Journalist Alleges Malaysia’s Govt Targeting Her For 1MDB Revelations

Muzliza Mustafa, Ray Sherman and Nisha David
Kuala Lumpur
2021-11-11
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Journalist Alleges Malaysia’s Govt Targeting Her For 1MDB Revelations British journalist Clare Rewcastle Brown, editor of the Sarawak Report, gestures during an interview with Agence France-Presse in Kuala Lumpur, May 20, 2018.
AFP

The editor of the Sarawak Report, a news website known for its reporting about corruption in Malaysia, is alleging that the UMNO-led government has revived a 2018 defamation case to target her for revelations she made in a book about the 1MDB financial scandal.

Clare Rewcastle Brown, the website’s editor who is a British national, said the 2018 lawsuit was “reactivated” this year “for plain politically motivated reasons.” The case stems from a book she wrote about the 1MDB affair.

“I am plainly a top political target for members of the current government owing to my exposure of 1MDB and other scandals in which they are implicated and which they are now trying to pretend was all a lie,” Rewcastle Brown told BenarNews in a series of email exchanges this week and last week.

“Given this mongering of untruths by the regime itself I would consider myself to be in danger, were I to set foot in Malaysia.”

The United Malays National Organization, or UMNO, returned to power in August. Najib Razak, the party’s former president and the country’s ex-prime minister, is facing trial for money laundering and abuse of power in connection with hundreds of millions of dollars looted from 1Malaysia Development Berhad, a state investment fund he established while in office.

Last year, Najib was convicted and sentenced to 12 years in prison on corruption charges linked to 1MDB, but he is out on bail while appealing that ruling.

Malaysian police issued an arrest warrant for Rewcastle Brown because, they said, she did not appear in court for a Sept. 23 hearing related to the suit. She claims prosecutors “made no effort to notify the Sarawak Report of the court hearing or the charges” before the authorities issued the warrant for her arrest.

The warrant was part of the smear campaign against her, she alleged.

Rewcastle Brown was charged in absentia under Section 500 of the Malaysian Penal Code for criminal defamation in a Terengganu court on Sept. 23.

It would be “exceedingly dangerous” for her to enter Malaysia, she alleged, because “criminally convicted persons” are now part of the Malaysia’s administration.

UMNO, which she was alluding to, came back to power in Malaysia unelected three months ago, after a government headed by Muhyiddin Yassin collapsed when UMNO, one of the partners in his ruling bloc, pulled its support for him. 

In the suit filed in a Kuala Lumpur court on Nov. 21, 2018, the queen of Terengganu state had claimed that a portion of Rewcastle Brown’s book about the 1MDB scandal could be taken to mean that the royal was corrupt, state news agency Bernama had reported.

The section of the book in question also suggested that the royal had used her status to influence the establishment of the Terengganu Investment Authority (TIA), the queen alleged, referring to an entity that later became 1MDB.

The queen has also claimed that statements contained in the book misconstrued her as having helped fugitive businessman Low Taek Jho, or Jho Low, who is the alleged mastermind in the 1MDB scandal.

Malaysian and U.S. prosecutors have alleged that at least $4.5 billion (18.8 billion ringgit) was stolen from 1MDB between 2009 and 2014, in a financial scandal that implicated foreign and local financial institutions and high-ranking officials, including Najib.

‘A lie’

The case against Rewcastle Brown was halted in 2018 with a “No Further Action” decision by the police, she said.  

Police, meanwhile, said the case remains open and that an arrest warrant was issued against Rewcastle Brown for her failure to attend court proceedings on Sept. 23. A senior police official said Rewcastle Brown was notified, although the journalist disputes that assertion.

“Clare [Rewcastle] Brown was informed of the court date by the investigating officer on July 27, 2021,” Abdul Jalil Hassan, director of the federal police’s Criminal Investigation Department, told BenarNews on Thursday.

He also denied that the 2018 case against her had been halted.

“The investigation paper [against Brown] was never closed and the Attorney-General’s Chambers instructed for a charge to be made after having sufficient evidence,” Abdul Jalil said.

When BenarNews told the editor that police said she had been notified about the September court date, Rewcastle Brown replied, “this is a lie.”

But she did acknowledge that the case’s investigating officer contacted her in July. She said Malaysian police got in touch with her to inform her that they were reopening the case and to ask if she would be available to show up in Kuala Lumpur to face charges when they were framed.

BenarNews tried to contact Rewcastle Brown’s lawyers in Malaysia for comments and updates on the case but they did not immediately respond.

Meanwhile, Malaysia’s federal police last week issued a wanted person’s notice against Rewcastle Brown, following the September arrest warrant, and urged the public to contact the police if they knew her whereabouts. If convicted, Brown could be jailed for up to two years or fined or both.

But Rewcastle Brown has no intention to return to Malaysia to fight the case against her because, she said, the case had been filed and acknowledged as NFA (no further action) by the police in 2018.

Rewcastle Brown added she has legal representatives in Malaysia who could have represented her in court on Sept. 23, had she been informed of the date.

“If I had been notified they would have represented me in the Magistrates’ Court, thereby avoiding the excuse for any warrant to have been issued owing to my not turning up,” she said.

Malaysian authorities want to try her for criminal libel, which does not exist in Britain, where she lives, Rewcastle Brown said.

“[A]ny judgment reached in the criminal court would not be enforceable,” she said.

“So why would I dignify this case by going out of my way to attend a trial for something that is not a crime in my own jurisdiction?”

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