The Economist on Malaysia


March 6, 2016

The Economist on Malaysia

Malaysia’s Prime Minister

The Najib effect

Not only Malaysians should be worried about rotten politics and a divisive Prime Minister

March 5, 2016 | From the print edition

ONE of South-East Asia’s richest and hitherto most stable countries, Malaysia ought to be a beacon. Its constitution is liberal, and its brand of Islam generally tolerant. Its diverse, English-speaking population, combining ethnic Malays, Chinese and Indians, gives it zest and vim. Yet under the prime minister, Najib Razak, the country is regressing at alarming speed. Its politics stinks (see article), its economy is in trouble, and there are worrying signs that the government is not above stirring up ethnic and religious divisions.

For the past year allegations of corruption have swirled around Mr Najib. They centre around hundreds of millions of dollars that made their way into his bank accounts before the most recent general election, in 2013 (see article). Investigators are looking into whether the money is linked to a troubled state investment firm, 1MDB, whose advisory board Mr Najib chairs. He denies wrongdoing. His attorney-general has ruled that the money was a legal donation from an unnamed Saudi Royal, and that much of it has been returned.

For Malaysians, the precise nature of what happened is not the main point. Mr Najib presented himself as a liberal out to remake the sleazy system of money politics by which the ruling United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) has held power since independence. He was to open up a crony economy. And he was to do away with repressive colonial-era laws, such as that for sedition.

Now Mr Najib’s credibility is in tatters. Facing inquiries around 1MDB, he has engineered the retirement of a pesky police chief, replaced an attorney-general and promoted members of an inquisitive parliamentary committee into the cabinet, where they can do less harm. Far from loosening colonial laws, the government is wielding the sedition law with new zeal. It is blocking news websites and hounding opponents (the opposition leader, Anwar Ibrahim, is in prison on charges of sodomy). Even yellow T-shirts have been outlawed since citizens protesting against corruption took to wearing them. The more Mr Najib cracks down, the more he alienates those who were once inclined to support him.

Foreign investors and others should be worried. The government is floundering in its responses to a sharp slowdown in the economy and to a falling currency. Cheap oil has hurt Malaysia, but its wretched politics will hold it back more in the long run. The government is now using dog-whistle politics to appeal to its ethnic-Malay, Muslim base, and is refusing to distance itself sufficiently from Islamists seeking the introduction of harsh sharia punishments.

Pro-government bigots in the street have told ethnic-Chinese Malaysians to “go back to China”. This is dangerous. Malaysia has seen race riots before, and could see them again. Nearby Singapore, with its different mix of the same ethnic groups, should also be alarmed.

Malaysia’s problems run deep. UMNO is out of ideas and seems incapable of rejuvenating itself. The fractured, rudderless opposition does not have the winning combination to overcome UMNO’s gerrymandering and harassment. And the next election is anyway still two years away. Restoring confidence will be tricky. But for as long as Malaysia is governed in the style of Mr Najib, ordinary Malaysians will suffer and their country will be deprived of the standing that it surely deserves in the world.

From the print edition: Leaders

Malaysia’s scandals

The art of survival

As Najib Razak digs in, disillusion among Malaysians grows

March 5, 2016 | KUALA LUMPUR | From the print edition

 ONLY standing room is left at the civic hall in Petaling Jaya in the western suburbs of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s capital. Inside 1,000-odd middle-class Malaysians have gathered to consider the fallout from a corruption scandal that has buffeted the country since July. “The whole world is laughing at us,” says a retiree watching from the back rows.

At the heart of the scandal are hundreds of millions of dollars that for unclear reasons entered bank accounts belonging to the prime minister, Najib Razak (see article). You might think such a revelation would unseat Mr Najib and spell ruin for his United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), which has held power since independence. Instead, Mr Najib appears to have strengthened his grip, by purging critics within the cabinet and police. On February 29th the grand old man of Malaysian politics, Mahathir Mohamad, stormed out of the party in disgust. Dr Mahathir was Prime Minister for 22 years until 2003 and was once a fan of Mr Najib. No more.

Across the country, dissidents are feeling nervous. Last year at least 15 people, mostly dissenters in politics and civil society, were charged under a noxious colonial-era sedition law that Mr Najib had once promised to repeal. In late February authorities blocked one of Malaysia’s most popular news websites hours after it reported that not all Malaysia’s graft-busters are convinced that the Prime Minister has committed no crime. A new anti-terror law entitles the Prime Minister to nominate broad “security zones” in which police powers may be extended—a handy tool for crushing protests, critics say. The Attorney-General is mulling stiffer sentences, including caning, for people who leak government secrets.

It has all appalled many urban and professional Malaysians. It has also made stars of the government’s most vocal critics. At the forum in Petaling Jaya, fans seeking selfies crowd around Tony Pua, an opposition MP whom police have banned from leaving the country; at dinner afterwards people at neighbouring tables insist on paying for his meal.

Malaysia is “essentially two countries”, says Ben Suffian, a pollster. Outrage is widespread in the cities, with growing numbers of young, liberal ethnic-Malays as well as most of the ethnic-Chinese and ethnic-Indian minorities who make up about a third the population. It is rarer in UMNO’s rural heartlands, where apathy is rife and where the party is trusted to defend racial laws designed to give the ethnic-Malay majority a leg-up.

Over the decades this rural voter base has helped keep UMNO in power. Indeed party leaders have been more concerned to protect themselves from challenges from within UMNO. Loyalty is prized over ability, while patronage and convoluted party rules discourage upstarts. Mr Najib has been playing the system more ruthlessly than many imagined. Recent sackings of subordinates have sent a signal about who is boss.

