Malaysia’s Najib Gets a White House Pass

In asking Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak to the White House, US President Donald Trump has extended an invitation to arguably Southeast Asia’s biggest crook among the region’s current leaders and one who has jailed or threatened the country’s opposition into near irrelevance.

The White House didn’t answer a request for comment. But in a prepared statement quoted in the New York Times, the administration said the visit is intended to “strengthen and broaden our bilateral relationship and expand regional cooperation with one of America’s closest partners in Southeast Asia.”

After initially embracing Najib as a moderate Muslim leader of a prosperous democracy, even inviting him on a golf date in Hawaii, former President Barack Obama distanced himself from the Malaysian premier as the revelations of his corruption grew.

Basket of Deplorables headed for Washington

Among those "close partners" in Southeast Asia that the President has invited are Rodrigo Duterte, the president of the Philippines, described in a recent Asia Sentinel editorial as a psychopath who has prosecuted a drug war that has taken the lives of more than 7,000 people, most of them the poorest of the country’s poor; and Prayuth Chan-ocha, the military dictator who ousted a civilian government in Thailand in 2015 and has jailed or harassed thousands of opponents, driving many out of the country.

Shortly after he was elected last November, Trump placed a 3 am phone call to Najib, engineered by a Najib associate, promising an invitation. It was widely assumed prior to that, that Najib and his wife, Rosmah Mansor were afraid to come to the US for fear of arrest. He is under the microscope of the US Justice Department in a civil case for the theft of at least US$1 billion, much of which was invested in a wide range of property in the United States.

Last July. Najib was identified by the Justice Department as “Malaysian Official 1” for having received US$681 million into his personal bank account in Kuala Lumpur from the state-backed 1Malaysia Development Bhd. fund in 2013. At least some of the money is believed to have financed the production company that produced the Hollywood blockbuster "Wolf of Wall Street."

Riza Aziz, Najib’s stepson by Rosmah, and the co-producer, is accused of receiving US$238 million in addition. At least six countries are involved in investigating the scandal. The government has sequestered millions of dollars of property identified as having been purchased in the affair. Leonardo DiCaprio, the star of the movie, has had to turn over an Oscar won by Marlon Brando to the government that was given to him by the producers.

Unsure if 1MDB probe will continue

A call to a US Justice Department spokesman in Los Angeles, which is tallying the assets allegedly stolen by Najib, his relatives and associates, asking for the status of the wide-ranging investigation into the affair wasn’t answered and it isn’t known if the investigation is continuing. When he came into office, Trump fired all the 93 US attorneys in the US and its territories.

Najib’ s visit is scheduled for Sept. 12, according to the New York Times. It has been met with incredulity by critics, who point out that Najib has been under fire even before he became prime minister. He was the focus of a huge scandal in the previous decade for steering a €114.96 million bribe (US$135.7 million at current exchange rates) to the United Malays National Organization, the country’s biggest political party, on the purchase of Scorpene submarines from the French munitions maker DCN. Altantuya Shaariibuu, a 28-year-old Mongolian beauty who had figured in the case, was murdered by two of Najib’s bodyguards after demanding US$500,000 from Abdul Razak Baginda, the prime minister’s close friend and confederate in the affair, who had jilted her.

Two officials of a DCN subsidiary have been indicted, specifically on charges of bribing Najib by name. Abdul Razak Baginda was indicted by the French prosecutor in June.

Looting of state fund

As Asia Sentinel reported on June 3, according to documents filed by the US Justice Department’s Asset Forfeiture Section in Los Angeles, as much as US$4.5 billion is said to have gone missing from 1MDB, some of it in the form of jewels now adorning Rosmah’s portly torso. The documents identified the US$681 million that mysteriously appeared in Najib’s personal accounts in 2013 as having come from 1MDB, not mysterious Saudi benefactors, as Najib has claimed.

Others besides Riza Aziz are Low Taek Jho, or Jho Low, the flamboyant Malaysian Chinese financier who convinced Najib to take over an obscure Terengganu fund and turn it into 1MDB; and several top 1MDB officials.

The suspects allegedly “conspired to divert billions of dollars through various means, including by defrauding foreign banks and by sending foreign wire communications in furtherance of the scheme, and thereafter, to launder the proceeds of that criminal conduct, including in and through US financial institutions, “ according to the justice department

The funds diverted were “used for the personal benefit of the co-conspirators and their relatives and associates, including to purchase luxury real estate in the United States and overseas, pay gambling expenses at Las Vegas casinos, acquire more than US$200 million worth of artwork, purchase lavish gifts for family members and associates, invest in a major New York real estate development project, and fund the production of major Hollywood films."

Political firings, repression

In his own country, Najib engineered the jailing of the opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim in 2015 on what are widely regarded as specious sexual perversion charges. In July of 2015, he fired the country’s attorney general, Abdul Gain Patail, on the eve of Patail’s decision to charge him with corruption, and replaced him with Mohamed Apandi Ali, considered to be a stooge of the United Malays National Organization.

He also kicked out his deputy prime minister, Muhyiddin Yasin, as well as Akhil Bulat, the head of the police special branch intelligence unit and others for questioning his version of events surrounding 1MDB. He ordered the temporary suspension of The Edge Financial Daily and its sister paper after they printed that the equivalent of U$1.83 billion was allegedly stolen by company officers and others from the troubled fund.

The Prime Minister continues in office on the strength of millions of dollars paid in bribes to cadres of the United Malays National Organization; the country’s leading political party, who are instrumental in keeping him at the head of the party.

Polls expected soon

The government must go to the polls under Malaysia’s Westminster parliamentary system by mid-2018. At the moment, the opposition, fractured by political infighting with many of its top leaders under the threat of prison for specious sedition charges, is given little chance of taking over. The ruling Barisan Nasional coalition has effectively gerrymandered the country to ensure victory in addition to denying the opposition a voice in the country’s newspapers and other media, almost all of which are owned by government-aligned political parties.

Last May, the government charged Premesh Chandran, the publisher and CEO of the independent online news portal Malaysiakini – arguably the country’s only effective media voice -- with violating he communications and multimedia act for posting footage of a press conference critical of the attorney general’s decision clearing Najib of corruption allegations.