- Malaysia Silences the Press Amid Corruption Scandal
- Malaysian first family engulfed by multi-billion dollar scandal
- British journalist: I’m being followed in London by teams of stalkers
Posted: 30 Jul 2015 02:20 AM PDT
The country suspends two newspapers.
Malaysia's Home Ministry has suspended two newspapers for three months after the latter published a series of reports exposing corruption in a government-managed investment company that implicated Prime Minister Najib Razak. Meanwhile, a news website was blocked in the country last week after a government agency found it guilty of publishing unverified information in relation to the similar corruption issue.
The licensing permit of The Edge Financial Daily and The Edge Weekly was suspended because their 1MDB reports were deemed by the Home Ministry to be "prejudicial or likely to be prejudicial to public order, security or likely to alarm public opinion or is likely to be prejudicial to public and national interest".
The 1MDB issue refers to the controversial financial transactions of the company that allegedly benefited some politicians, including the prime minister. Early this month, the Wall Street Journal published a report linking Najib to a bank money transfer totaling $700 million. The government is currently investigating 1MDB as Najib denies the allegations. Some opposition leaders including former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad have called for the resignation of Najib over the 1MDB scandal.
The Edge is challenging the suspension order by filing a judicial review. It emphasized that its reports were based on hard evidence and that it has already handed over bank documents to government investigators.
"Our report is based on evidence corroborated by documents that include bank transfers and statements. How can the work that we have done be deemed as a political conspiracy?"
Meanwhile, the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) has ordered the blocking of the Sarawak Report "based on complaints received from the public" that it is spreading misinformation about the 1MDB issue. Sarawak Report described the order as a "blatant attempt to censor our exposures of major corruption." It dismissed the "strong arm, anti-democratic media clamp-down" as a futile attempt of the ruling party to hide the truth about the financial mess.
The blocking of Sarawak Report and the suspension of two papers of The Edge were viewed by many as an attack on Malaysia's media sector. "Blocking a website and threatening critics with prosecution will not make the firestorm over alleged government corruption go away," said Brad Adams, Asia director of Human Rights Watch.
The Center for Independent Journalism asserted that the blocking of Sarawak Report "without a clear, legitimate purpose and without reference to a proper law authorising such blocking of content is a breach of the guarantee to freedom of expression."
Meanwhile, uman rights group Suaram urged the government to uphold truth and transparency.
"This latest action by MCMC is totally against its own mission statement which is "providing transparent regulatory processes to facilitate fair competition and efficiency in the industry".
The Lawyers for Liberty group reminded authorities that "journalism is not a crime." It added that "Press freedom is an indispensable component of any modern and democratic society as it functions as a form of check and balance against government excesses. Such authoritarian behaviour unfortunately sends a chilling message to the press to self-censor on issues such as 1MDB or else they may invite retaliation."
But Datuk Abdul Rahman Dahlan, who is the urban wellbeing, housing and local government minister and director of strategic communications of the ruling party Barisan Nasional, defended the suspension order issued by the government against The Edge:
"The government suspended The Edge publications because there was a real possibility that the contents of their reporting were not authentic. If this possibility turns to be true then the impact on the government and the economic stability due to irresponsible reporting cannot be understated."
Aside from condoning corruption, the government is now accused of silencing the press. Reacting to the perceived media persecution, five local media networks have banded together and are planning to hold a public rally on August 8 to assert the right the free speech.
Posted: 30 Jul 2015 12:35 AM PDT
As David Cameron arrives to talk trade, Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak's bank accounts, his wife's handbags and her son's Hollywood deals are making the headlines
David Cameron might have hoped that his few final hours in Malaysia at the end of a four-day, four-state whirlwind trade tour of South East Asia would have been the chance to start winding down before heading home.
Instead, he finds himself flying in to a deepening controversy on Thursday as a multi-billion dollar scandal engulfs his host Najib Razak, the prime minister of the former British colony.
Nor is it just Mr Najib who is under attack from his foes in Malaysia amid allegations that he ended up with $700 million in his personal accounts from a state investment bank that he founded.