It is surely a relief to UMNO that Malaysia’s opposition has mostly bungled its chance to make hay from the affair. It had formed a loose coalition of three parties, reliant on an unlikely peace between two of them, a secular ethnic-Chinese outfit and a devout Malay-Muslim one. The opposition won the popular vote in a general election in 2013 but fell short of the number of seats required to take power because of gerrymandered constituencies. Yet rather than regroup and build momentum for the election that is due by 2018, it has been consumed by bickering. When tens of thousands of Malaysians rallied last August to demand Mr Najib’s resignation, they did so not under the banner of any political party but at the request of Bersih, an unaligned group that has long campaigned for clean politics and electoral reform.

Rock solid, or rocky?

Some people assert that Mr Najib’s hold may be shakier than it appears. Even in the countryside, worries about the economy have made the Prime Minister unpopular. Low oil prices have damaged Petronas, the state oil firm, slashing the amount of money the government can pour into development projects. A new sales tax has increased prices for many everyday items, while a slump in Malaysia’s currency, the ringgit, which has fallen by more than a fifth in the past 18 months, has put many imports out of reach. It all helps make some poorer Malays more susceptible to populists painting ethnic-Chinese and ethnic-Indian Malaysians as rent-seeking interlopers. But a new suspicion is growing among ordinary Malaysians that goings-on in Kuala Lumpur are affecting their own pocket books.

As for the party, rivals whom Mr Najib has vanquished may yet bounce back. Dr Mahathir, who has long called for Mr Najib to step down, is scheduled to attend an unusual forum of grandees and politicos from across the political spectrum who are meeting in private later this month to discuss alternatives to Mr Najib. Wan Saiful Wan Jan, of the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs in Kuala Lumpur, says that some UMNO bigwigs are backing the prime minister through gritted teeth. He says that a time may come when they say that enough is enough, especially when the party starts considering its strategy for the next election. Perhaps Mr Najib may risk calling a snap election before then, both to pre-empt conspiracy and to catch out the opposition before it can patch up its differences.

For Malaysia’s rattled liberals, all this seems theoretical. Last year they watched plans evaporate for a parliamentary vote of no-confidence. They are doubtful that the current corruption scandal will ever unseat Mr Najib.

Back at the civic hall in Petaling Jaya, the mood darkens as the evening wears on. Microphones passed around the floor reveal frustration and anger. One person insists that the opposition draw up a list of government officials who should face trial if the opposition takes power. A second, shaking with rage, frets that the opposition has “no chance” of winning the next poll. This is no time to give up hope, Ambiga Sreenevasan, a prominent lawyer, tells the crowd. Once the crisis is over, she says, “we must make sure this never happens to our country again.”

From the print edition: Asia

Malaysia’s 1MDB affair

Follow the money, if you can

Investigators in several countries are trying to get to the bottom of Malaysia’s growing corruption scandal

March 5, 2016 | KUALA LUMPUR | From the print edition

 IT WAS a striking move from a country better known for hiding iffy foreign wealth than for exposing it. Frustrated by a lack of co-operation from Malaysian counterparts, Switzerland’s attorney-general declared in late January that there were “serious indications” that $4 billion had gone astray from Malaysian state concerns, some of it into accounts held by current or former Malaysian and Middle Eastern officials. The announcement fuelled an already combustible scandal that has transfixed Malaysians, battered their prime minister, Najib Razak, and could yet ensnare banks around the world.

The allegations of misappropriation centre on a Malaysian state investment fund, from which it is suspected that large sums were siphoned by businessmen and officials with links to Mr Najib. It is thought that some of this was used to help his party win an election in 2013; some was spent on buying assets at questionable prices; and some of the remainder was moved to offshore shell companies and bank accounts. All those suspected of involvement, including Mr Najib, deny wrongdoing. None has been charged with a crime.

The affair spans the globe. Caught up in it are not only Malaysian officials and money men but also several big banks and perhaps Saudi royalty. The money trail leads from Malaysia to Singapore and elsewhere in Asia, Abu Dhabi, Switzerland, the Caribbean and New York. Authorities are investigating in Switzerland, America, Singapore, Hong Kong and the United Arab Emirates. They face a daunting challenge in piecing together such a complex case, a task made harder by operators’ widespread use of opaque offshore vehicles.

The story’s institutional protagonist is 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB). It was originally a regional development fund for Terengganu, an oil-rich Malaysian state, but in 2009 the country’s finance ministry took it over and rebranded it. Mr Najib heads the ministry, as well as being prime minister. The plan was for the fund to suck in investment through tie-ups with foreign firms. Mr Najib chairs 1MDB’s board of advisers.

1MDB got most of its financing by raising debt. A series of bond issues pushed its borrowings up to $11 billion. By 2014 questions were multiplying about its financial health, spurred by the fact that it had had three audit firms in five years. A flurry of investigations in the media drew on leaked documents. 1MDB denies wrongdoing.

Malaysian investigators concluded that deposits into a bank account held in Mr Najib’s name came through banks and companies linked to 1MDB. They found that a firm that was once part of 1MDB and is now controlled by the finance ministry, SRC International, paid $13m into the account in 2014-15. The attorney-general, Mohamed Apandi Ali, has said that there is no evidence that Mr Najib was aware of the payment. (We all overlook items on our bank statements.)

More eye-catching was an earlier payment into Mr Najib’s account, of $681m, from a shell company. This was made only weeks before the general election in 2013, which Mr Najib won narrowly. Some say it was linked to 1MDB. The official explanation is that it was a legal donation from an unnamed member of the Saudi royal family. Mr Najib has denied ever taking public money for personal gain. 1MDB says it has not paid any funds into the Prime Minister’s personal accounts.

