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PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang’s (above) recent statement calling for financial scandals to be resolved internally is nothing less than a call to Malaysians to close their eyes to endemic corruption and the abuse of power.

In echoing the misinformation put out by UMNO stalwarts that the seizure of 1MDB-related assets by the US Department of Justice (DOJ) is somehow an act of interference in our internal affairs, he has once again demonstrated that he is more than willing to abandon principle for the sake of political expediency.

It is crass political opportunism plain and simple and is precisely why so many Malaysians continue to be wary and distrustful of him.

DOJ investigation 

By now it should be abundantly clear that the DOJ investigations are focused on individuals who have violated US laws. As the DOJ statement indicated, it is intent on ensuring that the US does not become “a safe haven for corrupt individuals and kleptocrats to hide their ill-gotten wealth and money.” That the funds allegedly came from Malaysia is incidental as far as the US is concerned.

Indeed, since the start of the US Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative (KARI) in 2010, cases have been brought against nationals from Equatorial Guinea, Nigeria, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, South Korea, Taiwan, Honduras and even Canada. What makes the present case involving Malaysia stand out is that it represents the largest action brought under KARI, with assets of more than US$1.7 billion now subject to forfeiture.

The DOJ investigations cannot, by any definition, therefore, be considered interference in our domestic affairs. To suggest that it is, is simply to distract attention away from the real issue – the plunder of national assets and the abuse of power.

Anyone really concerned about foreign interference need look no further than the activities of the PRC embassy which is actively colluding with BN parties to help it retain power, or the Saudi embassy which has been promoting its radical Wahhabi ideology across the country.

Outrageous revelations

Whatever it is, there’s no escaping the fact that the DOJ investigations and the outrageous revelations concerning the use of looted taxpayers money to fund the indolent and immoral lifestyle of a few well-connected cronies have created a groundswell of public angst that must be addressed one way or the other.

To see billions of our money being frittered away on champagne parties in Hollywood and St Tropez, expensive gifts, luxury yachts and high-end properties in New York and London while so many ordinary Malaysians, including those in Hadi’s own home state, are struggling to make ends meet, is surely an egregious crime that deserves to be exposed and condemned.

A culture of impunity

What is even more troubling about Hadi’s statement is that he knows full well that the justice system in Malaysia, at least when it involves high-profile personalities, is irretrievably broken. For decades, people in power have plundered national resources with complete impunity. Billions have been lost in scandal after scandal with rarely anyone being held accountable or brought to justice.

How many convictions have resulted from our own investigations into high-level corruption over the past few decades? How much of stolen assets have been recovered? When was the last time a high-ranking government politician or a well-connected crony went to jail for corruption?

To insist that such investigations be left to our own justice system under these circumstances is, therefore, to offer a free pass to plunderers and thieves.

Foreign interference or local indifference?

The truth is most Malaysians have given up on our justice system when it comes to high-profile cases and they will take justice wherever it may be found.

Of course, it diminishes us that we have to look abroad for justice especially after all these years of independence. Of course, it hurts our pride that other jurisdictions are investigating crimes that our own authorities are unwilling or unable to take seriously. But, if the choice is between foreign “interference” or local indifference, more power to the DOJ!

Besides, those who protest the loudest about the so-called infringement of our sovereignty ought to take a good long look into the mirror and ask themselves who the real traitors are – those who steal public funds and attempt to launder it abroad or those who insist on holding public officials accountable for their actions?

Incidentally, it is a question that is going to be asked more and more in the months ahead as billions of ringgit in fresh loans from China pour into dubious projects and push corruption and money laundering to new heights, perhaps even making IMDB look like small change. 

More “interference” not less

If anything, western countries are simply not doing enough to stem the tide of money laundering by Third World kleptocrats.

The Washington-based Global Financial Integrity, for example, in its most recent ratings, ranked Malaysia fifth in terms of illicit financial flows over the decade. It noted that Malaysia lost more than US$418 billion (RM1.8 trillion) in illegal capital outflows stemming from tax evasion, crime, corruption and other illicit activities.

It is no secret that much of this money ended up in countries like the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, the EU and even Singapore without too much of a peep from the governments concerned. By turning a blind eye to money laundering and illicit capital outflows, the governments concerned are complicit in the theft of public funds from the developing world.

Third World countries wouldn’t need a dime of foreign aid if developed countries cracked down on the illicit outflow of funds from the developing world.

The actions of the DOJ and initiatives like KARI should, therefore, be celebrated by all Third World citizens who are otherwise powerless to stop their own disenfranchisement at the hands of their own leaders.

Hopefully, the IMDB affair will result in greater international scrutiny of financial transactions and even tougher laws to curb kleptocracy and money laundering.

Camels and pigs

With empty bombast, Hadi concluded by saying that he’d “rather herd camels for the tyrant among us than herd pigs for someone else.” My own view is that if local leaders cannot be held accountable at home, we should have no qualms about outsourcing that responsibility to the DOJ and others like them regardless of the implications.

In any case, we have no camels here, only pigs.

[Dennis Ignatius | Kuala Lumpur | 30th June 2017]