power. As prime minister and finance minister, he wielded enormous authority: in April, the government pushed through harsh penalties and restrictions on free speech, particularly on social media. Five executives of Tong’s The Edge Media Group – which had also published details of the PetroSaudi deal – were arrested for sedition. The government also introduced a new law, ostensibly aimed at terrorists, which allowed suspects to be detained indefinitely. In July 2015, the Edge weekly was banned from publishing.

Although the scandal only seemed to be getting bigger, it had not ensnared Prime Minister Najib personally. Then, on 2 July, Rewcastle Brown and the Wall Street Journal reported that Malaysian government investigators had discovered that $681m from banks, agencies and companies with ties to 1MDB had been deposited in Najib’s private accounts in 2013. A few days later, investigators raided the offices of 1MDB.

Najib was now at the centre of a corruption probe relating to allegations that billions of dollars had disappeared from a Malaysian investment fund he controlled. Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, once a supporter of Najib, publicly called on him to answer questions about the fund. It seemed that Najib was cornered.

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak–Malaysia’s No 1. Crook

On the morning of Monday 28 July, the Attorney-General, Abdul Gani Patail – a party loyalist who had previously gone after the Prime Minister’s opponents – arrived at his office expecting to finalise corruption charges against Najib. The indictment, which Rewcastle Brown later obtained and published, would have charged the Prime Minister with corruption resulting from the investigations into 1MDB.

The Attorney -General (Gani Patail) never got to press those charges. On reaching his office, he was summarily dismissed by a civil servant. In a public statement, Najib said the country’s top legal officer was too ill to continue in the role. Also relieved of their posts were the Head of Special Branch and the Deputy Prime Minister. Meanwhile, four members of the investigating parliamentary accounts committee were promoted, without any choice, to cabinet positions, which left them with no power to continue investigating, and the committee’s work was declared suspended. The next day, a mysterious fire swept through police headquarters, where records of white-collar crimes were kept. It seemed that Najib was in control again.

The crackdown revealed a ruthless side to Najib. However, there was a loose end that could unravel everything: Xavier Justo. Not only had Justo leaked information about 1MDB’s dealings with PetroSaudi, he was also a potential star witness in any future court proceedings about the financial scandal.

After Justo was arrested for blackmail and flown to Bangkok in June 2015, he was placed in a cell with 70 other prisoners. The floor was covered with sweat and urine, and the room was so tightly packed that prisoners could not sleep on their backs. According to Justo’s wife Laura, her husband’s first foreign visitor was his former friend, colleague and PetroSaudi director, Patrick Mahony. Smooth and charming, Mahony flashed a smile and said he was there to help.

Laura says that Mahony offered Justo a deal: confess and plead guilty, and PetroSaudi will get you out of here by the end of the year. Justo reluctantly agreed. He signed a confession – without a lawyer present – which claimed that he had attempted to blackmail his former employers, and apologised to Mahony and Obaid “for the harm stress and anxiety I caused them”. According to Laura, a man who claimed to be a Scotland Yard detective – and later told her he had been hired by PetroSaudi – took down Justo’s confession. (PetroSaudi told the Guardian that Justo had “illegally obtained commercially sensitive, confidential and private documentation” and was in prison for “blackmail and extortion”.)

Justo was sentenced on 17 August 2015 at Southern Bangkok criminal court. At the trial he was granted a translator, but his lawyer did not turn up, sending an assistant instead. The trial and sentencing took 15 minutes. Justo got three years in a Thai jail for attempting to blackmail a UK company out of $2m.

Life behind bars in Klong Prem Central prison, where Justo is incarcerated, is not for the fainthearted. In a city where temperatures rarely drop below 26C, Justo shares a cramped “VIP” cell with 25 other prisoners. Breakfast is at 7am. Water is rationed. Prisoners have no food after 3pm. There is a small bathroom area at the rear of the cell, which consists of a tap and a hole in the floor for a lavatory.

As 2015 wore on and it became clear that her husband was not going to be out of jail by the end of the year, Laura grew increasingly suspicious of her contacts at PetroSaudi. A series of stories in the Swiss and Malaysian press purporting to tell Justo’s side of the story depicted him as an unwitting pawn in a political plot against the Malaysian prime minister. Things were not getting better for Justo – they were getting worse. In his prison cell, Justo was now sleeping on a thin blanket – his mattress was withdrawn a few months after he arrived, as was his exercise hour.

