Malaysia's UMNO-owned Mouthpiece Attacks 1MDB Critic

Malaysia’s New Straits Times, owned by the country’s biggest political party, has launched an all-points broadside against the party’s most biting critic, in a front-page story accusing her of conspiring to “change the destiny of one country” to get rid of Prime Minister Najib Razak and offering to drink champagne when he goes.

According to the story, the NST, which is owned by the United Malays National Organization, obtained three months of WhatsApp conversations between Clare Rewcastle-Brown, the editor of The Sarawak Report, Tong Kooi Ong and Ho Kay Tat of the Edge Media Group and a Swiss national who obtained thousands of emails from Xavier Andre Justo from PetroSaudi, a Middle-Eastern oil exploration company with close connections to the state-backed 1Malaysia Development Bhd. investment fund, which has fallen into a river of red ink from what appears to be vast mismanagement and crookedry.

Over the past several months, using Justo’s information and a wide range of other sources, Rewcastle Brown has printed a long series of damaging reports that alleged that Najib and Jho Taek Low, the young tycoon who was instrumental in setting up 1MDB, had spirited hundreds of millions of dollars out of the troubled fund into Jho Low’s own accounts and to other destinations.

Rewcastle-Brown also acknowledges that she played a role in feeding information to help the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times write equally devastating stories about Najib’s family property holdings in the United States and the fact that US$680 million was deposited in Najib’s personal account in AmBank in Kuala Lumpur from unknown sources in 2013.

In what can only be termed a startling reversal of reality, Najib and UMNO have made Rewcastle Brown the focus of a supposed attempt by shadowy foreign interests to wreck what they regard as a “democratically elected” government without identifying the foreign interests, although they have hinted that it could be the Israelis, trying to bring down a Muslim government. In August, they succeeded in getting Interpol to temporarily issue a red notice that theoretically could have resulted in her arrest and extradition to Malaysia. The director of Interpol quickly put a stop to that, admonishing the Malaysian government indirectly for its action.

At the same time, people they have dismissed who apparently were drawing close to indicting him have included the deputy prime minister, the attorney general, the head of the police special branch intelligence unit, moved several members of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission to neutralize them – one of whom told reporters on Sept. 7 that the prime minister’s Rosmah Mansor, was present at the meeting when he was told he would be moved. An investigation by the Public Accounts Committee of the parliament was short-stopped when several of its members were moved into the cabinet.

They have sought to keep the lid on via the state-owned press and suspended two newspapers of The Edge Group for three months after the newspapers printed detailed stories with documents showing the transfer of monies out of the 1MDB accounts. They have threatened opposition members and political reformers with charges of sedition

Rewcastle Brown responded with a blast of her own, saying that “If the New Straits Times have been reading my WhatsApp messages to Xavier Justo they will know quite a lot of things, but not much new. They will know, for example that I do indeed think that the Prime Minister of Malaysia is managing a dangerous criminal regime, which has stolen billions from the public and then used some of it to buy an election win.”

She accused the Kuala Lumpur-based daily of having “performed a classic job of selectively editing and distorting quotes in order to try and do a hatchet job on me. The problem is that I am not the person who has committed a crime. The people they are trying to protect by attacking me have committed the crime.”

She reserved her right to sue the newspaper over selective editing and other distortions of her conversations with Justo and the others.

In the WhatsApp messages, according to the NST, was one in which told Justo that she was changing the “destiny of one country” and that she would celebrate with a glass of champagne when “Najib is done,” to which Rewcastle-Brown responded that "as for their other front page allegation that I would toast Najib’s departure from government, I am happy to confirm that I will celebrate if Najib at last proves himself a gentleman and admits he no longer has the authority and credibility needed to govern his disillusioned party and country. This is because I am a journalist who has exposed many crimes under his watch, not because I am being paid as part of some ill-defined conspiracy to criticize an innocent man!"

Much of the story centered around Justo’s efforts, before he was arrested in Thailand, to obtain up to US$2 million from the Edge’s Tong and Ho in exchange for the documents. The story alleged that Rewcastle-Brown said she would help Justo raise and, then, launder the US$2 million. She first attempted to use SJS Ltd. in Singapore to channel the funds, working with her brother, SJS director Patrick Rewcastle.

On March 19, the NST said, she confirmed the commission for the transfer, stating: “The guy wants to charge my brother €67,000. I am sure he will do without cheating.” She later offered the Swiss Bruno Manser Fund as a channel for the US$2 million, writing on April 22: “He can pay Bruno Manser Fund if he likes.” She finally agreed to sell a stake in Sarawak Report to pay Justo.

Tong and Ho in July issued a statement saying they had misled Justo, telling him they would pay for the information and then reneging once they got their hands on the data because of the overriding public interest.

“The story is out,” Rewcastle Brown wrote. “Nothing that the NST can say against Sarawak Report or try to make Xavier Justo say from his prison cell makes any difference to the crimes that the world now knows have been committed and which are now being investigated in several countries.”