On March 1st the Wall Street Journal reported that investigators in two countries, whom it didn’t identify, believe that more than $1 billion in total flowed into Mr Najib’s personal accounts, much of it originating from 1MDB. These investigators, it is alleged, reckon that the payments were, in part, routed through a company linked to—or made to look as if it was linked to—a venture involving 1MDB and Middle Eastern interests.

1MDB had various dealings with an Abu Dhabi-based sovereign fund called IPIC which guaranteed some of 1MDB’s bonds. The dealings included a tie-up with Aabar Investments PJS, an IPIC subsidiary. 1MDB transferred more than $1 billion to what appeared to be a division of Aabar. Yet investigations allegedly suggest the money in fact went to a firm based in the British Virgin Islands (BVI) with an almost identical name to the Abu Dhabi concern.

This transaction seems not to have been recorded on the books of Aabar’s parent, IPIC. (1MDB says it stands by its own accounts, which show the payment.) The suspicion is that financial sleight-of-hand may have been used to pass off the transfers as legitimate payments between corporate partners. Investigators believe much of this money ended up in Mr Najib’s accounts after being routed through a second company in the BVI, according to sources cited by the Wall Street Journal.

IPIC is reported to be looking into what happened to the money paid out by 1MDB but not booked as coming into the Abu Dhabi fund. Aabar denies wrongdoing.

Also in the spotlight is a joint venture between 1MDB and PetroSaudi, an oil firm. 1MDB injected $1 billion into the venture. Two-thirds of this was moved to a Seychelles-based firm shortly afterwards, according to a draft report by Malaysia’s auditor-general. 1MDB later sold its interest in the venture, using some of the $2.3 billion raised to invest in a Cayman-based vehicle. 1MDB then reportedly sacked its auditor, KPMG, after the firm expressed concern over the identity and financial standing of the vehicle’s owners. 1MDB asserts that all the Cayman money is accounted for. PetroSaudi has denied doing anything wrong.

Investigators are also looking into who drove 1MDB’s complex transactions. Assuming it is genuine, correspondence obtained by Sarawak Report, an investigative website, appears to show that a key figure in the fund’s dealings with PetroSaudi was a Malaysian financier, Low Taek Jho, a family friend of Mr Najib. Mr Low reportedly also helped direct some election spending for Mr Najib’s ruling coalition, Barisan Nasional. 1MDB and Mr Low have insisted he merely advised the fund, unpaid. He denies wrongdoing.

Banks, too, face awkward questions. Several global banks handled large payments that are under scrutiny, among them arms of JPMorgan Chase and Royal Bank of Scotland. One question is whether there were grounds for the banks to suspect that any of the transactions were questionable—or whether especially rigorous checks on public officials and other “politically exposed persons”, or PEPs, were called for and carried out.

The role played by Goldman Sachs is also notable. The investment bank led 1MDB’s main bond issues, earning unusually high fees on them (Goldman has said this is because it temporarily held the risk on its own balance-sheet). Goldman’s chairman for South-East Asia, Tim Leissner, grew close to Malaysia’s elite. Last year Goldman put him on leave and now says he has left the firm.

Mr Najib’s response to the scandal has been to swipe at his critics. Muhyiddin Yassin, a Deputy Prime Minister who wanted investigations stepped up, was sacked from the cabinet last year, and the Attorney-General was replaced—supposedly on health grounds, though Sarawak Report has published documents appearing to show that charges were about to be brought against Mr Najib.

On February 27 Mr Muhyiddin called for the Prime Minister to resign, saying the outgoing Attorney-General had shown him “proof” that Mr Najib acted criminally in connection with 1MDB. The government said this was part of a “politically motivated conspiracy” to topple Mr Najib.

The new Attorney-General, Mr Apandi, has moved swiftly to exonerate Mr Najib, closing a probe into the $681m “donation” and asserting that it had nothing to do with 1MDB. The government says that most of the money was sent back to the donor after the election. Why, some ask, was so much of the payment returned if it was legal?

Not all Malaysia’s institutions have been supine. Last year the central bank urged the attorney-general to begin a criminal prosecution of 1MDB managers after concluding that the fund had moved $1.8 billion overseas based on inaccurate disclosures. This money was supposed to go to the PetroSaudi joint venture and related loans. Instead, much of it went elsewhere and is unaccounted for, according to the auditor-general’s draft report. (The final report was supposed to be released last December, but has twice been delayed.) The central bank requested a review of the finding by Mr Apandi that 1MDB did not commit any offences. This was rejected.

Malaysia’s anti-corruption commission, an independent agency, investigated the payments into Mr Najib’s account and handed its findings to Mr Apandi late last year. He returned them to the commission in January, requesting more information. The commission has denied reports, based on unauthorised briefings, that it recommended charging Mr Najib.

It was the haste with which Mr Apandi ruled out criminality that prompted the sharper tone from the Swiss authorities, who are investigating suspected bribery, corruption, misconduct in public office and money-laundering linked to 1MDB. They appear to be unimpressed with the blanket exoneration, though they say Mr Najib is not a suspect.

Through a brass plate, darkly

Singapore is also investigating suspected money-laundering and says it has frozen a “large number” of bank accounts. The case is a test of the city-state’s resolve in dealing with financial crime. Like Hong Kong, it has seen big inflows of wealth in recent years, including money of dubious provenance from Switzerland.

But the sleuths face many hurdles. The corporate secrecy offered by offshore centres makes the task of penetrating structures used to move money slow and difficult. The OECD and others have begun to try to lift this shroud, but transparency reforms are at an early stage.