The Malaysian leader's wife Rosmah Mansor has been derided for her alleged penchant for luxury and free-spending ways – claims that her husband has dismissed as political assaults.
And Riza Aziz, her son from her first marriage and Mr Najib's step-son, is also a staple in the gossip as well as financial pages.
He has emerged as a major Hollywood film producer with multi-million property deals in Manhattan and Los Angeles since becoming close friends with a Malaysian playboy investor during their education in London.
So who is Najib Razak?
He's the 61-year-old scion of Malaysian political royalty with UMNO, the Malay nationalist party that has ruled the country since independence from Britain in 1957. His father was the country's second prime minister and his uncle its third. Mr Najib inherited his late father's seat as an MP at 23 and later rose through the party ranks as chief minister of his home state and the serving in the Cabinet portfolios of education, defence and finance as well as deputy prime minister.
It is an impressively lifelong dedication to public service that has coincided with his family becoming one of the country's richest. His personal profile was low until he married his second wife in 1987.
And Rosmah Mansor?
Ms Rosmah has repeatedly been criticised for her love of the good things in life. Earlier this year, she said she was the victim of "wildly exaggerated" allegations, published by the Sydney Morning Herald, describing her the "first lady of shopping" after reports that she had spent $75,000 on a single trip to a designer boutique.
She was also widely assailed for a reported claim that she lamented about having to pay $300 for a house call by hair stylist. And series of photos showing her holding at least nine Birkin handbags – items that normally sell for between $10,000 and $150,000 each – went viral on social media.
And she has denied allegations that she ever intended to buy a diamond ring worth $24 million that was shipped under her name to Malaysia in 2011 but then returned to the US jeweller. Mr Najib also went public to deny that that his wife bought the diamond ring for his Kazakh in-laws or that they had any links to the "Russian mafia", as a regional media outlet had claimed.
And the Hollywood connection?
Riza Aziz, his British-educated step-son, has emerged in the film business as a major Hollywood player with his production company Red Granite Pictures (most notably with The Wolf Of Wall Street blockbuster).
He has also made the headlines in the US over complex property deals reportedly conducted with Jho Low, a Malaysian financier whom he met while studying at the London School of Economics and who became famous for sharing jeroboams of champagne with the likes of Paris Hilton.
As the New York Times documented, Mr Low began making some very expensive property deals in the United States in 2010. Those deals included acquiring a $24 million apartment in Manhattan that three years later was sold to a shell company controlled by Mr Aziz for a reported $33 million, according to the newspaper.
A similar transaction was playing out on the West Coast, the investigation continued. "Mr Low bought a contemporary mansion in Beverly Hills for $17.5 million, then turned around and sold it, once again to the prime minister's stepson."
And what about 1MDB?
That is the state investment fund that Mr Low encouraged Mr Najib to found and oversee. He helped channel Arab investment into a series of deals with the Malaysian government.
And how's that going?
1MDB has reported debts of $11 billion. And $700 million of its funds allegedly ended up in Mr Najib's personal accounts, according to a Wall Street Journal investigation that has been widely reported elsewhere. Mr Najib has consistently denied any wrongdoing or making any financial benefit from the operations of 1MDB.
This week, he sacked his deputy prime minister for breaking ground and saying publicly that the scandal was damaging their party He also replaced his attorney-general who was overseeing the investigation into the allegations.
So why does the family seem to be doing so well financially?
Mr Najib's office, in a statement, told the New York Times that the prime minister does not track how much Mr Aziz earns or how such earnings are reinvested. As for the prime minister himself, the statement said he had "received inheritance".
It noted that the family's lifestyle was not unusual for a person of the “prime minister’s position, responsibilities and legacy (of) family assets”.
No allegations of wrongdoing have been confirmed against Mr Najib. But it is not the first time that he has been the subject of intense questions about his finances as political opponents have previously focussed on a long-running bribery inquiry in France involving a submarine order that Mr Najib commissioned while he served as defence minister.
Didn't Mr Cameron just speak out on corruption during his Asian tour?