Laura came to believe that Justo was a victim of a deceit by his former friends, who tricked him into confessing and handing over copies of PetroSaudi’s servers, in an attempt to protect themselves and their Malaysian associates by burying the case. In May 2016, in a last-gasp effort to save her husband, Laura turned to the one person who she knew Justo trusted: Rewcastle Brown, who brought her to the Guardian.

When I met Laura in June 2016, she was at first calm and composed, but broke into tears when speaking about her husband, her voice cracking with emotion. Justo has not seen their son since he was eight months old. “I only want justice to be done,” Laura recently wrote in an email. “Xavier was no thief, he was only asking for what he had been promised. Even through this darkest and most difficult time of his life, which is right now, he writes to me that he is keeping strong for our son and I – that he will fight for us whatever it takes.”

Since reaching out to Rewcastle Brown and the Guardian, Laura has handed over notes smuggled out of prison in which Justo says he has been framed. Laura believes that Patrick Mahony of PetroSaudi has controlled Justo’s life behind bars, deciding how comfortable his living space would be and who could visit him. (Foreign prisoners have a list posted outside the prison of permitted visitors. Mahony is listed as number two. Laura is number five.)

Laura says she has emails and WhatsApp messages, as well as recordings of phone calls from last year that suggest that Mahony is under increasing pressure from Najib, on one hand, and from US and Swiss investigators combing through 1MDB’s deals, on the other.

In taped telephone conversations with Laura, Mahony appears obsessed with Rewcastle Brown, whom he refers to as a “bitch”. In a recorded conversation with Laura from November 2015, Mahony refers obliquely to a powerful person whom he claims could help reduce Justo’s sentence: “I told you the other evening, who the ultimate person is controlling this, and I am due to have another meeting with him soon … This guy is still stressed because it’s his political career on the line. He’s in deep shit and that’s all he cares about, nothing else.”

Patrick Mahony of PetroSaudi

When Laura asks what she should tell her husband, Mahony says: “The only way that you can show that you’re on his side – to be a team player – is if you’re ready to put yourself out in the media. You are ready to denounce all the people who are conspiring against him … I am not going to lie to you … You can help the situation or you cannot help the situation.”

When Laura presses for Justo’s release, Mahony snaps. “I’m still dealing with this shit every day. You need to remember we are all in the shit. I know he’s in prison and you are alone with the baby. And I looked at you the other day and I told you I feel for you. But me, I’m also in the shit. And a lot of other people are in the shit. A prime minister of a country is in deep shit because he has been put in this shit.”

By December, Mahony admits in another phone call that he had been to the US, where “the FBI is looking at all this shit” and that he had been pulled in by the Swiss Attorney-General’s office. “The Swiss are continuing to really give us shit … They know they have nothing … But they say they are fearful of being accused of not doing anything.” PetroSaudi said that it will cooperate with any official authority in any jurisdiction and added that it is not the subject of any investigation in any jurisdiction. Mahony has not been interviewed by US or Swiss officials.

Xavier Justo leaves court in Bangkok on August 17, 2015. He was jailed for three years and remains in prison. Photograph: Pornchai Kittiwongsakul/AFP

The consequences of Justo’s leaks are still reverberating around the world. When the US Department of Justice laid out the case against 1MDB last week, it pulled no punches. “The Malaysian people were defrauded on an enormous scale,” said Andrew McCabe, the FBI’s Deputy Director. US officials told the Guardian that any party who wanted to contest the Attorney-General’s claim must file a response in a federal court within 60 days to answer the factual allegations.

In a separate case, the DoJ is also investigating whether Goldman Sachs violated US banking law in its handling of $6.5bn in bond offerings that it carried out for 1MDB. The Wall Street behemoth earned $593m in fees for the issue. Goldman Sachs denied any wrongdoing. The bank told the Guardian: “We helped raise money for a sovereign wealth fund that was designed to invest in Malaysia. We had no visibility into whether some of those funds may have been subsequently diverted to other purposes.”