Then there is the complex and clunky international system of “mutual legal assistance”, or MLA, under which countries ask each other for help in investigations. Piecing together the jigsaw is all the harder if the country at the centre of the probe is unhelpful. Malaysia has said it will assist the Swiss, but that looks unlikely. Indeed, it is using blocking tactics, for instance by telling Switzerland to file its MLA request through Malaysia’s foreign ministry. That is unusual: such requests would more typically go through the justice ministry, which is viewed abroad as less political.

Malaysian officials reacted angrily to Switzerland’s announcement about misappropriation, accusing it of spreading “misinformation”. When the Swiss and Malaysian attorneys-general met last year, the Malaysians are believed to have said they would arrange for those caught up in the affair to provide testimony in depositions, but this has not happened. Without Malaysian help, it will be hard for foreign sleuths to complete their probes. For now, though, they seem determined to keep digging, causing anxiety in the Malaysian capital, parts of the Middle East, and some of the world’s largest financial centres.

From the print edition: Asia

 

The U.S.-Malaysia Security Connection


February 25, 2016

 Number 335 | February 24, 2016

ANALYSIS

 The U.S.-Malaysia Security Connection

By Marvin Ott and Derek Maseloff

President Obama’s invitation to ASEAN leaders to join him in California was the latest initiative in a strategic contest between the U.S. and China to shape the future of Southeast Asia. That contest has political and economic elements but it includes an important–even core–security dimension. Defense/security ties between the U.S. and Southeast Asian states run the gamut from minimal (Laos) to intimate (Singapore) to full treaty alliance (Philippines).

These relationships have also been remarkably dynamic as U.S.-Vietnamese ties wax and those with Thailand wane. Burma/Myanmar has moved from distant and hostile toward a potential, but still uncertain, strategic entente. In all this protean complexity Malaysia stands out as particularly intriguing.

Malaya–and then Malaysia–gained independence via amicable negotiations with its former colonial overlord, Great Britain. The U.S. was a friendly, but marginal factor in Malaysia’s security equation during the first two decades of independence. The advent of the Mahathir era (1981-2003) brought a new and paradoxical tone to U.S.-Malaysia relations.

Mahathir, animated by a idiosyncratic anti-colonial zeal, seemed to go out of his way to irritate Washington with invective that portrayed America as at once arrogant, a bully, and, if not anti-Muslim, something very close to it. Yet while flagellating U.S. diplomats and political leaders he allowed security relations (defense and intelligence) with Washington to grow and prosper. The same was true when it came to U.S. corporate (particularly technology) investments in Malaysia.

The force of Mahathir’s personality and the length of his tenure left a durable imprint on Malaysian perceptions of America which were reinforced by the post-9/11 invasions of two Muslim countries, Afghanistan and Iraq. The easy cordiality between Kuala Lumpur and Washington of the first two decades was replaced by a steady diet of public rancor. From a strategic perspective, Mahathir’s anti-American posturing came without serious cost because Malaysia faced no critical security threats for the three decades following the Vietnam War.

A different, almost mirror image, played out in Malaysia-China relations. During the early years of Malaysian independence China was seen as a mortal threat given Maoist support for the Malaysian communist insurgency of the 1950s and early 1960s and for Sukarno’s attempt to dismember Malaysia (1963-5). But by the 1980s Deng Xiaoping had set China on a course of normal state-to-state relations and rapid economic development. China, for Mahathir, had the additional virtue of being Asian and not America

The Malaysia that Mahathir bequeathed with his retirement, and that Najib Razak inherited upon becoming Prime Minister a few years later (2009), was overtly friendly toward China and equally overtly suspicious of the U.S. Malaysia took considerable pride in having been the first ASEAN government to normalize diplomatic relations with China in 1974. That agreement is particularly resonate because it was negotiated by the current Prime Minister’s father.

But by 2009 the strategic landscape in Southeast Asia was changing rapidly and profoundly. The dramatic growth in China’s maritime military power coupled with Beijing’s undisguised territorial ambitions in the South China Sea rendered Kuala Lumpur’s security orientation increasingly out of sync with reality. China’s determination to enforce the 9-Dash line as a sovereign boundary meant that Malaysia would–if China’s view prevailed–have to give up its own extensive maritime claims.

It was hard to have any doubt on this point when Chinese naval and paramilitary flotillas began making regular appearances at James Shoal in the extreme south of the South China Sea–where they removed Malaysian markers and challenged the right of offshore oil rigs there to operate without Beijing’s approval.

All this is within 50 miles of the Malaysian coast and well within Malaysia’s Exclusive Economic Zone . About a third of the Malaysian government’s annual revenue derives from the oil and gas sector–much of it within the EEZ. In July 2014 an oil consortium announced the discovery of a major natural gas field 90 miles off the coast of Sarawak.

The Najib government has responded with a classic hedging strategy. China is Malaysia’s largest trading partner and Kuala Lumpur has gone out of its way to celebrate a “special relationship” with Beijing. Malaysia has carefully avoided public criticism or confrontation regarding China’s activities in the South China Sea. There have been no Malaysian analogs to Indonesian seizures of Chinese fishing boats or the Philippines’ legal case against China before the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea.

Kuala Lumpur has earned public praise from Xi Jinping for its “quiet diplomacy approach” and the Malaysian and Chinese militaries have engaged in a growing menu of joint exercises and consultations. But there is little doubt that Najib understands the implications of Chinese ambitions and methods. He also understands the critical importance of the U.S. as a counterweight to China.

