Malaysians have been watching with depressed fascination as a no-holds-barred war between former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and his onetime protégé, current Prime Minister Najib Razak, unfolds. The contest seems to be descending to new levels, with Najib now going after Mahathir’s family and Mahathir going for Najib’s paid UMNO defenders.
The struggle is partly driven by almost daily revelations from Raja Petra Kamarudin, once Malaysia’s most influential blogger and government critic as the publisher of Malaysia Today. RPK, as he is known, joined Najib’s forces sometime ago but turned up the heat in the middle of last year. He has been attacking various regime critics including the Mahathir faction and the opposition while defending Najib and the United Malays National Organization.
RPK spent years in modest circumstances, existing partly on donations from backers of now-jailed opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim until he turned and denounced Anwar. He is now equipped with a new BMW*, according to Sarawak Report editor and publisher Clare Rewcastle Brown, who has become a new target of his attacks. He is also said to be the proprietor of a Manchester restaurant called Gossip. His rise in assets seems to parallel his changing views on Najib.
RPK responded that his BMW is two years old, that he purchased the restaurant with funds from the sale of his home in Kuala Lumpur, and that his rise in assets began in 2012. He pointed out that he is a member of the Selangor royalty and accused Asia Sentinel of a racist Caucasian world view.
In 2008, RPK fled Malaysia ahead of criminal libel charges filed by the Najib family after he made a statutory declaration that Najib’s wife Rosmah was present at the 2006 murder of Mongolian translator Altantuya Shaariibuu. He later backed away from that, but has prudently remained out of Malaysia ever since.
While his antipathy to Mahathir has been a feature of Malaysia Today for years, his rising affection for Najib began last June.
Since Mahathir’s forces were completely neutralized at UMNO's December annual general meeting, the 90-year-old ex-premier began what has been called a “guerrilla campaign” at the grassroots level to try and convince the rank and file to oust the 192 district chiefs who hold the key to voting Najib out as UMNO president. That is said to have made Najib go after Mahathir’s family.
Despite appearing unassailable domestically, Najib is the target or closely identified with the targets of an astonishing number of international investigations including a US Justice Department probe into expensive properties in New York and California and the funding of the movie the Wolf of Wall Street, produced by the production company partly owned by Najib’s wife’s son.
1MDB, the state-backed investment fund which he serves as economic adviser, faces a probe allegedly over the loss of US$4 billion in Switzerland. The Singapore government has sequestered the bank accounts of several 1MDB officials and big questions remain over the mysterious transfer of nearly US$700 million into Najib's private bank account in Malaysia, and the transfer of the funds out to an unnamed destination a few months later. French authorities have accused two officials of a subsidiary of the defense giant DCN of bribing Najib in the 1995 sale of submarines when he was defense minister.
None of this has gained traction with UMNO leaders. Mahathir and Muhyiddin Yassin, the deputy prime minister fired by Najib, have made little headway, thus the grassroots campaign. Mahathir has come under a barrage of counterattacks, not just by RPK, saying the deep corruption of the Malaysian political system actually was facilitated by the former premier during his 22 years in power, a statement that bears some truth. Now Najib’s forces have begun go after Mahathir’s family, again not without reason.
The first to fall was the 51-year-old Mukhriz, Mahathir's son who Najib persuaded to run as chief minister of Kedah state in the 2013 general election. Najib drove him out of office Feb. 2, after a two-week standoff when a majority of state lawmakers said they had lost confidence in his leadership. It is widely believed that Najib had to make extravagant financial promises to persuade fence-sitters to switch.
If Raja Petra’s blog entries are any indication, the next targets are Mahathir’s two businessman sons, Mirzan and Mokhzani.
The 54-year-old Mokhzani, whose assets are estimated at US$1.2 billion, has been rumored to be the target of an insider trading investigation for more than a year – starting at about the time his father began to intensify his attacks on Najib – into the 2013 purchase of Yinson Holdings Bhd., a provider of offshore support services for the upstream oil and gas sector. In 2012, Mokhzani was listed as Malaysia’s 14th-richest businessman. There were widespread rumors in 2015 that Najib might use Mokhzani’s business activities as a cudgel to get Mahathir to back off. So far, Mahathir is sticking to his guns, saying Najib isn’t fit to be prime minister.
Mahathir, Raja Petra said in another blog entry, is in a “last desperate attempt” to save Mirzan from prosecution. In 2013, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists listed Mirzan, Mahathir’s eldest son, as the director and shareholder of three offshore companies including his major commercial vehicle, the Labuan-incorporated Crescent Energy Ltd. His main investment vehicle is Crescent Capital Sdn Bhd, an investment holding and independent financial advisory firm. He also holds a non-executive director position in Philippines-based San Miguel group Another Labuan offshore company is Utara Capital Ltd, in which Mirzan is named as sole shareholder and director.
A typical example of RPK's broadsides against the Mahathir sons appeared in a Feb. 15 entry on his blog: “If the issue about living beyond your means comes to question then the government should have investigated how Mirzan Mahathir managed to own Konsortium Perkapalan Berhad? The company eventually accumulated debts of RM1.7 billion and Petronas was asked to bail out the company to save his son. So that comes to yet another conflict of interest since this was done when Dr Mahathir was the Prime Minister.”
Malaysia Today on Feb. 19 contains 10 stories attacking either Mahathir; the Parti Keadilan Rakyat opposition coalition; Tong Kooi Ong, the owner of the major financial daily The Edge, which published a hard-hitting series on 1MDB that got the newspaper suspended for three months; and the Wall Street Journal among others.
He quoted Communications and Multimedia Minister Salleh Said Keruak as rebuking those who believed Wall Street Journal Financial Editor Ken Brown’s assertion that Saudis had nothing to do with the mysterious US$681 million that appeared in Najib’s accounts in 2013.
He accuses ousted Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin of “telling Malaysians to punish UMNO by voting opposition in 2018 so that the Prime Minister can be ousted.”
One story asks what Mahathir did with RMB$100 billion of UMNO money. Another says Mahathir has no respect for the culture of the country. He also lumps a flock of government opponents together, asking Mohd Ariff Sabri Abdul Aziz, who left UMNO for the Democratic Action Party, to “tell us whether Syed Mokhtar Al-Bukhary, Francis Yeoh, Vincent Tan, Ananda Krishnan, AP Aramugam, G. Gnanalingam, Lee Kim Yew, and so on, are proxies for UMNO or are they actually proxies for Dr Mahathir — who is using UMNO as a front to accumulate RM100 billion (which some say may be even RM200 billion)? The point is Dr Mahathir preaches and moralizes whereas when he was Prime Minister for 22 years he was even more blatant in his abuse of power and the money he lost through his misadventures — if they were misadventures in the first place and not acts of corruption. But then at that time we were not allowed to question what he did the way he is questioning others today. And when the allegations were made and he was asked to explain his actions we never said he was guilty until and unless he can prove his innocence. We accepted the doctrine that someone is innocent until and unless it has been proven that that person is guilty.”
*incorrect reference removed that RPK has a new flat in London