Malaysian Official 1?

Most important was that the DoJ allegations directly contradicted repeated assertions by Prime Minister Najib about the origins and purpose of hundreds of millions of dollars that ended up in his personal bank accounts – which he had claimed was a gift from a Saudi benefactor.

The DoJ filing was released at a critical moment for democracy in Malaysia. On 1 August, a draconian national security act introduced by Najib comes into force – allowing the Malaysian government to establish martial law in any designated geographic area. The law will dramatically expand the powers of Malaysia’s security forces – allowing for arrests, searches and seizures without warrants and the bulldozing of buildings.

But in the rest of the world, investigations into the sprawling corruption scandal are continuing to expand. In Switzerland, the US justice department identified RBS Coutts and Rothschild Bank as conduits for transactions in the corruption complaint. The Swiss Attorney-General is probing the billion-dollar fraud. The banks declined to comment when contacted by the Guardian.

Singapore found “lapses and weaknesses” in anti-money-laundering controls at major banks. For the first time in the island state’s history, the authorities shut down a merchant bank. In April the United Arab Emirates froze hundreds of millions of dollars in accounts held by alleged conspirators in the 1MDB fraud and banned the account holders from travelling abroad.

The board of 1MDB said that it was “confident that no wrongdoing had been committed” but as a “precautionary measure”, its accounts for 2013 and 2014 should no longer be “relied on by any party”. Najib has said that he did not commit “any offence or malpractice”. His attorney general cleared him of corruption earlier this year.

For now, the man whose revelations enabled the exposure of this vast fraud remains in a Bangkok prison. Xavier Justo was motivated by a mixture of morality and revenge – the desire to settle scores with a friend who betrayed him. To get even, he chose to blow the whistle, for a price. He may not go down in history as a hero who selflessly risked ruin to expose the truth. But in doing so, he did unwittingly sacrifice himself.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jul/28/1mdb-inside-story-worlds-biggest-financial-scandal-malaysia

Emissaries, Selena Gomez and Malaysian Official 1


July28, 2016

Emissaries, Selena Gomez and Malaysian Official 1

by Rom Nain

http://www.malaysiakini.com

Malaysian Official Couple 1

Countless messages and notes have been flooding Malaysian cyberspace after the release of the damning US Department of Justice (DOJ) report alleging a litany of crimes committed by individuals led by the not-so-mysterious Malaysian Official 1.

One such WhatsApp message that I (and probably many of you) recently received claims that an infamous emissary is being despatched to the United States.

His task?

The Emissary and Arab Donor from Penang?

To offer an insane amount of money for the campaign of one of the US presidential candidates. In exchange, that is, for the non-prosecution of Malaysian Official 1 and possibly his cronies.

On reflection, this may sound rather far-fetched and insanely desperate, even for this regime. Indeed, one pro-UMNO portal, MyKMU.net, has rubbished this allegation. But given how shameless this regime has become, who is to say, really?

The WhatsApp message ends with a plea that it be circulated so that more people would be alerted, possibly leading to the thwarting of such a dastardly act. But, as others have pointed out, an act of such a nature carries untold risks, especially for the US presidential candidate.

They say that, unlike the pathetic Malaysian mainstream media and our other tainted institutions, there is still some semblance of freedom and autonomy within American society and its institutions.

Any suggestion, for example, that the Harvard educated US Attorney-General (AG), Loretta Lynch, is anywhere similar to our own AG, has been laughed at by many. She was nominated by President Barack Obama and confirmed by the US Senate.

No such confirmation is needed in Malaysia, where the AG is appointed by the Agong based on the advice of the PM.

There are, of course, more substantial differences between Lynch and her Malaysian counterpart, but, by now, I am sure about everyone who can read critically and understand, is aware of that.

Be that as it may, the point is that many agree that the American justice system – which the Department of Justice is part of – is a tad more independent and autonomous than most others, including ours.

Hence, the idea of someone, a non-American at that, trying to interfere with such a justice system, trying to buy judgments, seems so atrocious, especially in a case with a series of suits that have by now gained so much international prominence and notoriety.

Were the media – American and international – to get even a whiff of something like this happening, gone would be the presidential hopes of the candidate.

