What Najib Razak’s corruption trial means for Malaysia – and the region



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Former Prime Minister Najib Razak arriving in court in Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday.
Fazry Ismail/EPA

James Chin, University of Tasmania

The corruption trial of Najib Tun Razak, the former prime minister of Malaysia, has finally begun following two postponements and an attempt on the opening day of the trial for a third. Many Malaysians were starting to wonder if Najib would ever get his day in court.

Najib’s lawyers have used every legal manoeuvre at their disposal to try to delay the trial as long as possible. These tactics verged on the ridiculous a month ago when Najib’s main lawyer claimed his pet dog had injured his wrist. The move worked – the former PM was granted another reprieve.

The trial over Najib’s role in a financial scam involving Malaysia’s 1MDB sovereign wealth fund will certainly not proceed smoothly, and the defence is sure to file new objections to higher courts to try to stop it again.

The reason Najib wants the trial delayed is simple: if he is found guilty, it will have a major impact on other upcoming trials.




Read more:
What’s next for Najib Razak, Malaysia’s disgraced former prime minister?


His wife is also charged with money-laundering in connection with the scandal. (She’s accused of splurging on designer clothes and handbags during million-dollar shopping trips.) If Najib is found guilty, this would undoubtedly strengthen the case against her. Several ministers who served under Najib have also been charged with corruption.

Najib himself also faces several other trials related to the 1MDB scandal. For the government, the current trial is by far the simplest and easiest to prosecute. It involves 42 million Malaysian ringgit (A$14.5 million) that made its way from SRC International, a former unit of 1MDB, to Najib’s personal account. All these transactions occurred in Malaysia, unlike the other cases, which involve international transactions and multiple jurisdictions. The paper trial for this trial is straightforward.

Najib has pleaded not guilty to all charges and claimed the money in his accounts did not come from SRC International.

If Najib is found guilty, he will automatically lose his seat in parliament and face possible jail time. Being an MP gives him the platform to influence politics and say anything he likes against the current government, led by his political rival, Mahathir bin Mohamad.

Najib is already working on his political comeback – part of the strategy is to maintain a high profile as an MP through social media.

Najib tried to bolster his image with video of him singing a Malay version of The Manhattans’ 1970s song, ‘Kiss and Say Goodbye’

How Malaysians are viewing the trial

Many Malaysians want the trial to proceed without any more interruptions, because it would show the accountability process is finally working in Malaysia. Najib and his government were ousted from power in last year’s election because voters wanted the PM (and his wife) to face trial over the corruption allegations. Previously, it was understood that if you held a high political office, you were likely to get away with corruption.

If Najib isn’t convicted, many will likely wonder if there was any point to the change in power. The new government knows this and must deliver a credible trial. There is no other political option.

If Najib and his expensive lawyers are able to continue delaying the trial, Malaysians may start to lose faith with the new administration. Mahathir has publicly pledged to jail Najib for corruption before he hands over power next year to party leader Anwar Ibrahim, and if he cannot deliver on this, it will damage his successor’s political capital.




Read more:
Now that Malaysia has a new government, the real work begins reforming the country


Najib may even try to delay his trials until after the next election, due in 2023, so he can continue to mount his political comeback.

Far more important for Malaysia, however, is the issue of political immunity. No previous leader has ever been charged with corruption and it is vitally important the rule of law is applied here for future generations.

This has regional implications, as well. Many activists in countries such as Singapore, Indonesia and Thailand see the Najib trial as a benchmark for tackling corruption in their own countries.

In many Southeast Asian countries, a culture of impunity persists at the highest levels of government. There is a belief among many political leaders that once they leave office, the sins they committed while in power will not lead to jail. It is as if this is one of the benefits of being elected to office.

In the coming days, expect more delay tactics by Najib’s defence team. The case might even be halted again due to a legal challenge on a point of law.

But given the stakes involved, I have no doubt the new Malaysian Attorney-General, Tommy Thomas, will make sure Najib’s trial goes ahead. Malaysia as a nation cannot have closure over the 1MDB affair until he is called to answer for his alleged crimes.The Conversation

James Chin, Director, Asia Institute Tasmania, University of Tasmania

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

What’s next for Najib Razak, Malaysia’s disgraced former prime minister?