Najib once quipped that U.S.-Malaysian defense cooperation was “an all too well-kept-secret.” No longer. During Barack Obama’s 2014 visit to Kuala Lumpur (the first by an American President since Lyndon Johnson) the two governments formally characterized their relationship as a “Comprehensive Partnership.”U.S. Navy ships visit Malaysia regularly and the two militaries maintain a demanding schedule of joint exercises–both bilateral and multilateral. They include jungle training in Malaysia with U.S. Special Forces and Malaysian participation in the largest annual U.S. multilateral exercise in Asia–Cobra Gold in Thailand.

Dozens of Malaysian Armed Forces personnel attend U.S. military educational institutions jointly funded by both governments. Credible reporting indicates that U.S. maritime surveillance aircraft are operating out of a Malaysian Air Force Base on Labuan Island on the southern edge of the South China Sea. Dozens of Malaysian armed forces personnel attend U.S. military educational institutions jointly funded by both governments.

The Malaysian Defense Minister has publicly expressed the hope that the U.S. will help train Malaysian Marines to be stationed at a new base in Sarawak. The two countries navies cooperate in counter-piracy operations in the Malacca Straits and the Gulf of Aden.

U.S. expertise and equipment have been enlisted to assist Malaysia in the long agonizing effort to discover what happened to the Malaysia Airlines flight lost over the southern Pacific. Early this month Malaysia announced a deal for 6 attack helicopters–the largest purchase of U.S. military equipment in 27 years. But perhaps the most graphic evidence of the new tone in the security relationship occurred 3 months ago when news footage showed the US. Secretary of Defense, Ash Carter, standing on the deck of a U.S. aircraft carrier underway in the South China Sea–and standing next to him with a broad smile on his face was Hishammuddin Hussein, Malaysia’s Minister of Defence.

About the Author

Marvin Ott is a Senior Scholar, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and Adjunct Professor, Johns Hopkins University. He can be contacted at marvin.ott@wilsoncenter.org. Derek Maseloff was a Research Assistant, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and a student at Cornell University. He can be contacted at djm44@cornell.edu.

The East-West Center promotes better relations and understanding among the people and nations of the United States, Asia, and the Pacific through cooperative study, research, and dialogue.

Established by the US Congress in 1960, the Center serves as a resource for information and analysis on critical issues of common concern, bringing people together to exchange views, build expertise, and develop policy options.

The Asia Pacific Bulletin (APB) series is produced by the East-West Center in Washington.

APB Series Editor: Dr. Satu Limaye, Director, East-West Center in Washington
APB Series Coordinator: Alex Forster, Project Assistant, East-West Center in Washington

The views expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of the East-West Center or any organization with which the author is affiliated.

For comments/responses on APB issues or article submissions, please contact washington@eastwestcenter.org.

kpPZSifoT9algOBZ8wikJ1rmf39PDw==” target=”_blank” shape=”rect”>East-West Center | 1601 East-West Road | Honolulu, HI | 808.944.7111

East-West Center in Washington | 1819 L Street, NW, Suite 600 | Washington, DC | 202.293.3995

The Altantuya Murder Resurfaces with a New Twist–The Game Sirul Plays


February 14, 2016

The Altantuya Murder Resurfaces with a New Twist–The Game Sirul Plays

by Amerik Sidhu

http://www.malaysiakini.com

COMMENT Former Police Commando Sirul Azhar Umar has indicated his intention to ‘expose’ the names of five personalities who have attempted to “bribe or coax” him into implicating Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak, in the murder of Mongolian national Altantuya Shaariibuu.

What manner of Man is this Prime Minister?

This anticipated revelation is to manifest in Part 4 of a series of audio-visual presentations produced and directed from an Australian detention centre situated at Villawood, New South Wales and scheduled for release in the next few days.

Permit me to take the wind out of your sails, Sirul, by guessing the names of these individuals. They are most likely none other than Pokok Sena MP Mahfuz Omar (accompanying your mother), ex-UMNO division leader Khairuddin Abu Hassan, Sarawak Report founder and editor Clare Rewcastle-Brown, former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad and your migration consultant, Robert Chelliah.

A Convicted Cold-Blooded Murderer in Skull Cap

Before I proceed further, let me say I find it incredibly incongruous for a convicted cold-blooded murderer – who has never denied shooting a poor defenceless young lady in the head twice, and blowing her body up with military grade explosives – to sit piously before a camera in a religious white skull cap and offer to the world at large, unsolicited narratives on your present position and your advice surrounding this murder.

First, let’s put the situation into perspective. You are not a celebrity. You have been captured by the Australian Immigration Authorities and incarcerated because you are a convicted criminal.

The Australians have, however, very kindly placed at your disposal the means by which you may challenge your detention under the provisions of the Australian Migration Act 1958 and the Regulations made thereunder.

You have taken advantage of these facilities by lodging with the Migration Authorities what may be described as a ‘Protection Visa’ sub-class 866. If you succeed in your application, you will be allowed to remain in Australia as a free man with permanent resident status.

You have been advised by your Australian lawyers and migration consultant that anyone applying for such a protection visa must undergo a process of character clearance under Section 501 of the Migration Act. The relevant minister must be convinced that it is safe for a person with a criminal conviction to be released into the community.

This entails the visa applicant being honest and truthful in his application. It behoves the applicant to describe in detail under what circumstances and conditions he committed the criminal offence for which he had been convicted – i.e. to attempt to reduce the gravity of the crime by way of “mea culpa”.

Extenuating circumstances

In other words, you will have to convince the minister that you are not inherently a criminal by nature, but were forced – by extenuating circumstances – to commit the offence; for example, in the course of your duties as ordered, which may have been the cause of your error of judgment at the time of committing that offence. You will also have to show genuine remorse and regret.

