Ex-Malaysian PM Testifies In 1MDB Corruption Trial

Malaysia’s former prime minister Najib Razak arrives at the Kuala Lumpur High Court for his trial over 1MDB corruption allegations in Kuala Lumpur on April 15, 2019. STR / AFP

 

Former Malaysian leader Najib Razak took the stand to defend his conduct in the 1MDB scandal Tuesday, as the first of several trials linked to the multi-billion-dollar fraud entered a crucial stage.

Huge sums were stolen from sovereign wealth fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad, allegedly by the ex-prime minister and his cronies, and spent on everything from high-end real estate to artwork.

His coalition was ousted at the polls last year after six decades in power, largely due to public anger over the scandal, and he has since been arrested and hit with dozens of charges linked to the looting of the investment vehicle.

The 66-year-old went on trial in April over the controversy, in a case centring on the transfer of 42 million ringgit ($10.1 million) from a former 1MDB unit into his bank accounts. Najib denies any wrongdoing.

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The High Court ruled the trial should proceed on the strength of the prosecution case, with Najib’s team now set to present his side of the story.

Defence proceedings began with the former leader giving testimony under oath. His performance may be key in determining whether he can persuade the judge of his innocence.

He will also face cross-examination from prosecutors and is expected to be on the witness stand for around four days.

Najib arrived at the court in a blue suit and held a brief Muslim prayer with supporters at the building’s steps.

“I am as prepared as I can be,” he told AFP.

He began his testimony reading from a 243-page statement, recalling his long career in politics and ministerial posts he held since 1978, including the post of finance minister.

Answering questions from his lawyer Muhammad Shafee Abdullah, Najib said he was not the architect of 1MDB, which was formed in 2009 after the government took over the Terengganu Investment Agency and renamed it.

Najib had said in a Facebook post last month that his testimony “will enable me to give a true picture of events and prove that I am not guilty” and “an opportunity to clear my name in court”.

He is facing four charges of corruption and three counts of money-laundering in the trial over former 1MDB subsidiary SRC International.

Prosecutors have argued that Najib wielded huge influence over the unit and knew that stolen money was being funnelled from it into his accounts.

But in an opening statement in court before Najib took the stand, his lawyer Shafee said they will prove that Najib “did not misappropriate funds… either directly or indirectly” and “did not act dishonestly”.

The amount transferred to his account “was done without his knowledge or involvement” as the transactions “were being manipulated by third parties without his knowledge and approval,” Shafee said.

“Ultimately, we will pray for an order that (Najib) be acquitted and discharged of all seven charges,” he said.

The case is one of several 1MDB-linked trials investigating Najib’s conduct. The biggest opened in August, centring on allegations he illicitly obtained over $500 million from the fund.

US authorities, who are also investigating the fraud as money was allegedly laundered through the American financial system, believe $4.5 billion was looted from the fund.

AFP

Four Arrested For Killing Elephant In Malaysia

Borneo pygmy elephant (elephas maximus borneensis) walking on a bank of Kinabatangan river, Sabah, Malaysia. AFP

 

Malaysian police arrested four men and seized guns Wednesday in connection with the brutal killing of a Borneo pygmy elephant, whose body was found with over 70 bullet wounds and its tusks removed.

The male animal’s mutilated corpse was discovered last week half-submerged in a river, tied by a rope to a tree on the bank, in Sabah state on Malaysian Borneo.

It was the latest death of an endangered pygmy elephant, whose numbers have been dwindling because they are targeted by poachers for their tusks and as agricultural plantations expand into their jungle habitat.

Three Malaysians and a foreigner — aged 48 to 68 — were arrested in raids around Tawau district following a tip-off from a member of the public, senior police official Peter Umbuas said.

He did not reveal the nationality of the foreigner.

A shotgun, two home-made rifles and bullets were seized, he said.

“We have applied for remand of the four suspects to assist our investigations,” Umbuas told AFP. “We are also trying to recover the tusks.”

The suspects were involved in cultivating palm oil and lived in a village on the edge of the jungle.

The men are being investigated under wildlife laws that ban the hunting of pygmy elephants, and face up to five years in jail and a hefty fine if found guilty.

They are also being probed under laws that ban possession of imitation guns.

There are only around 1,500 surviving Borneo pygmy elephants, a subspecies that — despite the name — can reach a height of up to three metres (10 feet), according to the international conservation group WWF.

Rainforest-clad Borneo is the world’s third-largest island and is shared between Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei.

