It is all but certain that at some point over the next few weeks if not the next few days, the justice agencies of other countries are going to follow the United States in issuing charges of money laundering, theft of public funds and a plethora of others against Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak and officials of the scandal-scarred 1Malaysia Development Bhd.
Despite the fact that he is due to visit Indonesia on Monday – where criminality of leaders stirs little concern – Najib is finding fewer places to run or hide, except in his own increasingly desperate country. As many as 10 countries are investigating 1MDB or his family. The gilded shopping trips to New York are over, and the homes where he and his bejeweled wife Rosmah Mansor used to stay are now confiscated.
In addition to the United States, the government of Singapore has already lodged charges against officials of the Singapore arm of BSI, the Swiss bank, for money laundering, The Swiss earlier this year issued a statement that as much as US$4 billion had been laundered from 1MDB into Swiss banks, although no charges have been filed yet. In a separate case, two employees of the French defense manufacturer have been specifically charged with bribing Najib by name.
Nonetheless, the prime minister and his allies in the United Malays National Organization and his tame officials have doubled down, determined to contain the scandal domestically if they can’t contain it internationally. They are threatening to charge Zeti Akhtar Aziz, the respected former governor of the central bank, Bank Negara, Abdul Ghani Patail, fired from his post as attorney general when he was about to charge Najib, with crimes connected to 1MDB, and Abu Kassim Mohamed, the former head of the Malaysian Ant-Corruption Commission, for supposedly providing information to the FBI. Although, in a truly bemusing bit of chutzpah, he reacted to a question in a press conference on July 20 by saying he wouldn’t bring charges against the United States for its investigatioon.
There is rising concern in Malaysia that Najib will go further in throttling opponents with the use of an “anti-terrorism law” that was pushed through hurriedly in the early hours of April 7, supposedly to go after Islamic jihadists connected to the Islamic State. The law comes into effect on Aug. 1.
Critics say the measure is reminiscent of the notorious Internal Security Act that the country discarded in 2012 and resembles measures implemented by both the strongman Suharto in Indonesia and Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines when their regimes were threatened by opposition. The law allows suspected terrorists to be detained for a maximum of 30 days without trial; a Prevention of Terrorism Board would then be empowered to extend detention to two years, renewable every two years after that, with no maximum period of detention. The measure allows for detention solely on the word of a police inspector, extendable without access to counsel. Critics of the government fear the act could be used against them.
Civil rights and journalist groups questioned the need for the return of a draconian security act that was abhorred by much of the country.
“These provisions run counter to the requirement to investigate wrongdoing and hold institutions and their personnel accountable in the case of human rights violations,” said Laurent Meillan, the United Nations Human Rights Office for Southeast Asia’s acting regional representative in Bangkok. “We are gravely concerned that the immunity provisions in the Act may encourage human rights violations.”
Meillan expressed concern that the Act could also be used to impose unjust restrictions on freedom of opinion and expression and freedom of assembly. “We call on the government to revise the Act to bring it in line with international human rights norms and standards. Furthermore, we encourage the Government to allow for an open and transparent consultation process on the provisions in the Act with all relevant stakeholders,” he said.
Amnesty International, in a prepared release, said: “Such laws do not comply with international human rights law and contradict commitments made by the Malaysian authorities to the international community.”
The Kuala Lumpur-based Center for Independent Journalism (CIJ) said it was “appalled at the government’s proposal to reintroduce indefinite detention without trial.” The organization said it is “farcical that Prime Minister Najib Razak made a big show of announcing the repeal of the ISA in 2011 and for Parliament to have passed a law repealing it in 2012, only to have a very similar act reintroduced in 2015 under the exact same leadership.”
“Najib will make full use of the August 1st 2016, when the new Anti Terror law comes in to force,” said Pascal Najadi, an independent financial advisor now living in Moscow who has blamed figures in UMNO for the assassination of his father Hussain Najadi, the founder of what became Ambank. “It is a law that the opposition stupidly let slip through parliament without vigor. As of Aug. 1 Najib will copy paste his other hero colleague, Mr. Erdogan.
Najib has hardly needed the law. At least 160 arrests have been made under the sedition act, almost all of them members of the opposition, journalists, human rights activists and others including Zulkiflee Anwar Haque, or Zunar, perhaps the country’s most popular cartoonist, who makes a specialty of mocking the spending habits of Najib’s wife, Rosmah Mansor.
In addition, Najib has shortstopped a probe of his activities by the Malaysian Ant-Corruption Commission, driven critics such as former Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin and others out of government and taken after news organizations like the influential Edge Group, forcing The Edge to close for three months after it printed detailed information about the 1MDB scandal.
UMNO officials have refused to acknowledge the scandal. In one particular flight of fancy Abdul Rahman Dahlan, the strategic communications director for the ruling Barisan Nasional, accused the FBI of simply taking the plethora of charges laid bare by Clare Rewcastle Brown and Sarawak Report, “which has a heavy political agenda against the government, the BN and the prime minister,” and printing them, apparently without checking them.