US$500 million – the amount that this emissary is alleged to be offering the American presidential candidate – may be a lot, but surely not enough to risk life-long shame and possible incarceration for interfering with justice?

And there are also the risks for the people alleged to be involved on this side, especially Malaysian Official 1, if implicated. However, as we have seen, these people may be terribly sly, but certainly, given the ongoing excuses and counter-arguments that they offer, could just be dumb and desperate enough to attempt such a caper.

More delusional that we suspected

If so, then they really are more delusional than we have so far suspected.It is one thing to voice a moronic idea in Malaysia and in our servile mainstream media in support of your keeper; it’s quite another to try to sell that idea to a different, non-Malaysian crowd, particularly an American crowd and media that comparatively are politically freer, more varied and critical.

After all, it’s the American newspaper, the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) that’s been publishing one expose after another surrounding 1MDB and money-laundering allegedly sanctioned by Malaysian Official 1.

Hence, we can imagine their journalists being on their toes, waiting to pounce on the very same people who for months (or is it years?) have been telling the folks in Malaysian kampungs that they will sue this foreign newspaper, yet have done nothing.

And we can imagine the FBI as well, particularly the many who have been on this money laundering case, itching to lay their hands on the perpetrators of these crimes and actually doing so if this emissary (and possibly others) were to attempt to `buy up’ the US justice system.

Miss Salena Gomez

This is not to say that the American system is flawless, which it is not. It is simply to say that with the limelight being on Malaysian Official 1 and his lackeys, it would be best for any emissary, no matter how slimy, to sit this one out.

Indeed, perhaps it would be best to leave it to new friends in PAS to sembahyang hajat for Malaysian Official 1 just as earnestly as they plan to sembahyang hajat to save us from the alleged sexiness of Selena Gomez (above).

 

BERSIH 5.0– It’s about restoring Malay Dignity


July 27, 2016

BERSIH 5.0– It’s about restoring Malay Dignity

by S. Thayaparan

http://www.malaysiakini.com

“Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”–– John F Kennedy, remarks on the first anniversary of the Alliance for Progress,  March 13, 1962.

COMMENT:  My non-Malay friends, those disinterested in the state of the country but claim to vote opposition, tell me that the important thing for non-Malays to do is to work the system and most importantly, profit from it.

Malaysia, they say, is a great country to live in – stable, sheltered from natural disasters – so what if the government is corrupt? It is like this everywhere, they say.

UMNOo, meanwhile, does it best with its outsourced thugs to push a hegemonic and racist agenda to maintain a ‘social contract’ that has brought stability and wealth to a specific middle class, while subjugating the majority of the Malay polity into subservience to UMNO through Islam.

Nowhere is apathy embraced as a legitimate lifestyle choice and as a means to deflect from issues beyond pecuniary self-interest.

Malays friends of mine – former diplomats, civil servants and military officers – bemoan the fact that “Malay” leadership has devolved into a quagmire of corruption and racism, our public institutions the public face of “Malay superiority” and safety nets for a “Malay” subclass, there to prop up a corrupt regime.

In my piece urging the resignation of Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak – with apologies to the inspector-general of police (IGP) for my perceived wanton law-breaking – I acknowledged that resignation is the last thing this Umno potentate would consider. Why would he?

Regional media reported that it was business as usual for Najib, a day after the US Department of Justice (DOJ) made its announcement to seize US$1 billion in assets bought with ‘stolen money’ from 1MDB – “The message was clear: the premier is focused on matters at home, especially the economy, as he seeks to preserve support among his ruling party’s base of ethnic Malays, many of them in rural areas. One of his pit stops on Thursday was a speech to employees of a government agency that is tasked with helping thousands of smallholder farmers.”

The IGP also reminded Malaysians that any form of popular dissent would be sanctioned because “We will not allow it because there is a way to ask the prime minister to step down as stipulated in the law,” even though as Bersih chairperson Maria Chin Abdullah points out, no rally has been confirmed, only mooted.

The IGP’s pre-emptive strike on democratic ideals would be much appreciated in the Erdogan regime. I hear security personnel are in short supply in Turkey now, so perhaps it would be a good time for “lawatan sambil belajar” (study tour) for the IGP.

