- Earlier this month, Malaysian police issued an arrest warrant against British investigative journalist, Clare Rewcastle Brown, for writing about Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak’s alleged involvement in a $700 million corruption scandal.
- INTERPOL confirmed on August 30 that the Malaysian police’s request to place Rewcastle-Brown on its international “Red Notice” list had been denied.
- On August 29 and 30, thousands of protestors took to Kuala Lumpur’s streets, demanding Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak’s resignation over his alleged involvement in the financial scandal.
On August 4, 2015, Malaysian police issued an arrest warrant against British investigative journalist, Clare Rewcastle Brown, for writing about Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak’s alleged involvement in a $700 million corruption scandal.
Rewcastle-Brown is the editor of Sarawak Report, an online news blog that covers deforestation and corruption issues in Malaysia. She is also the sister-in-law of former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
The Malaysian police charged Rewcastle-Brown for activities that are “detrimental to parliamentary democracy.”
“We will proceed with the applications to place her on the Aseanapol wanted list as well as the INTERPOL Red Notice,” Datuk Seri Mohmad Salleh, head of the Malaysian Criminal Investigation Department, had said in a media statement on August 4.
Concerned about the misuse of INTERPOL’s systems to restrict freedom of media, Fair Trials International, a London-based NGO, wrote to INTERPOL’s Secretary General on August 25. The NGO expressed particular concern over the Malaysian police referring to conversations with the Secretary General of INTERPOL, “outside of INTERPOL’s formal review process, as enhancing the prospects of INTERPOL cooperating with a Red Notice Request.”
“It suggests that contacts and diplomacy plays a more important part in INTERPOL’s decision-making process than the rules,” Jago Russell, Director of Fair Trials, wrote in the letter.
Responding to Fair Trial’s letter, INTERPOL confirmed on August 30 that the Malaysian police’s request to place Rewcastle-Brown on its international “Red Notice” list had been denied.
“Whilst INTERPOL does not usually comment on specific cases or individuals, in the light of the significant press interest in this case we can confirm that INTERPOL’s General Secretariat did receive a Red Notice request for Clare Brown from Malaysian authorities,” Jurgen Stock, Secretary General of INTERPOL, wrote in a letter addressed to Jago Russell.
“In line with our standard operating procedure a review was conducted and on 9th August the request for the Red Notice was refused. All 190 member countries were informed of the decision and advised not to use INTERPOL’s channels in this matter and were also requested to remove any data from their national databases.”
The Bruno Manser Fonds, a fund set up to help conserve tropical rainforests and indigenous populations in Sarawak in Malaysian Borneo, welcomed INTERPOL’s decision in a press statement. They also “called on the Malaysian authorities to retract the arrest warrant issued against Clare Rewcastle Brown.”
Investigating the corruption allegations
The $700 million corruption scandal involves the Malaysian government investment fund, 1Malaysia Development Berhad, or 1MDB, set up by Najib in 2009.
Media reports have consistently criticized 1MDB for its lack of transparency, and for amassing a massive debt of about $11 billion. Moreover, a recent exposé traced the transfer of $700 million from companies and funds linked to the 1MDB to Najib’s personal bank accounts in 2013.
Najib has consistently denied these allegations, claiming that the money came from Arab donors. However, both the media and Malaysia’s former Prime Minister, Mahathir Mohamad, remain unconvinced, and have continued to criticize Najib for using the 1MDB fund to facilitate his lavish lifestyle.
In a recent development, Switzerland’s Office of the Attorney General (OAG) has initiated criminal proceedings against two entities linked to the 1MDB fund and an unknown person. These criminal proceedings, according to the media, are based on reports by the Money Laundering Reporting Office Switzerland.
“The case involved ‘suspected corruption of public foreign officials, dishonest management of public interests and money laundering,’ ” the OAG spokesman told the media.
While details about the “entities” are unclear, it is likely that one of them is a Geneva-based joint venture between 1MDB and the Saudi Oil group, PetroSaudi International, the Bruno Manser Fonds (BMF) team said in a press statement. “Both joint venture partners have been accused of money laundering by Sarawak Report and various international media,” BMF added.
Bruno Manser Fonds has also called on the Swiss authorities to investigate banks – like Coutts, JP Morgan, Falcon Private Bank and BSI – that may have been associated with the 1MDB scandal.
Meanwhile, on August 29 and 30, thousands of protestors took to Kuala Lumpur’s streets, demanding Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak’s resignation over his alleged involvement in the financial scandal.
Najib reportedly told the media that such protests were “not the proper channel to voice opinions in a democratic country.”
However, former Prime Minister Mahathir was quoted as saying that “there’s no more rule of law. The only way for the people to get back to the old system is for them to remove this prime minister. We must remove this prime minister.”