As you have yet to comply with any of the above criteria, your application for this visa looks as if it is doomed from the start, despite what you may have been told to the contrary.

Abdul Razak Baginda–The One Who Got Away thanks to Najib

Sirul, you have gone on record publically, at least twice, by making statements implying that you were ordered to commit this murder.The first occasion was during your trial at the Shah Alam High Court where you read out a lengthy statement from the dock after your defence was called. In this statement you categorically described yourself as a scapegoat used to protect those who were not in court.

The second occasion was when you gave an interview with Malaysiakini on February 17, 2015 in which you also categorically stated you were under orders to kill Altantuya, and that “those with motive for the murder are still free.”

You have not retracted these statements.Your Malaysian lawyers also confirmed on December 31, 2015 that you had applied for a ‘protection visa’ with the Australian authorities and if this was granted, you would be released from detention and would be free to be at large in Australia – but that the biggest stumbling block to obtaining this visa was your conviction.

Bearing in mind the criteria set in place for a visa of this nature to be granted in your circumstances (being a convicted killer), the only hope you would have is to come clean and explain why you committed this murder and under whose instructions.

Your Australian lawyers and your migration consultant have already informed you of this and have advised you to reveal the person or persons who gave you those orders, so as to assist your application for an 866 Visa.  You were about to do this until a hurriedly gathered posse of advisors from Malaysia (whose identities are available), descended on Villawood to persuade you otherwise.

A little concerned

I am reliably advised that amongst this posse were three Special Branch officers from Bukit Aman. They were in contact with a “Datuk” in Sydney who was then entrusted with the task of looking after your financial affairs and those of your son (who is still in Australia), and to identify a AU$1 million property into which you would move once your visa was granted, all to be financed by a certain party.

Your solicitor, Christopher Livingstone, barrister Matthew Golan, and migration consultant Robert Chelliah, were a little concerned that your application for the 866 Visa would stand little chance of success unless extenuating circumstances for the murder were put forth.

You appear to have ignored this advice and instead were persuaded to partake in what can only be described as a very feeble attempt to extricate yourself from your very own committed admissions of unseen hands directing the extermination of a Mongolian irritant.

You now intend to come out with the final (presumably) audio-visual presentation releasing the identities of those you accuse of trying to bribe or coax you into revealing the personality involved in issuing you with those orders to kill. One of these individuals might even be your own mother.

Let us focus on the word ‘bribe’. This would inevitably involve an exchange of currency – in one form or another – in return for a favour. I sincerely hope you disclose the precise sums offered to you by the persons you intend on fingering, because this will inevitably raise further questions in relation to the funding you have received over the past 10 years and from whom these funds came.

You previously engaged the services of two very prominent and capable criminal lawyers, Kamarul Hisham and Hasnal Rezua Merican. These barristers spent a total of 165 days in the Shah Alam High Court defending the charge brought against you. These lawyers then handled your appeal to the Court of Appeal and defended the prosecutor’s appeal to the Federal Court.

Throughout this period you were an out-of-work former Police Corporal, languishing in the Sungai Buloh penitentiary with no access to funds. Your lawyers could not have survived without payment, which would have been substantial for the amount of work involved. How did you manage to pay them?

Who funded your travel to Australia? Who is funding payment of the fees charged by your solicitor, barrister and migration consultant in Australia? Who is paying for your son’s education and living expenses in Australia?

Who funded Sirul?

And who is paying for the continued services of your Malaysian legal team for the work they are doing for you in Australia, and all their travel and accommodation expenses for the numerous trips they have made to Villawood? And who is paying your ‘Datuk butler’ in Sydney for looking after all your needs?

I am sure these are some of the questions every right-thinking Malaysian is asking.In the last audio-visual presentation you made available to the press, you had taken pains to point out that Najib was not involved in the murder you committed. You said it was a big sin for you to slander a person, that Najib was never involved and that he had no links to the case.

One wonders why you found it necessary to make this statement? I am unable to identify one single person who has gone on record directly accusing Najib of involvement in Altantuya’s murder.

Bearing in mind the fact that you, yourself, have gone on record unequivocally insinuating you were made to commit this murder – presumably against your will – and that someone ordered you to do so, this begs the question why, out of 30 million Malaysians, you have chosen to exonerate only one man?Your attempted protection of Najib has only succeeded in opening a Pandora’s Box of suspicions where none may have existed.

Considering the entire circumstances, and specifically acknowledging the fact that you have said you had absolutely no personal motive to kill Altantuya, anyone with a modicum of intelligence would have to conclude that you have been persuaded to refrain from revealing the identity of the person who ordered you to commit this murder with misguided promises of financial security in return.

These promises could only have come from one man, who obviously wields great clout and who appears to have access to vast sums. Who is this man Sirul?

Simply put, you are in a right pickle, mate. If you don’t tell the Australian Immigration authorities why you did this to Altantuya, you will not get your visa. And without your visa, you will remain in detention forever because the Australians won’t allow you to be extradited back to Malaysia as you face the death penalty there, and they don’t agree with it.

My guess is this impasse will be solved once your death sentence is commuted to one of life imprisonment, or you are granted a pardon. Only then will an application for extradition succeed and the Australians will quite happily hand you over to the Malaysian Police. Who knows, perhaps someday you will be known as ‘Datuk Sirul Azhar Umar’ even? Others have been awarded honorific titles for much less, after all.