Maria Chin Abdullah has confirmed that a rally is on the cards, and former Prime minister and  Najib refusenik in Chief Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who has also mooted the idea of popular dissent through street demonstration, added rather impishly, “Malaysians are timid. In other countries, millions take to the streets. Malaysians are very nice, we don’t normally hold such (protests).”

The mother of all street parties

The Bersih chief said: “More important to me would be the objective of the rally and not the venue.” In this piece, I humbly propose my objective of the rally, if given the green light.

Of the last Bersih rally, I wrote, “The dangerous idea of the Bersih rallies is that each time it is held, more diversity is introduced into our public spaces. The dangerous idea that large groups of people of different races, political and racial ideologies are congregating with a specific goal of demonstrating their discontent of the UMNO status quo.”

Diversity should be reflected in the various ‘Malay’ rights groups, political parties and oppositional Malay politicians or personalities sympathetic to whatever strain of oppositional politics they think best serves their communities interests, coming together against corruption.

Let me be very clear, I am not advocating that non-Malays discard their obligation to democracy by not attending this rally but rather that the focus of this rally should be on the Malay community and non-Malay solidarity in fighting corruption, and as rights group Hakam President Ambiga Sreenevasan clearly articulates, “It is not just Najib  who is guilty of what is going on in Malaysia, it is the entire cabinet. All those ministers who are saying nothing, it is a sin of omission.”

Simplistically this is the time for that crew-cut Malay thug screaming about special rights to make an alliance with that long-haired liberal university student and say: “You know, we have completely different ideas about what it means to be Malay, but that Prime Minster of ours is really corrupt and although they say our economic numbers may go up, our community is really suffering. Maybe we should do something about that.” (I actually witnessed this at a home of a close Malay friend. Those were not the exact words but the intent is the same).

Defending Malay ‘maruah’ (honour/dignity)

In fact, this Fredrick Douglas quote should be translated to Malay and passed around.

“Those who profess to favour freedom and yet depreciate agitation, are people who want crops without ploughing the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning; they want the ocean without the roar of its many waters. The struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, or it may be both. But it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”

Malays should take heed of what Johor Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar said, “If there are some of you who wish to be an Arab and practise Arab culture, and do not wish to follow our Malay customs and traditions, that is up to you. I also welcome you to live in Saudi Arabia,” but most importantly “…I believe there are Malays who are proud of the Malay culture. At least I am real and not a hypocrite…”

This rally should be, for lack of a better phrase, be about ‘Malay’ pride – ‘maruah’ – and how UMNO has systematically destroyed it. In addition, this message should be delivered loudly and clearly, by a decisive majority of Malay participants made even more ‘Malaysian’ by non-Malay participants.

What the opposition and people who support the opposition have to realise is that there are diverse Malay groups out there with very different ideas about the concept of race and religion that in some cases are anathema to supposed oppositional ideas, but who want Najib to resign because he is allegedly corrupt.

Now I realise some folks will have a problem with what I have written but this is for my Malay comrades, their fears and aspirations. I have said it and the ball is in their court.

In this case, the messenger is as important as the message.

 

 

Hell, Heaven, Potentates, Priests and Politicians and the Business of Religion–Coping with Uncertainty


July 28, 2016

Hell, Heaven, Potentates, Priests and Politicians and the Business of Religion–Coping with Uncertainty

by  Dr. Lim Teck Ghee

[R]eligion has an “autoimmune disease”, a critical flaw … that leads to its misuse…. The disease’s two main symptoms are “God intoxication”… and “God manipulation”.

From ‘Religion’ , Brook Wilensky-Lansford’s review of “Putting God Second: How to Save Religion from Itself”, The New York Times Book Review, July 17, 2016, p. 26.

The only constant is change. It’s the most basic fact of human existence. Nothing lasts, nothing stays the same. We feel it with each breath.