He did indeed, during a speech in Singapore on Tuesday delivered just a few hours after Mr Najib purged his government ranks of officials raising questions about the 1MDB scandal.
The British prime minister warned that foreign fraudsters and corrupt officials can no longer "stash dodgy cash" in London's luxury property market as he announced a major review of ownership rules.
He said that the international community has "looked the other way for far too long" when it comes to corruption", which he called "one of the greatest enemies of progress in our time.
He continued: "We simply cannot afford to side-step this issue or make excuses for corruption any more. We need to step up and tackle it.”
So will he be "side-stepping" such allegations in Kuala Lumpur on Thursday?
Malaysian opposition MPs have urged the British prime minister to use his visit to press Mr Najib on the allegations, warning that otherwise the trip would appear to be a vote of support for the beleaguered leader. Privately, one senior opposition figure told The Telegraph that the timing of the visit was "nuts" and "boggled the mind".
But this tour is all about the realpolitik of international trade for Mr Cameron. He is visiting Malaysia to try and drum up British business deals and secure Malaysian co-operation in security measures to combat Islamic radicals. And he knows he won't get far with that if he embarrasses his host, however embattled he may be.
Posted: 30 Jul 2015 12:30 AM PDT
Clare Rewcastle Brown, editor of a Malaysian news website, complains to the police about harassment by men she says are employed by Malay political party
A journalist who claims that she has been followed around London by "teams of stalkers" engaged in "illegal harassment" has made a complaint to the Metropolitan police.
Clare Rewcastle Brown, founder and editor of Sarawak Report, an investigative news website devoted to reporting on Malaysian politics, believes the stalkers are employed by the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), the ruling party in Malaysia led by its prime minister, Najib Razak.
The news comes ahead of controversy over this week's visit to Malaysia by prime minister David Cameron at a time when Razak is embroiled in a corruption scandal that Rewcastle Brown's website has been in the forefront of reporting.
Rewcastle Brown has called on Cameron to cancel his visit. In a separate item an article on Sarawak Report, she describes two men who, she claims, "took photographs of her in broad daylight in Hyde Park" while "other individuals have followed her car."
Home minister Seri Ahmad Zahid Mamidi was reported on Friday as saying that Rewcastle Brown could be extradited from London to Kuala Lumpur on charges that her reporting had violated Malaysia's sovereignty.
Rewcastle Brown, a British citizen who was born in Sarawak, is married to the younger brother of the former prime minister, Gordon Brown.
Her Sarawak Report site has regularly reported on the troubles faced by a debt-laden state investment, 1Malaysia Development Bhd (aka 1MDB), which is closely linked to Razak.
Reports on the topic by two Malaysia-based newspapers resulted in them being banned on Friday from publishing for three months by Razak's government.
The suspensions were imposed on The Edge Weekly and The Edge Financial Daily. The group's chief executive, Ho Kay Tat, announced that he would challenge the legality of the ban. Meanwhile, his group would continue to publish online.
"This is nothing more than a move to shut us down in order to shut us up," Ho was quoted as saying by the Associated Press. He has also been subjected to a travel ban in company with two opposition politicians.
The CPJ pointed out that The Edge is only the latest news outlet to be harassed. The Wall Street Journal reported on 2 July that $700m of the 1MDB fund's cash had ended up in Razak's personal bank accounts.
A week later, Razak's lawyers threatened to sue the newspaper and its publisher for defamation, although no action has yet been taken.
The Journal's publisher, Dow Jones, says its articles "speak for themselves" and the paper stands by its reporting.
Earlier this year, Razak's government cracked down hard on critical commentary about the trial and conviction of political opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim on sodomy charges.
The political cartoonist Zulkiflee Anwar Ulhaque, known as Zunar, now faces a possible 43 years in prison on multiple sedition charges for raising questions about judicial independence. His trial is scheduled to begin on 9 September.
But the clamp on media should be seen in the context of Malaysia's brief, rich history of suspending newspapers, according to The Malaysian Insider website.
It says the suspension of the Edge titles "marks the government's continued tradition of clamping down on print media, a practice which began nearly three decades ago." It goes on to list scores of examples.
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