AMERICK SIDHU (above) is the lawyer who represented the late private investigator P Balasubramaniam

Najib’s Policies on Race and Religion –Great Success as More Malaysians are emigrating


January 15, 2016

Najib’s Policies on Race and Religion –Great Success as More Malaysians are emigrating

by George Chang

http://www.themalaysianinsider.com

George is a former journalist with the print media in Malaysia, Singapore and Australia, he is now a Melbourne-based writer and media researcher.

Extremism-Featured

It’s the dawn of 2016 and at least another 10,000 Malaysians of various ethnic background can be expected to take the emotional, life-changing step to uproot and move to Australia in the course of the new year. They will join the rapidly-expanding Malaysian diaspora who are now either permanent residents or have become citizens down under.

1408148720173

Hypocritical Islamisation of Everything Under the Malaysian Sun

In the 2011 census, the number of Malaysia-born in the country was about 116,000 but the annual increase has been considerable since then. The data for June 30, 2014 put the number at approximately 154,000 – a sharp jump of about 38,000 from the last count.

The migrant flow from Malaysia to Australia has thus been more than 10,000 a year within that short period – the highest ever recorded. In comparison, the number of arrivals from Malaysia from 2006 to 2011 was about 32,000. It’s not just the Chinese and Indians but the Malays as well who have been heading south.

The 2011 census also show that among the Malaysia-born in Australia 7, 224 gave their religious affiliation as Islam. Ahmad Zaharuddin Sani, a Malaysian academic, highlighted the emerging Malay population in his research “Malay In Victoria: Past, Present and Future”.

Most have settled in the state of Victoria and a great number of them are professionals. There is also an extensive Malay network for both residents and students, and an initiative to build the first Malay mosque in Melbourne.

In spite of the current rise in resentment against Muslims among some sections of the local community, it has been envisaged that the number of Malays in Australia will continue to increase. The recent ruling by the courts in favour of allowing the building of a mosque in the township of Bendigo can be read as the triumph of the rule of law over prejudice and bigotry.

Only about 300 of the 110,000 Bendigo’s population are Muslims but the local council’s policies are non-discriminatory and it consequently approved the application for the A$3 million (RM9.3 million) mosque construction.

This was in the face of vocal opposition by various groups, including those harbouring strong ethno-religious sentiments. Appeal after appeal against the council ruling were thrown out by the courts are every stage of the legal process.

Another development that will add to the influx of Malaysians is the relaxation of residency and work requirements for foreign students once they graduate from Australian education institutions.

Canberra in a move to encourage these new graduates to stay back has introduced a Temporary Graduate Visa that enables them to work, travel and study for a further two years or more.

It’s a pretty transparent and straight-forward online application process without the necessity of having to go through an agent or third party. Of course Canberra welcomes these graduates and other professionals. The country needs new taxpayers to support its swelling aging population.

The Malaysian student population in Australia has been estimated at 30,000 and thousands of them graduate every year.If the conversation with the fresh graduates and their parents at a convocation last month is any indication, the new visa has indeed been a “hot topic” among them and many are opting to take up the offer.

Unlike in the past, these young Malaysians are no longer dissuaded by their parents who believe that “there is no future for them in Malaysia” and support them to go abroad and seek a new life.

Their pessimism stems from the country’s transformation into a less inclusive society with the structures for a democratic, fair and just society being hacked away over the years.

new-slider213-685x320

The push and pull factors have been debated long and hard yet there is no sign of a slowdown in the brain drain let alone a reversal. TalentCorp has little to show for the millions it has spent to lure Malaysian abroad home.

Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin recently tried to put a positive spin to the perennial problem saying that it need not be a “bad thing”. Citing India, he sees Malaysians overseas as assets and networks who will be of benefit to Malaysia.

I wonder why he left out mentioning neighbouring Philippines which has millions of its citizens working abroad too and many of them have been success stories in their adopted countries. How has this assisted and “added value” to the Philippines other than the billions of US dollars from remittances the 10 million Filipinos send home every year?

Manila has become reliant on these remittances and the country remains mired in poverty, incompetence and corruption under the rule of the oligarchs. Which country is Malaysia emulating – India or the Philippines?

Islamist extremists pose a threat to Asian statehood


January 15, 2016

Islamist extremists pose a threat to Asian statehood

by Victor Mallet

http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/100d78e4-b949-11e5-b151-8e15c9a029fb.html 1/13/201

 Do not forget the menace of violence and religious bigotry in the east, says Victor Mallet

jakarta-attacks_650x400_61452784815

Jakarta–Indonesia

 The first self-styled Islamic state of the postwar era was established not in the Arab world but in South Asia, in Pakistan. It was followed by Mauritania in West Africa, Iran and then Pakistan’s neighbour, Afghanistan.

 While the world frets over the spread of violent Islamist extremism through the Middle East, most recently under the banner of Isis, there is a tendency to forget the menace of violence and creeping religious bigotry among the vast Muslim populations of Asia. It is in Asia, after all, that most Muslims live.

pakistan-taliban-swear-allegiance-to-isis

 Pakistan

In Asia, as in Europe and the Middle East, Isis is a popular brand among young Islamist militants. But the puritanical and bloodthirsty Sunni ideology it represents has been extending its influence there for decades under the guidance of other groups and governments, including al-Qaeda, Saudi Arabia and a plethora of local organisations.

Many westerners — because their own troops have been fighting and dying there in the recent past — are aware of the savagery of the civil war in Afghanistan between the ultraconservative Taliban and the government in Kabul.

ansarullah-bangla-team

Bangaladesh

But how many recall that Sunni extremists in Bangladesh have in the past few months hacked to death liberal writers and attacked foreigners, police officers, Shia Muslims, Hindus and Christians? That scores of recruits from the Maldives have gone to fight for Isis in Syria? Or that Pakistani terror groups routinely slaughter the perceived enemies of Sunni puritanism at home as well as launching occasional murderous raids into neighbouring India?