From birth to the unknown moment of our passing, we ride a river of change. And yet, in spite of all evidence to the contrary, we exhaust ourselves in an endless search for solidity. We hunger for something that lasts, some idea or principle that rises above time and change. We hunger for certainty. That is a big problem.–Adam Frank

http://www.npr.org/sections/13.7/2012/05/15/152745489/the-liberating-embrace-of-uncertainty

Malaysians watching with bewilderment and dismay as politicians, ulamas, and evangelists expound the superiority of their religion and promise milk, honey and paradise for their followers, and the fires of hell for those who do not belong, shouldn’t be surprised. The antics of these fire and brimstone practitioners follow a well trodden pattern going back hundreds if not thousands of years.

Any basic course on religion run not by graduates from religious institutions but by reputable scholars would teach about the history of the estimated 6,000 religions of the world, the differences, commonalities and patterns, and associations with cultural and ecological features, especially political.

Using scientific evidence, logic and rationality, such courses can help put into proper perspective the so-called universal truths and answers peddled by the religious books and scriptures of the literate Abrahamic religions, as well as the other absolutist claims made by them.

My design of a course on “Comparative Religion 101” will begin by pointing out that the idea of an ultimate creator responsible for all living things on earth, including man, is one common to many of the established religions found in the different parts of the world. It would also make the argument that the origin and spread of religion is inextricably connected with the quest for authority, power and followers.

The search for a supreme maker goes very far back in history. We do not have a precise dating for it. However, some idea of how far back it goes can be obtained if we look at the history of evolution.

Irrefutable scientific evidence has shown that the physical and behavioral features shared by all people originated from ape-like ancestors and that these evolved over a period of 6 million years. The ability to walk upright evolved over 4 million years ago.

Other important human characteristics such as a complex brain, ability to use tools and capacity for language have developed more recently. More advanced traits such as complex symbolic expression, art, cultural diversity, etc. emerged over 100,000 years ago. With this emergence came ideas and beliefs of hell, heaven and the worship of gods, goddesses, spirits, deities and other man-created objects or points of veneration to facilitate the ascent to a better existence after death.

What Happens After Life’s End?

Questions and answers about where we come from and where we go after the end of life on earth have been voiced in all kinds of ways without any resolution. Archaeological evidence suggests that early man such as the Neanderthals who can be dated to over 50,000 years ago had some sort of preoccupation with death. They were self-conscious beings and were likely to have an awareness of death and the meaning and implications of death. Such consciousness has continued unabated and unresolved with modern man; it will remain unresolved until all humans die off – whenever that may come about.

Most if not all religions have been especially concerned with man’s destiny after death. They probably began with some notion of an Underworld as an abode for the dead. Evidence from ancient burial sites and rituals also indicates concern with ensuring that the spirits of the dead were appropriately sent off or they would not rest peacefully which explains the presence of priests and other before and after-death guides and experts.

A parallel role in society was performed by soothsayers, seers, oracles and diviners who were seen as able to foresee the future by magical and other means. The roles of priests and diviners and oracles were often integrated in the ancient religions. Predicting the near and distant future as well as promising some form of paradise after death proved a lucrative and privileged undertaking for those who belonged to these occupations.

From its earliest too, priestly and equivalent personages have exploited man’s sense of insecurity and fear of the supernatural and made it their powerful ideological tool. This modus operandi served the needs of its founders and prophets who could then impose on their tribes their understanding of ‘truth’, ‘hell’, ‘heaven’, ‘light’, ‘darkness’, and ‘paradise’ and their solutions to human anxieties.

These ‘holy men’ can be considered to be among the world’s first politicians. They still are. Women priests have been relatively sparse in history except in matrilineal societies. Perhaps if they had become dominant, it could have made a difference to the history of the world.

Mountains rise, mountains fall: change is constant.

Yuri Cortez/AFP/Getty Images

Above the witch doctors, shaman, priests and similar personages holding positions in the little or great religions of the world have been the chiefs, lords, emperors, sultans, caliphs, sovereigns and other similar potentates standing at the highest rung of their society. Whether it is with pre-Homeric Greek religion, Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam, the religious systems of the world can be seen not only as providing explanations for our earthly existence. They also provided strategies for managing the distribution of political and socio-economic power.

Today, despite the advancement of science and knowledge, the gullibility of the believers of religion continues as also its exploitation by the leaders and charlatans of religion.

In the past primitive societies were petrified and mystified by natural phenomenon such as thunder, lightning, floods and earthquakes. Modern science has demystified these phenomena and enabled us to conquer our fears about this aspect of the unknown.

