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How independent journalism uncovered a massive crime against people and planet

Rainforest in Sarawak, Malaysia. Photo by Rhett A. Butler.

Rainforest in Sarawak, Malaysia. Photo by Rhett A. Butler.

  • By the time it uncovered the massive 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) scandal, the independent media outlet Sarawak Report had built a solid reputation upon years of reporting about how corruption abets deforestation in Borneo.
  • No longer able to enter Malaysia due to the political shakeup caused by the 1MDB exposé and her related reporting, the outlet’s founder, Clare Rewcastle Brown, speaks with Mongabay’s podcast about what inspires her reporting, including having been born in Malaysian Borneo.
  • Podcast co-host Rachel Donald discusses with Rewcastle Brown — who was recently awarded the Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani Anti-Corruption Excellence Award — how the global financial system became the repository for the billions in stolen funds, some of which ended up as luxury homes in the United States and even gifts to Hollywood celebrities, and the critical role of the press in holding people in power to account.

In 2015, independent journalist Clare Rewcastle Brown revealed that $700 million had appeared in the personal bank account of Malaysia’s then-prime minster, Najib Razak. The money had come from the 1Malaysia Development Berhad fund (1MDB), which was intended for public development and infrastructure.

This was — and still is — the world’s biggest money-laundering scandal, and resulted in a 12-year prison sentence for Razak. But Rewcastle Brown herself has also faced a slew of legal actions, including an arrest warrant and an attempt to place her on Interpol’s Red Notice list of wanted fugitives. However, after years of persistent investigating, Rewcastle Brown was recently awarded the Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani Anti-Corruption Excellence Award.

Mongabay podcast co-host Rachel Donald speaks with Rewcastle Brown, the founder of the Sarawak Report outlet, about what led her to investigate the 1MDB scandal, as well as environmental destruction in Borneo. Rewcastle Brown also shares her thoughts on the threats reporters face and how the legal system is used to keep reporters from performing their public service:

Listen here:

The 1MDB scandal gained widespread international attention after it was revealed, but key players in it remain at large, like Low Taek Jho (a.k.a. Jho Low), the mastermind behind the huge fraud, who is still on the run after befriending some of Hollywood’s most famous celebrities by using the financial windfall to provide the stars with luxury gifts and bankroll 2013’s The Wolf of Wall Street — fittingly enough, a movie about a massive financial fraud.

In Malaysia, the disappearance of the funds derailed a planned train network and other much-needed public projects, and put an $11.2 billion debt on the backs of Malaysian taxpayers, Rewcastle Brown says.

See related reading:

Amid corruption scandal, Malaysia switches track on future of rail network

Interpol rejects Malaysia’s request to place journalist on Red Notice list

Subscribe to or follow the Mongabay Newscast wherever you get podcasts, from Apple to Spotify, and you can also listen to all episodes here on the Mongabay website, or download our free app for Apple and Android devices to gain instant access to our latest episodes and all our previous ones.

Rachel Donald is a climate corruption reporter and the creator of Planet: Critical, the podcast and newsletter for a world in crisis. Her latest thoughts can be found at 𝕏 via @CrisisReports and at Bluesky via

Mike DiGirolamo is Mongabay’s audience engagement associate based in Sydney. He co-hosts and edits the Mongabay Newscast. Find him on LinkedInBluesky and Instagram.

Banner Image: Rainforest in Sarawak, Malaysia. Photo by Rhett A. Butler.

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