ONLY the country’s former top cop and a current minister attempted to defend Prime Minister Najib Razak after Sarawak Report published an article alleging that he used 1MDB funds to pay lawyer Muhammad Shafee Abdullah RM9.5 million.
No one else stood up to explain or run to defend the PM against the charge that this payment was irregular and have raised conflict of interest concerns. Even the man at the centre of the accusation and the alleged recipient of the money has kept silent.
Sarawak Report editor Clare Rewcastle-Brown told The Malaysian Insight that it was “perhaps instructive” to note who had commented on the May 31 expose and who had not.
To date, only former inspector-general of police Musa Hassan and Tourism Minister Nazri Abdul Aziz have weighed in on the article.
Nazri, an Umno Supreme Council member, said the money Shafee received had no bearing on the Court of Appeals’ decision to overturn opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim’s sodomy acquittal.
Shafee was appointed as the lead public prosecutor during the appeal against the acquittal of the PKR de facto leader, who faced new sodomy charges in 2014.
Rewcastle-Brown said Musa “appeared to be confused” about the details of the story while Nazri’s logic was “troubling”.
“Nazri has been one of the most effective speakers in support of Najib over 1MDB (1Malaysia Development Berhad) and other matters, however, his logic on this matter seems troubling
“Najib had a clear interest in the outcome of the Anwar prosecution and had been directly involved in the case itself, as had Shafee.
“Therefore, for him to have been paying Shafee at the very same time as the trial was under way would appear to be a clear conflict of interest,” she told The Malaysian Insight via email.
Rewcastle-Brown said whenever anyone hired a lawyer, the first thing the law firm would do was scrutinise its existing obligations to make sure there was no potential conflict of interest in its books.
“They will check that they do not already have separate clients with conflicting interests,” she said.
She said this was a matter that would have to be judged by legal experts eventually, and for Nazri to brush aside any idea that concerns had been raised by the discovery of this secret payment seemed “highly cavalier and premature”.
“As to this minister’s apparent suggestion that judges might have been paid, all one can do is take note of such shocking speculation and hope that the situation could not arise in Malaysia.
“Of course, a proper investigation by the IGP, now that it seems to be under way, ought without much difficulty be able to detect exactly how that money was spent by Shafee. That clearly needs to be done with urgency.”
In the article, Sarawak Report said the RM5.2 million Shafee allegedly received in February 2014 came just a fortnight before the Appeals Court overturned Anwar’s 2012 acquittal.
The whistle-blower site said the money came from the bank account “that had been identified as having been funded by money stolen by the Prime Minister from 1MDB subsidiary SRC, which had borrowed some RM4 billion from the civil service pension fund (Retirement Fund Inc) KWAP”.
Several police reports had been lodged by Pakatan Harapan parties to push for a police investigation into the allegation.
IGP Khalid Abu Bakar yesterday invited Rewcastle-Brown to Malaysia to assist the police in their investigation into the alleged payment.
Below are excerpts of the email interview:
Q: What do you think of the IGP’s “invitation” for you to come to Malaysia to assist in the probe?
Rewcastle-Brown: I can confirm that I am aware of this statement through a press conference, but have not as yet had any formal request from the IGP or his officials.
I take it from this public statement by the IGP that the authorities seem to have decided to re-open investigations into matters related to 1MDB, which given the evidence that has been released into the public domain, would appear to be very necessary.
It would be instructive to know who has authorised the re-opening of the investigation, in particular whether the attorney-general has sanctioned the inquiries, given he recently acknowledged the investigation was not “closed” in January last year after all.
As for being questioned, I would in principle be happy to assist to the extent that I can in such inquiries.
But I am certain that all the evidence I have obtained has already been put before the task force, of which the IGP was himself one of the four joint leaders and that he already had direct access to the entire body of information from its original sources, thereby making it unlikely that I can perform any additional useful role in appraising him of the facts.
I have merely made certain pieces of the information public, which were previously not made public.
Q: There was an arrest warrant issued against you two years ago. What has come of it? Have the Malaysian authorities tried to pursue you in the UK so far?
Rewcastle-Brown: These are questions to which I myself would be also interested to have the answer.
My understanding is that after Interpol rebuffed the IGP’s attempt to place me on their Red Notice list, he attempted to reapply. I have no idea where that process stands.
As for the other charges placed against me in Malaysia, these relate to crimes that do not exist in the UK, so I do not believe the authorities could pursue them against me in the British courts and have received no indication they have tried.
Q: Also, are there any updates in the PAS suit? (PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang is suing her over a Sarawak Report article last year claiming that RM90 million went into the accounts of top PAS leaders to get them to support Umno and Barisan Nasional.)
Rewcastle-Brown: I am defending myself in this case, which is going through the normal processes.