THE crowd in the Penaga community hall gasped when they saw the list of necklaces, bracelets and diamonds bought with funds allegedly siphoned off investor 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).
The shock was followed by bewilderment at how those who stole billions from the debt-ridden state fund also blew the funds on paintings which, to them, looked like scribbles.
This was the kampung folk’s reaction when staunch 1MDB critic Tony Pua presented his slideshow detailing the multi-billion-ringgit scandal that has triggered investigations in six countries.
“I was disgusted looking at all that jewellery. All of it bought with our money,” said Hasnah Din, 62, when asked what was the most eye-catching aspect of Pua’s Bahasa Malaysia presentation.
Hasnah and her friend, Che Rohani Osman, also 62, were among the 200 residents of the small town of Penaga who attended the 1MDB ceramah “Save Malaysia, end kleptocracy” yesterday.
Penaga, an Umno stronghold in Pakatan Harapan-ruled Penang, was the launching pad for PH’s nationwide roadshow on 1MDB that is targeted at rural folk, the key vote bank in the 14th general
PH is banking on new revelations by American authorities on 1MDB to capture rural voters. These bombshells include how US$27 million (RM117 million) was spent on a pink diamond necklace for the wife of Malaysian Official No. 1 (MO1).
Minister Abdul Rahman Dahlan had previously confirmed that MO1 is Prime Minister Najib Razak.
If Hasnah and Che Rohani’s response is anything to go by, PH has shown that is simplified presentation and talk on 1MDB can be digested by rural folk.
“Village folk can understand this,” said Che Hasnah, who liked Pua’s power-point presentation, which featured breezy charts and pictures on the scandal.
In about 40 minutes, Pua showed how certain individuals had siphoned off more than US$3 billion from 1MDB through complex financial transactions and laundered the money through the United States banking system.
Pua also showed where the money went – luxury real estate, jet, yacht, jewellery and paintings. The US Department of Justice alleges that up to US$4.5 billion was stolen from 1MDB.
The crowd gasped when they saw all the jewellery bought with RM56 million. These are apart from the RM117 million necklace.
Australian model Miranda Kerr returned jewellery worth US$8.1 million (RM35 million) gifted by Jho Low, a central figure in the scandal, to the DoJ last month.
For other audience members, the money trail from 1MDB into Najib’s bank accounts was equally useful. It gave them a perspective on the scandal that differed from that of the Najib administration.
The government has stressed that the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) has found no evidence of malfeasance in 1MDB and that the DoJ’s probe was an attempt to bring down Najib.
Ibrahim Hassan said PH’s explanation of 1MDB was essential in changing the mindset of rural Malays on the scandal.
“When you present it like this, people who are used to only getting their news from Utusan and TV3 will get an alternative viewpoint, which will open their minds,” said the 42-year old trader.
Another attendee Izhar Shah Arif Shah, 24, said Pua’s presentation fleshed out clearly for him something he had only read in the papers.
“When I read about it, I only get a sketchy idea. So, the presentation helped me visualise the whole scandal. How they took money, how it was funnelled overseas and what they used it for.”
Although the attendees The Malaysian Insight met praised the talks, some said more needs to be done to ensure that these events are well attended by rural folk.
“There was not enough publicity about the event,” said pensioner Ismail Ahmad, 59, adding that some Penaga folk did not know about the event.
“I think kampung folk can understand 1MDB, but you have to work hard to get them to come and present in a language they can understand.”
THE MALAYSIAN INSIGHT