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Former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak is greeted by his supporters as he leaves the Kuala Lumpur High Court.
AAP/Ahmad Yusni

James Chin, University of Tasmania

The arrest of Najib Razak, the former prime minister of Malaysia, on Tuesday was widely expected. In fact, many Malaysians were hoping he would be arrested immediately after the ruling party, the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), was defeated in the May 9 election.

Najib was the main reason why UMNO lost – he was widely seen as corrupt and the main person behind the scandal at 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), a state investment fund.

US prosecutors have accused Najib of diverting US$731 million from 1MDB into his personal bank account. Many people assume Najib’s arrest is connected to this fund, but legally speaking, he faces charges relating to a company called SRC international, a one-time subsidiary of 1MDB.




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SRC took a loan of about US$1 billion from a state-run retirement fund and Najib is alleged to have siphoned off about US$10.5 million from the top. The money allegedly ended up in his bank account, the same account that was implicated in the 1MDB affair.

Najib has denied any wrongdoing, and on Weddnesday pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Why was Najib not charged in the 1MDB probe?
The simple answer is that the 1MDB investigation covers multiple jurisdictions. At the last count, money involved in the 1MDB affair is believed to have passed through the following financial systems: the United States, United Kingdom, Singapore, Switzerland, Australia, Luxembourg, Hong Kong, Thailand, United Arab Emirates, among others.

It is simply not possible to put such a complex case together in such a short amount of time following the election of opposition leader Mahathir Mohamad two months ago.

The good news is that, under the new Mahathir administration, foreign governments will now have access to Malaysian documents related to the 1MDB probe. The US, Singapore and Switzerland are among the countries investigating the scandal. When Najib was in power, all financial institutions in Malaysia refused to cooperate with these foreign probes.

Why is SRC International different?
The key factor here is a star witness, a former director of SRC International who decided to come forward to testify for the prosecution. This individual was too afraid to come forward when Najib was prime minister. That is no longer the case.

There are several key witnesses in the 1MDB scandal who may be thinking along the same lines as the former SRC director. With Najib no longer in control, some of these witnesses may now turn against him, as well.

Top of the list is Jho Low, the accused mastermind of the 1MDB scam. He is believed to be dividing his time between Macau and Taiwan, both places where extradition to Malaysia is not possible.




Read more:
Now that Malaysia has a new government, the real work begins reforming the country


Another important witness under tremendous pressure to come forward is Tim Leissner, the former Southeast Asia chairman for Goldman Sachs, the bank that handled most of the 1MDB bond sales. He was pushed to resign from Goldman Sachs in February 2016, and both Singapore and US securities regulators have banned him from working again in the financial industry.

An interesting side note is that he is better known in the US as the husband of Kimora Lee Simmons, an American model and fashion designer and the former wife of hip hop mogul Russell Simmons.

What’s next in the Najib case?
By charging Najib, the Mahathir administration is keeping an electoral promise to take action against the former leader. But more importantly, the new government is also sending a strong message to Malaysians and the international community that it is serious about cleaning up the mess left by Najib’s government, especially when it comes to corruption.

For Najib, this will likely be the first of many trials he will face, as more charges are expected in the 1MDB case. It’s also likely that Najib’s family members, including his wife, stepson and son-in-law will face charges, as they are alleged to be direct beneficiaries of the stolen funds.




Read more:
Malaysia’s dire democratic crisis


And this will likely bring an end to the Razak political dynasty in Malaysia for the time being. Najib’s father was Malaysia’s second prime minister and many of his immediate relations used to hold political office. Until the election in May, Najib’s cousin, Hishammuddin Hussein, had been Malaysia’s defence minister.

UMNO will also need to shed its associations with Najib in order to rehabilitate its image among the Malaysian people. Last weekend, the party elected a new president, former Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi.

All in all, Najib’s arrest represents a clean break from the past for all of Malaysia. The end of one-party rule has opened up the possibility of a new era of good governance in the country, which was unthinkable just three months ago. In today’s “new” Malaysia, anything is possible – even calling to account a former prime minister who was just defeated.

