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Corruption and the abuse of power on such a staggering scale, after all, do not  happen unless officials in other countries look the other way or help facilitate it.

As the new government gains access to all the files and uncovers more details of what went on during the Najib administration, a shocking picture of corruption, malfeasance and betrayal is emerging. And its not just corrupt politicians, officials and cronies in Malaysia who are implicated but foreign officials as well.

Corruption and the abuse of power on such a staggering scale, after all, do not  happen unless officials in other countries look the other way or help facilitate it.

A pattern of fraud

China, in particular, has a lot of explaining to do.

The latest scandals to be uncovered – the Multi-Product Pipeline (MPP) and the Trans-Sabah Gas Pipeline (TSGP) valued at RM9.4 billion –  confirm a shocking pattern of PRC corporations conniving with Najib and his henchmen to defraud Malaysian taxpayers.

The PRC government which financed many of these projects through China EXIM bank loans must surely have known that corruption was involved, and yet it continued to sign contract after contract with the Najib administration on terms which commentators have variously described as highly unusual, unheard of, puzzling, very exceptional or outside the norm.

Clearly, in pursuit of its own economic and political agenda, China was willing to turn a blind eye to obvious signs of malfeasance. The idea that Beijing was somehow misled by Najib and his cronies is just too preposterous to be believable, especially given that China walked away, time and again, with all the benefits while leaving Malaysia with all the liabilities.

After this, China shouldn’t be surprised if other countries begin to examine more closely the practices of PRC corporations and the way it wins big infrastructure contracts abroad.

Looking the other way

Singapore, of course, likes to pride  itself as squeaky clean with a ruthlessly efficient bureaucracy, but  on the 1MDB file at least it was uncharacteristically slow to react to money laundering and suspicious financial transactions. No other country knows more about the goings-on in Malaysia than Singapore; claiming that it didn’t know until later that 1MDB money was flowing through Singapore’s financial system is simply not credible.

Many questions remain, as well, about the infamous Singapore Straits Times 2015 prison interview with 1MDB whistle-blower Xavier Justo. The interview, which Justo recently said was scripted, was used by Najib to discredit both Sarawak Report and The Edge which were then relentlessly endeavouring to expose the full extent of the 1MDB scandal.

The government of Saudi Arabia, for its part, aided and abetted Najib’s wrongdoing by falsely confirming that the US$681 million found  in his personal account was a gift.  Saudi Foreign Minster Adel al-Jubeir, in effect, deliberately misled the international community when he declared in April 2016 that the money was “a genuine donation with nothing expected in return.”

Was it mere coincidence that not long after the Saudi cover-up, Malaysia joined the Saudi-led war against Yemen?

According to the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), the UAE was also involved. Its well-connected ambassador in Washington (a close friend of Jho Low)  used his diplomatic influence to persuade banks to give loans to 1MDB saying it was important for UAE-Malaysia relations while he himself was profiting from it. In the end, Malaysia was left to repay billions to a UAE government fund.

Such was the angst in the UAE following Najib’s shock election defeat that a political commentator known to be close to the UAE government excoriated Malaysians for electing a “92-year old who suddenly turned against his own party” after doing a “suspicious deal with his opponents.” Apparently not all were pleased that we got rid of a kleptocratic government.

Apart from this, the leaders of several other countries  including Australia, the UK and the United States gave Najib the international respectability he craved by meeting with him despite growing evidence of his involvement in theft and money laundering.  President Trump even welcomed Najib to the White House even though Najib was being investigated by the US Department of Justice.  They all shamelessly put political expediency ahead of principle and looked the other way.

As well, Australia has yet to explain how someone like Sirul Azhar (who was implicated in the murder of Altantuya Shaaribuu) managed to find refuge in Australia despite its stringent immigration screening procedures.  And why was someone detained in a maximum security prison given almost unfettered access to the media? 

Lessons to be learned

One of the many lessons that can be learned from this dark episode in Malaysia’s history  is that the international community must be far more vigilant in combatting corruption and governmental malfeasance. Countries that cherish democratic values and good governance in particular must never again be welcoming of despots and kleptocrats like Najib or turn a blind eye to their misdeeds.

In the past, Malaysia, too, has been welcoming of tyrants and kleptocrats like Robert Mugabe. Non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries does not mean turning a blind eye to corruption, malfeasance and the abuse of power; the least we can do from  now on is to send a clear message to the corrupt of the earth that they are not welcome here anymore. If we can do that, our struggle against a corrupt and abusive government might become a small inspiration to oppressed people everywhere.

[Dennis Ignatius | Kuala Lumpur | 11th June 2018]

 

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