- Malaysia’s Declarations on Flight 370 and Plane Debris Further Dent Its Credibility
- Malaysia Scandal Fuels Fastest Foreign Exodus as Stocks Sink
- John Kerry raises Anwar issue in talk with PM
- Stop harassing investigators in 1MDB probe, Anwar tells Najib
- Let Anwar undergo treatment under house arrest, PKR tells Zahid
Posted: 07 Aug 2015 02:35 AM PDT
Malaysia's handling of the discovery of a wing part that apparently came from the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 has worsened frictions with its partners in the investigation, rekindled frustrations among the families of people who were aboard the plane and further dented the country's battered credibility.
Many questioned the timing and motives of the Malaysian prime minister, Najib Razak, who announced in the early hours of Thursday that the wing part had been "conclusively confirmed" to be from the missing plane. He spoke just before a news conference in Paris at which French investigators were much more guarded, saying only that the experts had "very strong presumptions" that the part came from the plane, a Boeing 777.
Later on Thursday the Malaysian transportation minister, Liow Tiong Lai, clouded the picture further when he told reporters in Kuala Lumpur that a Malaysian team had found more aircraft debris on the French island of Réunion, where the wing part was discovered last week. The French authorities in Paris denied that any new aircraft debris had been found.
The discrepancies between the Malaysian declarations and what others involved in the investigation, including experts from Boeing, were prepared to conclude about the evidence have created significant tensions between Malaysian and French officials, according to a person close to the investigation.
Mr. Najib has domestic political worries, not least a scandal swirling around a troubled state investment fund that has put him under intense scrutiny. The Wall Street Journal and The Sarawak Report, a website based in Britain, have reported that documents found by investigators in Malaysia indicate that almost $700 million was transferred to accounts that Mr. Najib is believed to control.
In late July, Mr. Najib dismissed his deputy prime minister, who had publicly called on him to give a full account of the matter, and the country's attorney general, who was one of the leaders of the investigation into the scandal.
But exasperation with the Malaysian authorities dates to when the plane first disappeared, on a night flight from Kuala Lumpur bound for Beijing in the early hours of March 8, 2014. Ground controllers lost contact with the plane about 40 minutes after takeoff, but the authorities did not issue an alert about the missing plane for hours.
Then, Malaysia spent a full week directing a major search-and-rescue effort focused on the Gulf of Thailand, along the plane's scheduled flight path, even though the Malaysian military had tracked an unidentified aircraft flying in nearly the opposite direction — westward and out into the Indian Ocean — which investigators later concluded was Flight 370.
Eventually, based on the radar data and automated satellite signals received from the jet, investigators concluded that it had flown on for hours more, and probably ran out of fuel and crashed in the Indian Ocean west or southwest of Australia. Searchers began working from the air, and later scanning the deep ocean floor with sonar devices, but nothing has been found there.
The wing part was the first tangible trace of the plane to turn up.
For many people who had loved ones aboard Flight 370, the identification, or near-identification, of the object only intensified their desire to know how and why the jet had veered off course and flown unnoticed into remote ocean waters.
Chinese citizens made up about two-thirds of the 239 people on the plane, and in Beijing, relatives of the victims viewed Mr. Najib's announcement with skepticism or outright disbelief.
On Thursday morning, about 20 relatives gathered outside the Malaysia Airlines office in Beijing, demanding to talk to airline representatives and to be flown to Réunion. More than two dozen police officers kept them from entering the office building.
"We don't accept this; this is not closure," said Dai Shuqing, who had five relatives on the plane, including her sister. "The Malaysians want to lie to the whole world, but they cannot lie to us. We will persevere and keep digging."
Others outside the airline's office held signs with slogans such as "Malaysia hides the truth." Later in the day, some of the relatives moved the demonstration to Boeing's offices in the city.
Under international aviation conventions, Malaysia is leading the overall Flight 370 investigation because the aircraft was registered in Malaysia and took off from Kuala Lumpur. The ocean search is being led by Australia, whose ports are nearest the search area. But the wing part found on Réunion is being examined at a laboratory near Toulouse, France, because it washed ashore on French territory. The Paris prosecutor's office has opened an inquiry into the crash because four French citizens were aboard the flight.