In contrast to the fear of unknown nature, some primitive societies were relatively stoic about death. Hunter gatherer societies such as the Hazda, for example, have no particular belief in an afterlife, and the death of an individual means a straightforward end to their existence.

It is paradoxical that such societies rather than our modern ones seem to come closest to the current scientific position regarding the mind–body dichotomy which sees consciousness as derived from and/or is reducible to physical phenomena such as neuronal activity occurring in the brain. The implication of this premise is that once the brain stops functioning at brain death, consciousness ceases to exist.

Dr. Lim Teck Ghee

Acceptance of a straightforward end to life – that humans, on death, simply become part of the earth, sea or river that we evolved from without any further afterlife – would, however, run against the world wide industry that is organized religion, and the political and religious elites who exploit and benefit from it.

En core–Ambassador Malott’s Article on DOJ’s Move on 1MDB


July 26, 2016

En core–Ambassador Malott’s Article on DOJ’s Move on 1MDB

http://www.malaysiakini.com

Ambassador John R. Malott (center) and Friends in Hanover. Va.

Some people were surprised when I said that the US government’s seizure of assets – condos, mansions, hotels, and art work – all of which were purchased with money stolen from 1MDB and the Malaysian people – was only the beginning.

It’s true. There’s lots more to come. There will be criminal indictments coming, most likely including Riza Aziz and Jho Low, who both are very closely connected to Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak.

There will be a mention in a future criminal prosecution of an “unindicted co-conspirator,” who now is widely known as ‘Malaysian Official 1’. When he no longer is in office, he will be indicted in the US.

Here are some thoughts about what happens next on the US side. The US government already has seized these assets, or asked other governments, such as Switzerland and the UK, to seize them.

Riza Aziz–His Days are numbered

So now Najib’s stepson Riza and his close adviser Jho Low cannot sell anything or try to get their money out of the US or other countries. They have been blocked.

Under US law, the next step is for Riza, Jho Low, and others to try and prove in a court of law that the assets that were seized from them truly were purchased with their own money – and not from funds stolen from 1MDB.

Of course, they cannot prove that. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) filing was meticulous, thorough, and totally professional. The evidence is all there. It even includes the transcripts of wiretapped phone calls of a panicked Jho Low talking to his bankers.

Thanks to the FBI and DOJ, it is so clear. We know where the money came from. It was stolen from the Malaysian people, through 1MDB.

Your money, not ours

As US Attorney-General Loretta Lynch and the others pointed out many times, the money was stolen from the people of Malaysia. The assets belong to them.

So the US government will hold all of the seized assets – the real estate, the paintings, the rights to ‘Wolf of Wall Street’, etc – in trust on behalf of the people of Malaysia, from whom the money was stolen.

The assets will not belong to the US government. (How ironic that the US attorney-general seems to care more about this thievery than the Malaysian Attorney-General does…)

In the meantime, the US government will rent out Riza’s condo in New York and his Beverly Hills house. It will take over the management of the hotels in New York and Beverly Hills that were purchased by Jho Low with the stolen money. The US government will collect the profits from all future sales of the DVDs and TV rights of ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’. The Monet and Van Gogh paintings will go on exhibition somewhere, so everyone can enjoy. And so on.

And all of the profit that is earned will be held in trust by the US government on behalf of the Malaysian people. It is your money, not ours.

What about Rosmah’s son, Riza?

Young Riza will soon be homeless. The US government has seized his homes.In order to save itself and the films it has in production (including a new film about George Washington, starring Leonardo DiCaprio), I predict that Red Granite Pictures will get rid of Riza.

So Riza will be jobless, too. When the US government files criminal charges against Riza (and I am sure they will), they will ask the court to seize his passport so he cannot leave the US.

The Malaysian Embassy in Washington (pic above) may try to defraud the US government and issue a new passport to Riza, with a new number, so he can leave the country. At that point, we will see how efficient the US government is at catching this.

If the Malaysian government asks for the seized assets to be transferred back to them, the US government will do so.

But will Najib do that? No. If Najib asks for the money back, it means that he is admitting that the money was stolen from the development fund that he headed, that the stolen money went to his stepson and his “adviser” Jho Low, and that he has been lying about this to the Malaysian people for years.