The ConversationMore importantly, going forward, the Malaysian public will demand full accountability from their leaders, both past and present.

James Chin, Director, Asia Institute Tasmania, University of Tasmania

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Government wants church to stop contruction in Malaysia


Christians in a small village in Malaysia have been told they can’t build a church. Reports coming out of Malaysia say Christians in the Temiar village of Pos Pasik, about 70 km northeast of Gua Musang Kelantan, have been told by the Department of Orang Asli Affairs (JHEOA) that they have no permission to build a church on their land, reports MNN.

On 20 May 2010, the village head wrote to the Director-General of the JHEOA to inform him of their plan to build the church in their village, half of whom have converted to Christianity in recent years.

In response, the Deputy Director-General writing on behalf of the D-G replied that their "application" to build the church had been rejected and the community was asked to stop work on the building immediately.

This is contrary to what Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said this week. He praised the work and mission of the Inter-faith Relations Working Committee. It’s a group of Malaysia’s religious leaders representing Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, and Muslims. In a 45-minute session he praised Malaysia’s pluralism, saying, "It’s the foundation of national unity, rather than a front of division."

Todd Nettleton with Voice of the Martyrs says, "While the prime minister is saying we celebrate religious diversity and we celebrate the freedom to worship, the reality on the ground for some of the Christians in Malaysia is a little different."

Nettleton says it appears that religious tolerance depends on your ethnicity. "It is not uncommon for an ethnic Chinese person to be a Christian. So that is thought to be acceptable. It is much less common for an ethnic Malay person to be a Christian. They are thought culturally to be Muslims. Typically you see a harsh response from that."

Nettleton says, "There is some type of revival movement that is going on there. The ethnic villagers are becoming Christians. They want to have a church building. What I’m not clear about–and I think it deserves a little bit more study–is why this government agency said you can’t build this church building."

If the church is demolished or stopped, it will be the second Orang Asli church in the state of Kelantan (and no less than 5 in the peninsular altogether) that has been demolished by the authorities on the basis of various excuses, including that the Orang Asli do not have rights to the land concerned. But it is evident that the issue is religion-related as other structures, including suraus, have been built on such lands without any issue.

Report from the Christian Telegraph

MALAYSIA: COURT DENIES WOMAN’S APPEAL TO LEAVE ISLAM


Muslim protestors disrupt public forum on dual legal system’s jurisdictional disputes.

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, August 15 (Compass Direct News) – A civil court on Aug. 5 denied a woman’s appeal to renounce Islam in favor of Christianity, highlighting the jurisdictional disputes in Malaysia’s dual legal system.

Lim Yoke Khoon had filed a suit in her original ethnic Chinese name to renounce Islam and embrace Christianity. In a 2-1 majority ruling, the Shah Alam Court of Appeal denied her case on a technicality: According to judges Tengku Baharudin Shah Tengku Mahmud and Sulong Mat Jeraie, Lim had ceased to exist under her original name when she converted to Islam and assumed a new name, Noorashikin Lim binti Abdullah.

The 35-year-old Lim is reportedly expected to appeal to the country’s top civil court.

After marrying a Muslim man in 1994, Lim converted to Islam and obtained a new identity card with her Muslim name. She divorced three years later. In 2003, she applied for a change to her name and religion on her identity card, but the National Registration Department told her she must get permission from the Islamic sharia court to renounce Islam.

She sought a declaration from the high court that she was no longer a Muslim, but it ruled in 2006 that it had no jurisdiction to hear the case.

Malaysia’s civil courts have not been known to rule in favor of non-Muslims in conversion cases in recent years. Many, such as Lina Joy, have been directed to obtain an exit certificate from the sharia court in order to leave Islam. But Lina – and others like her – are reluctant to subject themselves to a religious court that has no jurisdiction over them since they are no longer professing Muslims.

 

Quelling Discussion

A public forum to discuss such jurisdictional disputes, in this case the dual court system’s effect on families of people who convert to Islam, was scheduled for Saturday (Aug. 9) but Muslim protestors succeeded in halting it after only one hour.

