Website Covering Scandal Surrounding PM Offline to Malaysians

Fahirul N. Ramli
2016.01.29
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160129-MY-najib-620 Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak walks to his car as he leaves parliament in Kuala Lumpur, Jan. 26, 2016.
AFP

Malaysian authorities are believed to have blocked a foreign news website Friday after it carried a report questioning the basis of a government decision not to pursue any corruption-related charges against Prime Minister Najib Razak over hundreds of millions of dollars paid into his personal bank account.

Malaysians who tried to log onto the Asia Sentinel online journal were greeted with a message Friday notifying them that “this website is not available in Malaysia as it violate(s) the National law(s).”

“We are aware that some are having difficulty accessing our website from Malaysia and we are looking into solutions right now,” the Hong Kong-based Asia Sentinel which carries news, analysis and opinion on national and regional issues said in an email to readers.

It sent to local subscribers a web link with a tool it said would them to “circumvent online censorship.”

Malaysian authorities could not be immediately contacted for comment.

The Asia Sentinel report had questioned claims by Malaysia’s top government lawyer this week that that U.S. $681 million (2.08 billion ringgit) transferred into Najib’s personal bank account was a gift from the royal family in Saudi Arabia.

Since Malaysian Attorney General Mohamed Apandi Ali announced Tuesday that his office was not pursuing corruption-related charges against Najib, the Asia Sentinel has carried three articles on the topic.

The Friday report questioned Apandi’s statement that the $681 million deposited into Najib’s private bank accounts was a “personal donation” from the Saudi royal family and that “no crime” had been committed.

The Sentinel cited a Wall Street Journal report quoting Saudi officials as saying they had “no information about such a gift and that a royal donation to the personal bank account of a foreign leader would be unprecedented.”

“Other news sources say the Saudi government has begun an investigation to determine if any funds went to Najib, which is considered very unlikely,” The Sentinel reported Friday.

MACC source: Charges against PM recommended

The attorney general issued his decision after receiving reports of investigations conducted by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) into the $681 million deposit and other financial transactions, in which Najib’s name had surfaced in connection with 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), an indebted state fund whose advisory board is chaired by the prime minister.

A source within MACC told BenarNews it had recommended that the attorney general pursue three charges of criminal misappropriation of property amounting to 42 million ringgit (U.S. $10.1 million) against Najib.

The source who requested anonymity said the recommended charges were related to three tranches of money that added up to 42 million ringgit and were wired into Najib’s private accounts from SRC International Subsidiaries, a state-owned firm linked to 1MDB.

Apandi declined comment when contacted for this story.

“I am overseas attending a conference … so sorry,” he told BenarNews in a message.

A day after he instructed MACC officials to close all files and cease investigations into the prime minister, the commission referred the attorney general’s decision to two independent panels.

In a statement, the commission said its top management had decided to refer the case to an Operational Review Panel (PPO) and another special panel whose members had yet to be appointed.

The PPO is an independent body set-up by the Malaysian government to monitor the MACC, and is one of five independent bodies that monitors the performance and status of cases probed by the commission.

On Thursday, MACC chief Abu Kassim Mohamed issued a statement rejecting news reports that, through the move to refer the case to the PPO, the commission was disputing or challenging Apandi’s decision to clear Najib of potential charges. The move was standard operating procedure in any case that had been closed, the head of MACC said.

‘AG must not be fearful’

The attorney general’s decision to not press charges against the prime minister has drawn criticism in Malaysia.

PPO member Lim Chee Wee said Apandi owed it to the public to explain clearly “why he did not prosecute Najib.”

“The AG must not be fearful of the power nor position of any individual …,” Lim, a former president of the Malaysian Bar, told BenarNews via email.

The attorney general also is legally obligated to give the public a detailed and satisfactory explanation for why he might disagree with recommendations made by any law enforcement agency when the allegations involve a high-profile personality, such as a prime minister, Lim added.

Apandi’s announcement also came a day before the global NGO Transparency International (TI) released its Corruption Perceptions Index for 2015, in which Malaysia declined by four ranks since 2014 to 54th out of 167 countries and territories.

Hata Wahari contributed to this report.

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