Malaysia’s Attorney General, Mohamed Apandi Ali, appointed in July 2015, is turning out to be a jack-of-all-trades who appears ominously comfortable carrying out favors for Prime Minister Najib Razak and the United Malays National Organization. Apandi, who turns 66 on Feb.11, took over from Abdul Gani Patail when the latter appeared to be on the verge of filing a mass of corruption charges against Najib.
Apandi’s latest gambit, on Feb. 7, is to threaten to recommend that the Parliament amend Malaysia’s already-repressive Official Secrets Act to punish whistle-blowers and the journalists who print their information with life imprisonment and 10 strokes of the cane if they are caught. The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists called the threat “an indicator of a government that is intolerant of criticism and fearful of accountability, and a case of shooting the messenger to distract from the real issue at hand, which is good governance and transparency in a working democracy. It is also signaling a government which is using all laws at its disposal to restrict and clamp down on our right to freedom of expression.”
Amnesty International has demonstrated similar concerns. Apandi’s warning poses a direct threat to the handful of news portals, including Malaysiakini, Malaysian Insider and Malaysia Chronicle, which continue to print information critical of the government. Malaysian Insider’s editors were arrested last year for supposedly printing an erroneous report on a decision by the country’s nine sultans. Malaysiakini has been raided repeatedly by police. Raja Petra Kamarudin, once the government’s most widely-read critic as editor of the news portal Malaysia Today before he fled criminal libel charges, has reversed course from the UK. He now regularly pounds critics of the government, raising suspicions he has been bought off..
It’s a good thing Apandi’s reach doesn’t extend to the US, where a whistleblower this week leaked information that the US Department of Justice is investigating possible money laundering charges against the Najib family for allegedly providing the funding to Red Granite Pictures for the Hollywood blockbuster The Wolf of Wall Street, which was co-produced by Riza Aziz, the son of Najib’s wife Rosmah Mansor by her first husband. The affair was the subject of a May 7, 2014 Asia Sentinel story.
That story adds to the multiplicity of charges brewing against either Najib or other suspects in Switzerland, where US$4 billion is said to have gone missing from the accounts of the troubled state-backed 1Malaysia Development Bhd. investment fund, or in Singapore, where several Malaysian accounts have been sequestered, or France, where two officials of a subsidiary of the French defense giant DCN have been arrested on charges of bribing Najib in the case of Malaysian purchases of French submarines.
It hardly bears mentioning that the most recent whistle-blower to be identified was Kevin Morais, the prosecutor working on the Najib case, who never had the opportunity to test the new law. Morais was murdered in September, his body encased in a cement-filled oil drum that was rolled into a river not far from Kuala Lumpur. Morais’s car was found in Perak, burned to a crisp with its identifying numbers filed off. Apandi, as the chief prosecutor for the country, has never acknowledged that Morais was working on the case despite the fact that Morais was one of the leading figures investigating the matter. He has shown no particular hurry to find out who really killed his fellow prosecutor. The case involving the army officer accused of leading several suspects to kidnap Morais appears to have gone silent.
Whistle-blower No. 1
Before that, it was the turn of Hussain Najadi, the founder of AmBank, the home of Najib’s controversial accounts, which were the recipient of US$681 million which still hasn’t been properly explained. Hussain was assassinated on July 29, 2013 – five months after the money was deposited in Najib’s account. Hussain’s son, Pascal, has charged that the father was killed because he said he wouldn’t play along with financial irregularities involving UMNO and a multi-million deal to finance Kuala Lumpur’s multimodal transport hub. He also complained to his son that Najib was “lining his pockets with billions of ringgit with no consideration for the future of the country.”
Pascal Najadi’s complaints could have been written off as mere suspicion until Kuala Lumpur police arrested Lim Yuen Soo, identified as the alleged mastermind behind the killing, who had been on the run for two years from Interpol, only to free him eight days later with no explanation why. Apandi has never moved to reopen the Hussain murder case to find out who the real mastermind was if it wasn’t Lim. That has raised questions whether Lim has friends in Malaysia’s high political circles.
Whistle-blower No. 1
Apandi has been a faithful UMNO stooge since he became a magistrate in Kuala Terengganu in 1972. He was legal adviser to the ministry of trade and industry, then, after going into private practice, becoming a judicial commissioner for the high court in Kuantan in 2003. That was followed by a stint on the high court in Kuala Lumpur. He was elevated to the Court of Appeal in 2010, where as chief judge he ruled on the judicial nonsense that Malay-speaking Christians on the Malaysian Peninsula couldn’t use the word Allah to represent God – the only country in the world to do so – although they could in the eastern states of Sabah and Sarawak.
“The usage of the word Allah is not an integral part of the faith in Christianity," Apandi said in the ruling. "The usage of the word will cause confusion in the community."
He showed his willingness to do his duty for Najib and UMNO with his famous Jan. 26 press conference where he flashed a handful of papers supposedly clearing Najib, only to have press photographers take pictures with long lenses that clearly showed the path of money from a publicly funded company dealing with 1Malaysia Development Bhd, the troubled state-backed investment fund, into accounts on which Najib drew money via credit cards to fund personal spending in Monaco and Italy. He has repeatedly made confusing statements over the supposed Saudi prince who steered US$681 million into Najib’s personal accounts
On the same day, Apandi was appointed to the board of directors of the troubled Tabung Haji pilgrimage fund, which provides the wherewithal for Muslims to go on the haj to Mecca. An unknown whistleblower leaked a letter from Bank Negara warning that the fund’s reserves were slipping, which could undermine the funds ability to pay dividends to its 9,000 depositors. Tabung Haji last year provided a bailout for 1MDB, whose own indebtedness was said to threaten the country’s entire financial reserves. The whistle-blower hasn’t been tracked down. But he would be wise to stay well out of sight.
Most lately, Apandi Ali questioned statements by former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad as being contrary to the teachings of Islam after Mahathir accused him of being unfit to be attorney general in the wake of his decision to clear Najib of the corruption charges. In addition, the UMNO information chief, Annuar Musa, raised the possibility that Mahathir could be charged with sedition by questioning Apandi’s decisions and appointment. In a posting on his blog, Chedet, Mahathir also said Najib must resign in order for Malaysia to regain its reputation.