Extremism-Featured

Red Shirt Malays

With Ameno wanita supporter, Isa Samad cannot afford to lose in Bagan Pinang

malamcintarasul-yusof_620_413_100

Worrying trends in Najib’s Malaysia

East Asia is not immune either. Just as south Asians once revelled in their religious diversity and syncretic Hindu-Muslim culture, so it was long argued that the brand of Islam practiced in Indonesia and its neighbours was “milder” than the harsh versions of the Gulf. Yet in recent decades we have seen terrorist bombings in Bali, Islamist separatism in the Philippines and Sumatra, the burning of churches in Java and increasing Wahhabi religiosity that runs counter to the tolerant and heterodox traditions of Islam in the east.

Analysing the role of postwar nation states and their constitutions is crucial for understanding the crisis of Islamist violence in Asia: the very name of the country is one reason why the problem is so severe in the pioneering Islamic Republic of Pakistan.

 When Muhammad Ali Jinnah separated Pakistan from the rest of India in 1947, it was to protect the Muslim minority of the Raj. He envisaged a secular, tolerant state where Christians, Hindus and others could worship freely.

When Muhammad Ali Jinnah separated Pakistan from the rest of India in 1947, it was to protect the Muslim minority of the Raj. He envisaged a secular, tolerant state where Christians, Hindus and others could worship freely.

That was not the way it turned out. Pakistan has become a place where the supposed will of the religious majority is imposed by violence. By becoming an “Islamic” republic, it by definition discriminated against non-Muslims. Non-Muslims are vilified not only in madrassas but also in government school textbooks.

screen-shot-2015-10-08-at-2-16-59-pm

Farahnaz Ispahani, a former member of the Pakistani national assembly, describes in her book, Purifying the Land of the Pure, how the non-Muslim share of the population dropped from 23 per cent at independence to 3 per cent today.

But the “drip, drip genocide” — 60,000 Pakistanis, she says, have been killed by jihadis — did not stop there. Members of the Ahmadi movement were persecuted and declared non- Muslims. Extremists then started massacring Shia. Now the targets are Sufis and other “soft” Sunnis considered insufficiently orthodox by clerics.

There is, nevertheless, a glimmer of hope that Pakistan might, one day, become a moderately open Muslim society. The army seems to have realised that violent Islamists who slaughter Pakistanis pose an existential threat to the state itself.

najib-terrorism-Islam-peace

The Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde of Malaysian Politics

Unfortunately, the generals make a specious distinction between “good” and “bad” jihadis, supporting the “good” who stage terror attacks on Pakistan’s neighbours. The four men who crossed the border and attacked the Indian air base of Pathankot this month were believed to be from a group supported by the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence agency.

 Yet, as Ispahani points out, the same people who kill Indians or Afghans in the summer will return home when the fighting season is over and murder Pakistani Shia or persecute the few remaining Hindus and Christians.

If Pakistan and other Asian nations want to survive as modern, constitutional states rather than descend into the communal violence now common in the Middle East, they will have to enforce a minimum level of religious and cultural tolerance and suppress all their extremists.

 

Strange Things are happening in Malaysia


December 27, 2015

Strange Things are happening in Malaysia –Report to Prime Minster Najib Razak on RM2.6 billion Saga

by http://www.malaysiakini.com

Arabians-Donate-Arabians-Love-Najib1

The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) will submit the findings of its investigation on former 1MDB subsidiary SRC International, and on the RM2.6 billion donation to Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak, next week.

In a statement today, MACC Special Operations Director Bahri Mohd Zin assured that the two investigations are being done freely, transparently, and professionally.

“As the Director of the Special Operations Division, I wish to inform that the investigation team has been given guidance and blessings from MACC Chief Commissioner Abu Kassim Mohamed that the team must record the recommendation regarding the investigation findings freely, whether there is a case or not.

“If there is a case, it is our responsibility to recommend for prosecution in the investigation report that will be submitted to the Attorney-General next week, and vice versa.

“MACC’s senior management is of the view that this is important to ensure that all parties would know that MACC has taken all actions professionally and freely,” he said.

TS Abu Kassim

MACC cannot reveal the name(s) of doner (s)

Bahri was responding to a blog post by former New Straits Times Press Group Editor-in-Chief Abdul Kadir Jasin, where the latter had expressed concern that Abu Kassim’s reassurances of MACC’s independence may be a ruse.

The RM2.6 billion issue first emerged in July when The Wall Street Journal reported that the money was channelled into Najib’s personal bank account close to the 13th general election.

Also channelled in Najib’s account, the report claimed, is RM42 million that supposedly originated from SRC International. Najib has since denied any wrongdoing. Meanwhile, responding to a call from Pandan MP Rafizi Ramli, Bahri reiterated that the MACC is barred by law from disclosing the identity of Najib’ donor. He said under the MACC Act 2009, the commission cannot divulge the details of its investigations until the case has been brought to court.

“MACC has no issues with disclosing details of its investigation if it does not run afoul with the law. However, the existing provisions do not allow MACC to do so…As a lawmaker, it is hoped that Rafizi understands this difficulty and recommends the necessary (legal) amendments to enable MACC to disclose the detailed findings of its investigations to the public,” he added.

Earlier today, Malay-language daily Sinar Harian had quoted Rafizi as urging the MACC to disclose the donor’s identity and investigate his background. Otherwise, he reportedly said, MACC’s credibility would be affected because the commission would appear to be too afraid to disclose the identity.