Though Malaysian officials appeared eager to reach conclusions swiftly and put the mystery of Flight 370 behind them, Tony Abbott, the Australian prime minister, said Thursday that the ocean search would continue. "We owe it to the hundreds of millions of people who use our skies," he said.
Meanwhile, Jean-Paul Virapoullé, the mayor of St.-André, Réunion, near where the wing debris was found, said Thursday that his town would organize a "meticulous search" of the beaches there next week.
"If it can soothe the terrible pain of these hundreds of families, the city of St.-André, with the agreement of the relevant international authorities, is ready to erect a memorial for the people who are missing," the mayor said in the statement.
The person close to the investigation said that volunteers on Réunion turned in some additional debris to French aviation officials on the island on Thursday, but that a preliminary evaluation indicated that none of the objects were from a plane.
Still, David Griffin, an Australian scientist who has mapped ocean currents in the area, said Thursday that he believed more debris from Flight 370 could wash up on Madagascar, the much larger island nation to the west of Réunion.
"There could be a very large amount of debris floating, or a very small amount," said Mr. Griffin, who is with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization in Australia. "I am slightly surprised that something turned up at Réunion, rather than Madagascar, because Madagascar is so much bigger."
Wen Wancheng, 63, whose son was on the aircraft, said finding one wing part did not resolve the mystery of Flight 370.
"The sort of closure the families want is to know what exactly happened to the plane, and have the bodies returned," he said by telephone from Jinan, in eastern China.
That sentiment was shared by other relatives of Flight 370 victims around the world, some of whom said that the discovery of the wing part, known as a flaperon, only intensified the mystery.
"Ultimately in the end for the families to have a sort of closure, we need to know why it ended up in the ocean, what happened," Sara Weeks, whose brother Paul was a passenger, said in an interview with Australian radio from Christchurch, New Zealand. "It is really important for everyone because if that plane can go missing, another one can."
For some, the longing for more evidence has only grown stronger.
"It's a piece of flaperon; it's not my husband," said Jacquita Gonzales, the wife of a Flight 370 crew member, Patrick Gomes. Ms. Gonzales was one of a small group of family members who spoke to reporters on Thursday in the Malaysian city of Petaling Jaya.
"Although they found something, it's not the end," she added. "They still need to find the whole plane and our spouses as well. We still want them back."
Posted: 07 Aug 2015 02:09 AM PDT
International investors are selling Malaysian stocks at the quickest pace in Asia as Prime Minister Najib Razak struggles to contain a political scandal and doubts grow over the outlook for the economy.
Foreign funds have pulled a net 11.7 billion ringgit ($3 billion) of the nation's shares this year as the benchmark FTSE Bursa Malaysia KLCI Index retreated 4.6 percent. The ringgit has slumped to its weakest since 1998 after tumbling 11 percent against the dollar, the biggest decline among Asian currencies.
Overseas money managers are withdrawing funds amid concern the crisis will distract Najib as a commodities rout and the prospect of higher U.S. interest rates threaten economic growth. The prime minister is fighting off a scandal linked to 1Malaysia Development Bhd., a debt-ridden state investment company. A probe into about 2.6 billion ringgit that was deposited into Najib's personal accounts found that the funds were legal donations from the Middle East.
"Already shaky trust of foreign investors is being eroded," said Mixo Das, a strategist at Nomura Holdings Inc. in Singapore. "Further outflows are possible."
Net foreign sales in Malaysian stocks this year are almost double the 6.9 billion ringgit for the whole of 2014, exchange data show. Overseas investors have been net sellers for 14 straight weeks through the week ended July 31, the longest selloff since 2008, according to MIDF Amanah Investment Bank Bhd.
International ownership of government and corporate debt dropped 2.4 percent in July to 206.8 billion ringgit, the least since August 2012, the central bank reported on Friday.