Sponsored by a body of legal practitioners called the Malaysian Bar Council, the public forum that began at 9 a.m. was scheduled to last until 1 p.m., but police advised organizers to end it at 10 a.m. as protestors outside the council headquarters shouting “Allahu Akbar [God is greater],” “Destroy Bar Council” and “Long Live Islam” became rowdy. A handful of protestors flanked by police officers marched into the building shouting for the meeting to end immediately.

The protestors included members from several Malay-Muslim movements, including the Malaysian Islamic Propagation and Welfare Organization and the Federation of Malay Students Union, as well as members of political parties such as the United Malays National Organization, the People’s Justice Party (PKR) and Islamic Party of Malaysia (PAS).

The forum had been widely criticized by various Malay-Muslim groups and individuals for raising the ire of Muslims by touching on issues sensitive to Islam. Among those critical were cabinet ministers, including Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak, Home Minister Syed Hamid Albar and Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Dr. Ahmad Zahid Hamidi.

Prior to the event, the Bar Council had been urged to either cancel the forum or hold the event behind closed doors, but the organizers decided to proceed albeit with the cautionary measure of requiring participants at the open forum to register.

A day prior to the forum, the Bar Council issued a press release to clarify the purpose of the forum through council Vice President Ragunath Kesavan. Ragunath made clear that the forum would not question the provisions of Article 121(1A), which confer jurisdiction over Muslims in personal, religious and family matters on the sharia courts, and that the forum would not question Islam or its status as enshrined in the Federal Constitution.

Rather, Ragunath said, the purpose of the meeting was to address issues affecting families of those who convert to Islam and were caught between the separate jurisdiction of the civil and sharia courts.

The morning of the forum, two unidentified men on motorcycles threw kerosene bombs into the compound of a residence formerly occupied by the president of the Bar Council, Ambiga Sreenevasan. Many believed the incident was linked to the Bar Council’s forum on conversion.

 

Other Muslim Responses

Not all Muslims agreed with the protestors’ actions.

Leaders of the Muslim political party PAS and Muslim-led multi-racial party, PKR, have distanced themselves from members who participated in the raucous disruption of the Bar Council forum.

Dr. Dzulkifli Ahmad, director of the PAS Research Centre, told The Star daily on Wednesday (Aug. 13), “We were unanimous that [the forum] should have been allowed to proceed,” and that “those who had united to oppose the forum had no understanding of the issue at hand.”

PKR Deputy President Syed Husin Ali reportedly also condemned the “rough action” of the protestors, although he said the party agreed with its adviser Anwar Ibrahim that the meeting should have been held behind closed doors “in view of the sensitive reactions and wrong perception among a section of the Malay-Muslim community.”

Karim Raslan, a Malay-Muslim columnist at The Star argued that “we can’t achieve any sense of mutual agreement unless we are willing to talk – and openly – to one another about the issues that matter.”

 

Non-Muslim Reactions

Civil society groups and members of the non-Muslim community, including those from the ruling coalition government, have also criticized the Muslim protestors’ actions for failing to acknowledge long-standing problems non-Muslims caught in jurisdictional conflict situations have had to face and endure.

Others have urged the government to take decisive and immediate steps to address the problems arising from the country’s dual legal system. In Malaysia, sharia laws are binding on Muslims in personal, religious and family matters while civil laws apply to all citizens.

Joint Action Group for Gender Equality, representing five different women’s groups, reportedly called on the government “to act against mob rule and to allow citizens more democratic space for open dialogue.”

T. Mohan, youth coordinator of the Malaysian Indian Congress, a party within the ruling coalition, told online news agency Malaysiakini on Monday (Aug. 11), “[The protestors] should have come out with their proposals in addressing the issue of non-Muslim husbands who abandon their spouses and their families and convert into Islam, rather than stop a legitimate forum.”

Dr. Koh Tsu Koon, acting president of Gerakan, a party within the ruling coalition government, was quoted in local media as calling for the government to convene a joint committee of civil and sharia lawyers “to formulate, clarify and rectify procedures related to marriage between Muslims and non-Muslims, conversion, custody of children and burial rituals.”  

Report from Compass Direct News