Whistle-blowing NGO in Malaysia to be Charged

Suaram, the human rights NGO that hired French lawyers to investigate bribes and kickbacks surrounding Malaysia’s controversial purchase of French submarines, will be charged for violations of the country’s Companies Act sometime during the next two weeks, Domestic Trade and Consumerism Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob said Saturday, according to the state-owned Bernama news service.

Some 66 Malaysia-based NGOs are expected to give a press conference tomorrow at 11 am expressing their support for Suaram, an acronym for Suara Rakyat Malaysia, or Voice of the Malaysian People.

Suaram in 2009 asked a French investigative law firm headed by William Bourdon in 2009 to look into what appeared to be huge bribes and kickbacks paid to Malaysian politicians by the French state-owned defense company DCN and its subsidiaries for the 2002 purchase of two submarines and the lease of a third.

The probe resulted in a raid on DCN’s headquarters and other company offices that exposed nearly 150 million euros in questionable funds paid to a close friend of then-defense minister Najib Tun Razak, now Malaysia’s prime minister. The documents indicated that the bribes had been paid with the full knowledge of Alain Juppe, the French foreign minister, Mahathir Mohamad, then the prime minister of Malaysia, and Najib, who had negotiated the purchase. The evidence detailed a host of other sleazy dealings.

Some 133 documents listing the alleged criminal dealings were obtained independently by Asia Sentinel and posted here on June 25 on the Internet. Two Asia Sentinel stories detailed the allegations against French and Malaysian officials.

Suaram, accused of being “Anwar’s NGO” because of the presence of opposition members of its board of directors, has come under unprecedented attack by pro-government bloggers, party-owned newspaper and UMNO lawmakers who questioned its status as an NGO rather than a company and accused it of receiving foreign funds.

“Yes, they are going to try to charge us,” Suaram Director Cynthia Gabriel said in a telephone interview Sunday. We have no details yet, the first charge will probably be in a couple of days, we will see what happens.”

Gabriel said the first charge apparently involves allegations of money-laundering, although she said the NGO had voluntarily opened its books to investigators and that she felt there had been no wrongdoing.

Malaysia’s government-owned newspapers have blared headlines that Suaram received funds from the German government, and indicated that that the German ambassador would be called in and asked for an explanation.

The Chinese probably hold the record for jailing those who point out corruption, violation of environmental laws and other shortcomings. But Malaysia could be catching up. The Barisan Nasional has a considerable history of going after whistle-blowers who expose wrongdoing by government officials, and particularly of leaders of the United Malays National Organization.

The most recent were Rafizi Ramli, the strategy chief for the opposition Parti Keadilan Rakyat party, and Johan Mohamad, a former Public Bank clerk, for explosive details of an equally embarrassing scandal involving Malaysia’s National Feedlot Corporation, controlled by the husband of Shahrizat Abdul Jalil, the head of the women’s wing of UMNO. Te scandal has more recently become known as Cowgate, in which it squandered millions of ringgit on personal trips, fancy cars, condominiums in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur and largely failed in its mission to establish an operation to slaughter tens of thousands of cattle annually following Islamic religious practices.

Government officials raided Rafizi’s home in a predawn raid and charged him on Aug. 1 with violating the Banking and Financial Securities Act.

Rafizi also made public Treasury Ministry documents allegedly showing that a consortium headed by a close friend of Najib Tun Razak delivered the winning bid for a RM1 billion light rail expansion project, accusing Najib of interfering in the bid process to swing the contract to the engineering company.

Another whistleblower who had his career ruined because he dared to take on UMNO cronies was Ramli Yusuff, the director of Malaysia's Commercial Crime Investigation Department, who filed a report concerning the looting of MAS, the country’s flag airline.

"Tan Sri Tajudin Ramli was in control of MAS from 1994 to 2001. When he left MAS in 2001, MAS had accumulated losses in excess of RM8 billion (US$2.54 billion). Many projects were made under very suspicious circumstances," Ramli wrote in his report, indicating a wide range of abuses by Tajudin’s family, who were deeply involved in setting up shell companies to siphon off money from MAS ancillary operations.

But instead of preferring charges against Tajudin, the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) went after the inspecting officer, Ramli Yusuff for allegedly not declaring his assets, for misusing a police airplane, and abusing his power as a police officer, all of which were convincingly refuted.

Ramli wasn't the only one to be hauled before the courts. His lawyer, Rosli Dahlan, who was also the lawyer for the airline itself, prepared Ramli's defense against the criminal charges only to be arrested on charges of collaborating with Ramli. At one point, on a pretext that Rosli had mishandled a letter from the MACC, police officers invaded Rosli's office, arrested and handcuffed him, then kept him in a cell overnight, refusing him medical treatment for injuries to his wrists from the handcuffs. They also refused his request to file a report against the arresting officers.

Rosli went to a court especially created to handle MACC cases, only to have the case fizzle out when a prosecutor announced that neither Rosli nor Ramli had been charged for corruption, having been summarily acquitted without having to put on a defense.

Probably the most egregious case occurred in 1995 when Lim Guan Eng, then a Melaka politician, was charged with sedition and jailed for 18 months for pointing out on the floor of Parliament that Rahim Tamby Cik*, then the Melaka chief minister, was involved in the statutory rape of a 15-year-old schoolgirl. The girl’s grandmother appealed to Lim for help after the family had no access to her for eight days. When the affair became known, the alleged rape victim was jailed as well. Lim, now the chief minister for the state of Penang, lost his MP status and was barred from standing in the next election.

*Corrected 10 Sept. 2012. Asia Sentinel misnamed the chief minister of Melaka. We regret the error


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