Malaysian Opposition MP Faces Jail for Leaking 1MDB Audit Report

Amir Hadi Azmi
Kuala Lumpur
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161114-MY-1mdb-620.jpg Malaysian MP Rafizi Ramli (center) leaves the Kuala Lumpur Sessions Court, Nov. 14, 2016.
Amir Hadi Azmi/BenarNews

A Malaysian court Monday sentenced an opposition leader to 18 months in jail for leaking part of a classified audit report about scandal-tainted state investment fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).

After finding Mohd Rafizi Ramli of the People’s Justice Party (PKR) guilty of two charges – unauthorized possession of the report and exposing it to the media – the Kuala Lumpur Sessions court granted a stay of the sentence, pending an appeal. Judge Zulqarnain Hassan sentenced Rafizi to serve concurrent 18-month sentences for each conviction over the leak.

Rafizi, an MP who serves as the party’s vice president and secretary-general, had pleaded not guilty on April 8 following his arrest outside parliament three days earlier. The PKR party was founded by former deputy prime minister and jailed de-facto opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim.

“Sad day for Malaysian democracy – those who defend the people’s interest and public good are treated in this way,” PKR spokesman Fahmi Fadzil wrote on Twitter.

In October, Human Rights Watch (HRW) published a report regarding Rafizi’s arrest, claiming he was investigating the government’s alleged failure to make pension payments to retired veterans. He also challenged the government to confirm that the army fund’s investments in 1MDB did not affect its ability to make payments.

Rafizi claimed he had received a document from the auditor-general’s report that supports his concern that 1MDB owed money to the fund, according to HRW.

Rafizi displayed the document at a news conference on March 28, but did not provide copies to reporters. A week later, police arrested Rafizi and charged him with violating the Official Secrets Act.

The auditor general’s report on 1MDB is classified under Malaysia’s Official Secrets Act.

Abdul Rahman Dahlan, communications director for the ruling Barisan Nasional Coalition, said Rafizi tried “a cheap stunt for personal political gain, but he knowingly committed a serious crime in doing so. It is right that he pays the price and he has only himself to blame.”

On Monday, New York-based Human Rights Watch called for Rafizi’s conviction to be overturned.

“The conviction of opposition MP Rafizi Ramli under the Official Secrets Act (OSA) is an unprecedented, rights abusing use of this act which can have only one purpose: to intimidate whistle-blowers into silence over the 1MDB corruption scandal,” Phil Robertson, HRW’s deputy Asia director, said in a statement.

“No one should forget that this is all about the Auditor General's annual report, which in years previous has been treated as a public document after its submission to Parliament.”

1MDB has been at the heart of a corruption scandal that has plagued Prime Minister Najib Razak since July 2015 when news reports emerged that nearly U.S. $700 million linked to the fund had been deposited into his private bank accounts in 2013. Investigations over claims of money laundering and embezzlement are ongoing in Malaysia and several other countries.

In January, Malaysia’s attorney general cleared Najib of any wrongdoing despite calls for his resignation. The prime minister has denied wrongdoing or taking any of the 1MDB-linked money for personal gain.

No regrets

Rafizi, 39, said he was not surprised by the verdict, but urged his supporters to remain calm – adding he “wouldn’t have done it in any other way.

“Do not despair. I do not have a single regret and the most peaceful thing in life is knowing you did the right thing,” he said.

In the court room, Deputy Public Prosecutor Shukor Abu Bakar said “laws are to be respected. If an MP like [Rafizi] acted this way, then how do you expect the public to react?”

Despite his conviction and sentence, Rafizi would not lose his parliament seat representing the Pandan constituency at this point because has not exhausted his right to appeal, said Gobind Singh Deo, Rafizi’s attorney.

The federal constitution states that an MP is disqualified if sentenced to jail for a year or more or fined at least 2,000 ringgit (U.S. $460) and has not received a pardon.

Chilling effect

Lawyers for Liberty, a human rights and law reform group, called the sentence “harsh and excessive” since Rafizi was performing his duties as an elected representative.

“The conviction and sentence will create a dangerous chill on free speech and result in a more repressive, opaque and unaccountable government,” executive director Eric Paulsen said in a statement.

Paulsen questioned why the report was suddenly classified as an “official secret” when normally it is presented in parliament and made available to the public.

“While the world is moving toward more openness, transparency and accountability in the conduct of government affairs, it is quite deplorable how the authorities were so quick to punish whistle-blowers like Rafizi while taking little or no action against the massive corruption and abuse of power exposed by the 1MDB scandal,” he said.


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