The KLCI has slumped 9.8 percent from its April 21 high, including a 1.8 percent decline on Thursday that was the biggest this year. The gauge lost 0.8 percent at 4:35 p.m. in Kuala Lumpur on Friday. The ringgit dropped 0.3 percent, taking its weekly decline to 2.4 percent. That would be the biggest slump in eight months.
Volatility is increasing, with a gauge of 30-day price swings rising to its highest level in six months. The stock measure trades at 15.2 times projected 12-month earnings, or about 10 percent higher than the MSCI Southeast Asia Index.
The Wall Street Journal reported on July 3 that $700 million may have moved through government agencies and state-linked companies to accounts bearing Najib's name. The premier has denied taking money for personal gain and has described the furor as part of a campaign to remove him from office.
The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission said it won't disclose the identities of the donors to Najib and plans to question him to seek an explanation on the funds.
For Aberdeen Asset Management Sdn.'s Gerald Ambrose, the political crisis means Malaysia risks losing its status as a safe haven in the region.
The ruling National Front coalition has dominated power since the country gained independence in 1957. Neighboring Thailand is under military rule after a coup, while in Indonesia, President Joko Widodo is struggling to push through policies following the closest election in more than a decade.
"Long-term political stability has long been one of Malaysia's trump cards, but it's not so easy to say that nowadays," said Ambrose, who oversees about $3.6 billion as managing director of Aberdeen Asset Management in Kuala Lumpur. "Uncertainties surrounding 1MDB and the quite public political spat has clearly not helped foreign investors' sentiment towards the country."
Najib chairs the advisory board of 1MDB and has resisted calls from ex-premier Mahathir Mohamad to quit over the fund's performance as it amassed about 42 billion ringgit of debt in less than five years. Najib on July 28 sacked his deputy prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin, who had called for answers on the 1MDB imbroglio including its investment decisions.
Franklin Templeton Investment is sticking with its investments in the nation's stocks.
"We actually stayed in and we will continue to stay in," Mark Mobius, chairman of the emerging markets group at Franklin Templeton Investment, said by phone from Singapore. "We are still finding opportunities in that market and particularly when there are concerns there, you can see some possibilities."
Foreign outflows may accelerate if the political scandal prevents the government from tackling the issues affecting the economy, says Alan Richardson, a Hong Kong-based money manager at Samsung Asset Management, which oversees about $112 billion.
Malaysia's foreign-exchange reserves have dropped to the lowest level since the 2008 global credit crunch, reducing ammunition to shore up the currency. A plunge in Brent crude is cutting revenue for Asia's only major net oil exporter, while the Federal Reserve is mulling its first increase since 2006 as soon as next month.
The government forecasts the economy will expand 4.5 percent to 5.5 percent this year, down from its earlier projection of as much as 6 percent. Earnings at companies on the KLCI are projected to grow 11 percent in the next 12 months, data compiled by Bloomberg show. That compares with a 41 percent gain in Thailand and an increase of 82 percent in Indonesia.
"Investors are worried," said Richardson, who has been underweight Malaysian equities since November. Stocks in the nation would only start to look attractive "if some of the adverse developments" are resolved, he said.
Posted: 07 Aug 2015 12:36 AM PDT
US Secretary of State John Kerry said he raised the issue of former opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim in his talk with Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak.
Kerry, who is in Malaysia for a two-day visit to attend the Asean meetings, had bilateral talks with Najib and Anifah yesterday.
“I raised concerns about freedom of expression and I spoke to the prime minister about Anwar Ibrahim’s situation (in the bilateral talks),” he said at a press conference in Kuala Lumpur today.
Kerry did not elaborate on how the discussions about freedom of expression and Anwar went.
On Feb 10, Anwar was convicted of sodomising a former aide and is currently serving a five-year jail sentence in Sungai Buloh prison.
However, opposition supporters and human rights groups have criticised the verdict, saying the proceedings were politically motivated.
Last week, British Prime Minister David Cameron also spoke to Najib about the treatment of Anwar during his visit to Malaysia.