So, of course he will never do that. Asking for the money back will have to wait for a future Prime Minister.

And why would Najib want to ask “for the money back,” when he and his family and cronies already have it – or have spent it?

An international pariah

From an international viewpoint, this is the end of Najib. He is an international pariah. The world now thinks he is a crook. He is a fraud. The world will want nothing to do with him. He will not be welcomed anywhere. When he speaks to the United Nations General Assembly next fall, there will be only 30 or so people in the room, mostly Malaysians. Other leaders will be embarrassed to be seen with him, to shake his hand, to be photographed with him.

As for Rosmah, her credit at Hermes and Tiffany’s and elsewhere is now cut off. Those luxury stores now know the money was not hers. It was stolen from the Malaysian people. They do not want to be complicit in international money-laundering. They have their own reputations to protect.

That is how the world will react. But how will the Malaysian people react? Will Najib get away with this, back in Malaysia? I fear that the answer is yes. If so, it means that Malaysia is now in Mugabe-Land.

The Inspector-General of police (IGP) says that the US government never asked for cooperation from the Malaysian government in their investigation. Yet both the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) and the FBI have said that they cooperated with each other in this investigation. The IGP knows the truth, so why did he say otherwise? Why did he lie?

The Malaysian A-G says that this is all speculation and innuendo, and that there is no proof of the US government’s charges. Yet the US government has issued a very thorough, professional, and detailed 136-page filing of evidence with the court. It is there for the AG to read. Instead, why did he choose to insult the integrity of the US government? Why did he lie?

As long as Malaysia’s IGP and A-G continue to deny the truth in the face of the overwhelming facts, we know where this is going.How ironic it is, that is the US government – the FBI and the US attorney general – who are doing the job that the IGP and Malaysian A-G should be doing.

As US A-G Lynch said, this is the Malaysian people’s money. It is not America’s.We want to give it back to you.

Public Intellectual Kassim Ahmad tells disgraced Najib Razak to resign


July 26, 2015

Public Intellectual Kassim Ahmad tells disgraced Najib Razak to resign

by Kassim Ahmad

After the indirection mention of his name with two others related to him by the United States Department of Justice two days ago, it is best that Prime Minister Najib resigns. There can be no use whatsoever for him to continue to hold office, seeing the financial scandals that have surfaced involving him and his cronies. He should own up and ask for forgiveness from the Malaysian people. The Malaysia people are known for their magnanimous treatment of repentant wrongdoers.

The UMNO supreme council should call into session an extraordinary UMNO general assembly which will accept his resignation and recommends the calling of the 14th general elections. Our Parliament should convene and call for the General Election.

An UMNO general assembly should also elect new delegates and a new supreme council. This new general assembly should pass a resolution to root out corruption completely from the party and the government. If Singapore can do it, why cannot we?  A system of cadre-and-leader training must be instituted to bring about a zero corruption system by giving rise to principled politicians. Our people must not and should not accept less than that. We should base ourselves on the shining example of Prophet Muhammad, the leader who wrought an exemplary vessel of statecraft

Our Federal Constitution should be changed to reflect a just system of governance, as ordered by God in the Quran. This would better suit our constitutional stipulation that “Islam is the religion of the Federation.” With due respect to the famous jurists of the Reid Commission which drafted our constitution, they seemed unaware of the Prophet’s seminal constitutional document, known as the Medina Charter, the first written constitution in the world.[1]

It should be noted that the Medina Charter assigns the autonomous administration of religions to their respective its adherents, thus at one stroke of the pen eliminates religious conflicts. The state does not concern itself with religion.

Kassim Ahmad–The Rebel  and Fellow Kedahan I admire and disagree from time to time–Din Merican

Government, as are other affairs,  is carried out through consultation by the community. This is far more satisfactory than the Western concept of checks and balances. It is strange that the two hand that God gave us is made to fight one another! Why can they cooperate to enjoin good and prevent evil? More over this checks-and-balances theory has not been able to prevent the rise of colonialism and the creation of the Zionist State of Israel, a clear illegal and unjust occupation of Arab Palestine.