AFP

Malaysian Police Probe Pro-Hong Kong Protest

 

Malaysian police are investigating a rally in Kuala Lumpur held in support of the Hong Kong protest movement under strict laws regulating demonstrations, an official said Tuesday.

The gathering attended by some 70 people was one of many protests around the world Sunday aimed at showing solidarity with demonstrators in the financial hub.

But senior police official Mohamad Fahmi Visuvanathan Abdullah told AFP the protest leaders had not given authorities notice about the rally.

“The organisers will be called (for questioning) in the near future,” he said.

Under Malaysian law, protest leaders must notify police 10 days before a gathering. Failing to do so is punishable by a fine of up to 10,000 ringgit ($2,400).

The Chinese embassy in Kuala Lumpur had previously condemned Malaysians who support Hong Kong’s protests, saying they could not tell the difference between right and wrong, news portal Malaysiakini reported.

Ties between Beijing and Kuala Lumpur have warmed in recent months, after souring for a period last year following the defeat of a pro-China coalition in Malaysia.

The reformist alliance that took power in Malaysia last year has faced criticism for failing to do away with a series of laws that critics say curb free speech and other civil rights.

Millions of people have marched in Hong Kong since June. Clashes between police and protesters broke out again Tuesday as the semi-autonomous city marked the 70th anniversary of Communist China’s founding.

AFP

Starvation Likely Killed Franco-Irish Teen In Malaysia – Police

Nora Quoirin, a 15-year-old Franco Irish teenager who has been missing from a Malaysian rainforest resort since August 4.  FAMILY HANDOUT / Quoirin Family / AFP

 

A Franco-Irish teen who disappeared from a Malaysian resort likely starved and died of internal bleeding after about a week in the jungle, with no immediate sign of foul play, police said Thursday.

There was no indication that 15-year-old Nora Quoirin, who had learning difficulties, was abducted or sexually assaulted, they said, announcing the results of an autopsy.

READ ALSO: Body Of Franco-Irish Teenager Found In Malaysia

But the lawyer of her family, who believe she may have been abducted, said it was too early to rule out a criminal element in the case.

Her unclothed body was discovered Tuesday in a ravine in dense jungle following a 10-day hunt involving hundreds of people, helicopters and sniffer dogs.

She went missing from the Dusun Resort, not far from Kuala Lumpur, on August 4, a day after checking in for a holiday with her London-based family.

Speaking after the post-mortem examination, Negeri Sembilan state police chief Mohamad Mat Yusop told reporters the teen suffered “bleeding in her intestines due to not eating” as well as “extreme stress”.

The schoolgirl is believed to have died two to three days before her body was found, he said.

“For the time being, there is no suspicion of foul play,” he said.

There were “some scratches on her body” after days in the rainforest, but nothing suspicious, he said. “The parents can claim her body.”

Police had classified her disappearance as a missing persons case.

But the family’s French lawyer, Charles Morel, told AFP that “at this stage for the family, it is premature to rule out a criminal element.

“We need to wait to find out all the results from the autopsy to know more.”

 ‘Unbearable’ loss 

Her body was airlifted by helicopter out of the ravine — about 2.5 kilometres (1.5 miles) from the resort — and transported to hospital in Seremban town where her relatives identified it.

Medics conducted a long autopsy Wednesday, starting in the morning and only finishing late at night, as a media pack waited outside the hospital for news.

In a statement released Wednesday by The Lucie Blackman Trust, a charity that supports relatives of British people missing overseas, her relatives said she was the “heart” of the family.

“She is the truest, most precious girl and we love her infinitely. The cruelty of her being taken away is unbearable. Our hearts are broken.

“We will always love our Nora.”

While insisting it was a missing person case, police vowed to investigate every angle. They questioned witnesses and investigated witness accounts of a truck heard early on the morning the girl disappeared.

A group of volunteers who were part of the search and rescue team found the body after being tipped off by a member of the public.

It was discovered in the official search zone, in an area that the team had previously covered.

On Monday, the family had offered a 50,000 ringgit ($11,900) reward, donated by a Belfast business, for information that could lead to her return.

The five-hectare (12-acre) resort where the teenager disappeared is next to a patch of thick jungle and in the foothills of a mountain range.

Her family had said it was extremely unlikely the reserved youngster would have wandered off on her own.

She had a condition known as holoprosencephaly, where the brain fails to develop normally. She had limited verbal communication and could only write a few words.

She attended a school for young people with learning and communication difficulties.

