Another Malaysian Scandal?*

A document from Migrant Care, a non-government organization, which has been publicized by several blogs in Mallaysia, alleges that a "VVIP" later identified as Rais Yatim, the Information, Communications, and Culture Minister, may have raped his Indonesian maid in 2007. However, according to the blogs, Rais got away with it because then-Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi apparently didn't want an embarrassing confrontation with the Indonesian government.

The 68-year-old Rais at the time was law minister in Badawi's cabinet. He has been a stalwart in United Malays National Party politics since at least 1978. Although the rape charges were passed to Badawi's office in 2007 and were well known to top government officials, it appears they were never investigated. Certainly, the charges didn't stop Badawi from naming him foreign affairs minister in 2008, nor did they stop Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak from naming him information minister in 2009.

However, on July 27of 2007, Rais did abruptly pull out of the running to become Commonwealth Secretary-General after the end of the previous secretary's reign in March 2008. He cited the conflict of his duties serving on the committee planning the celebration of the 50th anniversary of Malaysia's freedom from British colonialism. The complaint making the rounds appears to have been filed on July 23.

The lack of investigation of the case also prevents Rais from protesting his innocence. At this stage, lack of evidence would probably make the case almost impossible to prosecute, since it would end up with just the maid's word against Rais's.

Malaysia's blogosphere has caught fire over the allegations although Rais wasn't named as the alleged rapist until this weekend. A three-page Indonesian report giving details of the maid's service in his home – with his name blanked out – has been making the rounds of the Internet since the middle of December.

However, despite widespread and growing demands in the blogosphere that the allegations against Rais be investigated and prosecuted, the odds are that nothing is going to happen, said a lawyer with close ties to UMNO. It raises too many questions – few people, with the probable exception of the former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, want to go after Badawi for refusing to allow the investigation of Rais. Najib probably doesn't want fire him, the lawyer said, because that brings up unpleasant reminders that the other WikiLeaks documents quote Singaporean officials appearing to implicate Najib in the widely publicized 2006 murder of Mongolian translator Altantuya Shaariibuu. Other documents made public by WikiLeaks allege that Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim was probably entrapped into having sex with his then 23-year-old former male assistant, but did it anyway.

So far, Malaysia's mainstream media, all of which are owned by the major political parties, have ignored the Rais story. The purported rape victim, according to the reports and the copy of the complaint that is circulating with Rais's name blacked out, had been working in Rais's home for eight years when she returned to Indonesia and told her husband about the incident. After she filed the complaint with a migrant worker official in Indonesia in 2007, copies were made available to both the US Embassy in Kuala Lumpur and the Indonesian Embassy as well as Badawi's office.

The odds that Rais – or any other major political figure in Malaysia – would be prosecuted for rape, let alone any other crime up to and including murder, are belied by a spate of other cases over the years. As Asia Sentinel reported in October of 2009, the privileged are rarely brought to tto trial. Impunity for the politically powerful and rich in Malaysia is too often a way of life. The most infamous recent case was that of Altantuya Shaariibuu, then 28, who was murdered in 2006 by two of Najib's bodyguards.

Although they have been found guilty and have been sentenced to hang for the crime, nobody has been identified as having hired them to kill the woman. Altantuya had been jilted by Najib's best friend, Abdul Razak Baginda, and was demanding US$500,000 money from him. A private detective has alleged in a statutory declaration that Najib had passed the Mongolian woman to Razak Baginda because he knew he would become prime minister and wanted to avoid embarrassment.

Although numerous other witnesses and evidence connected Najib to the affair, he was never questioned or put on the witness stand, nor was his chief of staff, Musa Safri. According to Razak Baginda in a cautioned statement, he approached Musa about getting Altantuya to cease her harassment. Although one of the two bodyguards, also in a cautioned statement, confessed that the two men were to be paid RM100,000 to kill her, the court never asked who would pay the money. The confession wasn't allowed in court. Baginda was acquitted without having to put on a defense and promptly left the country.

Such questionable cases go back to at least the early 1980s when members of Malaysia's royalty allegedly assaulted and killed commoners. Sultan Mahmud Iskandar of Johor was dubbed the "killer king" by the British tabloids after he shot a trespasser to death on his property. Iskandar also reportedly assaulted and killed a golf caddy who was said to have laughed when the sultan missed a golf stroke, and he maimed the caddy's brother.

Megat Junid Megat Ayob, the onetime UMNO deputy home affairs minister, who died in January 2008 of cancer, allegedly was implicated in the murder of a young woman. As with Rais and the rape charges, the widespread gossip about Megat Junid's connection with the murder didn't do his political career any harm. He was ultimately named Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Minister in 1997 although he lost his parliamentary seat two years later and retired from politics.

In 2002 the decomposed body of the attractive young second wife of the second in line to the throne of Perak, was found under a bridge, clad in a bra and jeans. Although four men were arrested and jailed for the murder, no one was ever arrested or questioned for hiring them to kill her although suspicion fell on the prince's wife.

In 2003, Shahidan Kassim, then the chief minister of Perlis, was rumored to be involved with the death of another attractive young woman was found murdered in an apartment in a Kuala Lumpur suburb. Although another individual was arrested and charged with the murder, he was later declared not guilty and no one else was ever charged. The inspector general of police, Mohd Bakri Omar, classified the case under Malaysia's Official Secrets Act and no details were ever released.

Earlier in 2010, authorities finally completed an inquest into the 2007 death of a beautiful Indian actress, who also worked part-time as a secretary to S.Vell Paari, chief executive officer of Maika Holdings and the son of S. Samy Vellu, the head of the Malaysian Indian Congress, a component of the ruling national coalition. The woman's body was cremated almost immediately after her death. The coroner ruled she had died after poisoning herself. The family vainly requested an investigation into her death.

*This story has been corrected. It originally stated that the document in question was publicized by WikiLeaks. However, despite the identification of the documents by several Malaysian blogs as having come from WikiLeaks, we cannot find any evidence of that.