The lengths Malaysian authorities are willing to go in the effort to keep a lid on continuing financial scandals involving Najib Razak and his wife, Rosmah Mansor, has taken a new turn with a threat to arrest a prominent lawyer for assisting a US businessman in making a sworn statement on his brother’s reported involvement into the stalled probe.
Police are demanding that Americk Sidhu, who assisted in writing the sworn statement by Atlanta-based businessman Charles Morais of his murdered brother’s reported involvement in the stalled Najib investigation, come in for questioning. Khalid Abu Bakar, Malaysia’s Inspector-General of Police, told local media on Nov. 30 that “we are giving Americk two days to step forward and have his statement recorded.”
On Nov. 26, Morais read a sworn statement to a press conference in Kuala Lumpur that his brother Anthony Kevin Morais, a Malaysian deputy prosecutor whose body was found in a cement-filled oil drum that had been dumped in a river, had said he was assisting in the investigation of Najib and his wife, Rosmah Mansor, before he disappeared. Morais said he had also received a USB drive from his dead brother, to be kept for safekeeping. But he gave no details about what was on the USB drive. Almost immediately after holding the press conference, Charles Morais left the country to go back to the US.
The investigation into allegations of an unexplained US$681 million infusion into Najib’s bank accounts, and the money’s subsequent disappearance, plus irregularities involving the ill-starred 1Malaysia Development Bhd. state-backed investment fund, have metamorphosed into one of Asia’s biggest potential scandals.
Minutely detailed stories of the financial transactions have appeared in the Sarawak Report, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times and Asia Sentinel. They have had no apparent effect on his viability as prime minister, with all stories met with denials or charges that the publications were biased despite the fact that Najib and his grasping wife are beginning to attain the legendary status of such outsized kleptomaniacs as the late Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines and Suharto in Indonesia.
To a semi-public request by US President Barack Obama that Najib free opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, who was imprisoned on what are widely considered trumped up charges, Najib replied only that Malaysia must follow the law. Anwar has been labeled a prisoner of conscience by a United Nations committee, which has also demanded that he be freed.
Beyond that, however, multiple allegations involving Najib run back for a more than a decade to the purchases when he was defense minister of a cornucopia of military gear including Russian jets, helicopters, patrol boats and submarines, all of which involved allegations of overpayment of substantial amounts of money that were kicked back to the United Malays National Organization or went into top cadres’ own pockets.
The biggest – until the onset of the state-backed 1Malaysia Development Bhd investment fund – involved the purchase of French submarines and kickbacks of €114 million to UMNO and the murder of a 28-year-old Mongolian national, Altantuya Shaariibuu, who may have known too much about that scandal. If anything they are an illustration of the lengths to which the leaders of UMNO, a corruption-ridden and sclerotic party that has held power in Malaysia since it became a country, are willing to go to stay in power.
So far, Najib has ridden out the both the French controversy, despite the fact that French authorities developed voluminous evidence of the scandal and made it public, and the current one by threatening scores of critics with sedition and other charges.
He has fired critical officials including his own deputy prime minister, Muhyiddin Yassin, and Abdul Gani Patail, the attorney general, among others. He retains the backing of the 192 cadres of the United Malays National Organization whose support is crucial by pouring vast amounts of money into bribes or make-work jobs to maintain their loyalty. On Dec. 8-10, that loyalty is expected to be tested at the UMNO annual general meeting, where scores of lower-ranking division chiefs, especially from Johor – Muhyiddin’s home state – have demanded answers over the twin scandals. Longtime political analysts in Malaysia believe there will be no answers at the AGM and that Najib is prepared to ride out the storm until at least 2018, when the next general election is expected.