British newspaper The Telegraph had reported that Cameron also challenged his Malaysian counterpart to clean up his government, in reference to allegations that RM2.6 billion had been deposited into the PM’s personal accounts, as well as other issues plaguing 1MDB.
Anwar’s conviction received a chorus of criticisms and concerns from various governments, including the US.
The jailed politician, declared a “prisoner of conscience” by global human rights organisation Amnesty International, had also been facing increasingly serious health problems while in jail.
In December last year, before the apex court verdict, US vice-precident Joe Biden (photo) tweeted on Malaysia’s use of sedition to silence opposition, but expressed hope that the government would make things right through Anwar's case.
“Anwar’s appeal gives Malaysia a vital chance to make things right and promote confidence in its democracy and judiciary,” Biden added then.
Posted: 07 Aug 2015 12:34 AM PDT
Former opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim has urged Datuk Seri Najib Razak to stop intimidating investigators probing into the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) controversy.
In a statement from prison released through his lawyer R. Sivarasa, Anwar said there were indications that the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) and Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM) were being threatened.
"I call upon Prime Minister Najib to cease all acts of interference and intimidation of public officers of our key investigatory and regulatory agencies.
“I refer in particular to the recent use of PDRM officers to arrest, interrogate and even remand persons involved with the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission, including those directly investigating how RM42 million from SRC International ended up in Najib's personal accounts at Ambank,” he said in the statement.The PKR de facto leader also urged Malaysians to rally behind MACC and Bank Negara to protect them from facing intimidation in their investigations.
He said these institutions must be “saved” from political disturbances.
“I urge all the people, NGOs, politicians and civil society to set aside their differences and unite to save the country from the economic and political crisis we are going through,” he said.
Recently, the police conducted a series of raids and arrested MACC officers over alleged leaks in the 1MDB probe.
Posted: 07 Aug 2015 12:33 AM PDT
PKR today urged newly minted Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi to allow Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim to be put under house arrest to undergo medical treatment.
In a statement, the party’s strategic director Sim Tze Tzin, information chief Syed Ibrahim and communications director Fahmi Fadhil expressed their worries over the health of Anwar, who is currently serving a jail term in Sungai Buloh prison for sodomy.
“Keadilan urges Zahid, who is also the home minister, to use his new position to hasten Anwar’s medical treatment outside of jail, and allow Anwar to go through his treatment under house arrest,” they said in a statement today.
The trio said since Anwar was jailed on February 10, he had suffered from kidney problems, arthritis and a shoulder muscle tear.They said checks by the prison doctor did not help to alleviate his condition, adding that the PKR de facto leader needed hospital treatment.
Moreover, the condition of the prison with high humidity, insufficient ventilation, lack of a sitting toilet and only a bucket to shower exacerbated his condition, they said.
With Anwar due to celebrate his 68th birthday on Monday, the three leaders expressed hope that the former opposition leader would be allowed to undergo treatment under house arrest.
“This is not a political issue but an issue of humanity. The deputy prime minister can show his humane leadership,” they said.
In conjunction with Anwar’s birthday, the party has also launched a programme urging the public to send postcards to him on August 10. PKR has prepared 1,000 postcards available for purchase at RM50 apiece. The purchase can be made through PKR’s Maybank account at 5641 9102 5409 and proof of money transfer can be sent via WhatsApp to 012-936 8442.
“We urge all Malaysians to show their love to Anwar by purchasing the cards,” they said.
On February 10, the Federal Court found Anwar guilty of sodomising his former aide Mohd Saiful Bukhari Azlan in a condominium unit at Bukit Damansara, Kuala Lumpur, in 2008.
Anwar was handed a five-year jail term.
Anwar's long political career has been twice interrupted by sodomy charges, first in 1998 after he was sacked from government, and now.
He and the opposition maintain that the charges were a political conspiracy to end his career.
Following his latest conviction, Anwar’s family filed a petition seeking a royal pardon which was subsequently rejected by the Pardons Board on March 16.
As a result, Anwar lost his Permatang Pauh parliamentary seat and a by-election last month saw his wife, PKR president Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, wining the seat.
She was subsequently appointed opposition leader.
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