WITH his seven-year crusade to use the 1MDB scandal against Barisan Nasional yet to get the desired results, DAP leader Tony Pua is now more hopeful of taking the scandal to the grassroots through a two-month roadshow, which kicks off in Penang tomorrow.
The Petaling Jaya Utara MP feels that the Pakatan Harapan coalition has now found the “magic bullet” that can turn the 1Malaysia Development Berhad scandal into the defining issue of the 14th general election.
That “magic bullet”, he believes, is the US$27.3 million (RM117.1 million) necklace bought for the wife of Malaysian Official No. 1 with money allegedly stolen from 1MDB. Minister Abdul Rahman Dahlan had confirmed that MO1 is Prime Minister Najib Razak.
“A picture paints a thousand words. The necklace is that picture that illustrates the extent of the excesses committed in this scandal,” Pua told The Malaysian Insight.
The PH plan is to use the necklace as the centre piece of its nationwide roadshow to tell the rural masses how their lives have been impacted by the scandal, which is being investigated in six countries.
The 1MDB roadshow kicks off tomorrow in Penaga, Kepala Batas, an Umno stronghold in Penang that was once the parliamentary seat of former Umno president and Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.
The roadshow will explain the 1MDB saga to voters following the move by the US Department of Justice (DoJ) to seize assets worth US$540 million (RM2.3 billion), allegedly bought using money siphoned off the state fund.
Pua realises that many are still sceptical over whether the roadshow can have any more of an impact on kampung folk and whether they understand the 1MDB issue.
When the scandal exploded in mid-2014, Pua and his PH colleagues hosted scores of ceramah all over the country. 1MDB is still a staple in rural ceramah by PH component party Bersatu but it is largely alien among rural residents.
Pua has also seen all the surveys which show that bread-and-butter issues matter more to them than some scandal that happens in far-away Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Switzerland and the United States.
He accepts these doubts and challenges, but argues that the necklace has altered the 1MDB narrative in a way that the previous revelations have not.
The necklace, which has a set of rare pink diamonds, was among items bought with money allegedly siphoned off from 1MDB.
It was reported that the necklace was bought from New York jeweller Lorraine Schwartz, who has also designed for singers Beyonce Knowles and Jennifer Lopez.
Other assets include a US$165 million yacht (RM704 million) the Equanimity, owned by financier Low Teck Jho, a Picasso painting and the rights to two films produced by Red Granite, a company run by Najib’s stepson, Riza Aziz.
These assets are part of a forfeiture suit filed by the DoJ in the US on June 15 to recover US$540 million allegedly stolen from 1MDB. The latest suit brings the total amount of funds allegedly misappropriated from 1MDB to US$4.5 billion.
What makes the pink diamond different from all the other loot bought with 1MDB, such as paintings, private jets and luxury homes, is that kampung folk can relate to something like a necklace, said Pua.
“It’s just like the ring,” said Pua, referring to a RM24 million ring allegedly owned by Najib’s wife, Rosmah Mansor, and which made headlines in 2011.
Rosmah has denied owning the ring. No denial, however, was issued in the case of the 1MDB necklace, said Pua, although her lawyers have threatened to sue those who implicated her.
The necklace brings the 1MDB issue home and ties it to a person close to the prime minister, who has in the past been accused of living lavishly, said Pua.
“Surveys have claimed that 1MDB is not important to kampung folk unlike cost of living issues,” said Pua.
“It does not seem important to them because we have not explained it in a language they can understand.”
The roadshow, he said, will link the necklace and the money lost in 1MBD, to the declining standard of living. The broad theme of this explanation could look like this:
* As the government loses public money in such scandals and its revenue sources shrink, it creates new taxes, such as the goods and service tax and the tourism tax, to refill its coffers. These new taxes hurt low- and middle-income Malaysians.
* The loss of investor confidence in a scandal-ridden government then weakens the ringgit and causes the price of imported food and goods to go up.
The roadshow hopes to implant this narrative into voters’ minds so that it will be the deciding factor when they cast their ballots, said Pua.