AFP

Body Of Franco-Irish Teenager Found In Malaysia

Nora Quoirin, a 15-year-old Franco Irish teenager who has been missing from a Malaysian rainforest resort since August 4.  FAMILY HANDOUT / Quoirin Family / AFP

 

The naked body of a vulnerable Franco-Irish teen who disappeared from a Malaysian resort was found in a jungle ravine Tuesday after a 10-day search involving a hundreds-strong team.

A helicopter winched the body out of the rainforest and transported it to hospital, and the parents of missing 15-year-old Nora Quoirin later identified her.

She disappeared from the Dusun Resort, not far from Kuala Lumpur, on August 4, a day after checking in for a holiday with her London-based family.

Her family believed the teen, who had learning difficulties, had been abducted but police classified it as a missing person case.

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More than 350 people were deployed to hunt through dense jungle, backed by helicopters, drones, sniffer dogs and divers, while traditional shamans conducted rituals in a bid to locate her.

The body was found in a small stream in a ravine about 2.5 kilometres (1.5 miles) from the resort, Malaysia’s deputy national police chief Mazlan Mansor told a press conference.

He said the body was unclothed but declined to reveal if it had any injuries. Mazlan said it was still being treated as a missing person case.

“The family has confirmed it is the body of Nora,” Mohamad Mat Yusop, police chief of Negeri Sembilan state, later told AFP.

A post-mortem will be conducted Wednesday morning, he said.

A group of volunteers who were part of the search and rescue team found the body after being tipped off by a member of the public.

As news emerged of the find, police vehicles raced to the area and cordoned it off while journalists descended on the scene.

The body was found in the official search zone, an area which the team had previously covered.

 ‘Hearts breaking’ 

The grim discovery came a day after the family offered a 50,000 ringgit ($11,900) reward, donated by a Belfast business, for information that could lead to her return.

“Nora is our first child. She has been vulnerable since the day she was born,” said a family statement.

“She is so precious to us and our hearts are breaking. We are appealing to anyone who has information about Nora to help us find her.”

At the weekend, her mother Meabh had fought back tears as she made an emotional speech thanking the search team, with the girl’s French father Sebastien by her side.

The 12-acre (five-hectare) resort where the teenager disappeared from is next to a patch of thick jungle and in the foothills of a mountain range.

Her family had said it was extremely unlikely the reserved youngster would have wandered off on her own.

She has a condition known as “holoprosencephaly”, which means she has a smaller-than-normal brain, has limited verbal communication and cannot write more than a few words.

She attended a school for young people with learning and communication difficulties.

While officially treating it as a missing person case, police had not ruled out other possibilities.

An open window was found in the cottage where the family was staying at the resort.

Police have questioned a number of people, examined fingerprints found on a window, and looked into reports that villagers heard a truck early on the morning that the girl disappeared.

AFP

Two-Headed Turtle Discovered In Malaysia

This handout from Scuba Junkie S.E.A.S taken on July 15, 2019, and released on July 18, 2019, shows a turtle with two heads at the Mabul Turtle Hatchery, on the island of Borneo. A two-headed baby turtle was found in a nest of hatchlings in Malaysia but the creature survived just a matter of days, officials and a wildlife group said on July 18. PHOTO: Handout / SCUBA JUNKIE S.E.A.S / AFP

 

A two-headed baby turtle has been born in Malaysia, captivating conversations, but it only survived a few days after being discovered.

It was found Monday on Mabul island, off the Malaysian part of Borneo, in a nest alongside more than 90 other recently hatched green turtles.

David McCann, marine biologist, and conservation manager for group SJ SEAS — which oversees the nesting site — said the creature was “utterly fascinating”.

“The right head seems to control the front right flipper, and the left head the front left flipper. Yet they are capable of coordinating their movements in order to walk and swim,” he said in a statement.

SJ SEAS chairman Mohamad Khairuddin Riman added: “We have released around 13,000 hatchlings from the hatchery and have never seen anything like this before.”

But the turtle died late Wednesday, Sen Nathan, a vet from Sabah Wildlife Department, told AFP.

He said the cause of death was not yet known but added the turtle would have had little chance of surviving long in the wild.

“It would have been poached by an eagle because it could not swim well,” he said.

While rare, it was not the first time a two-headed baby turtle has been found.

Nathan said one was discovered in 2014, on an island off Malaysia’s east coast, which survived for three months.

Green turtles are one of the largest sea turtles, and are mainly found in tropical and subtropical waters.

Classified as endangered, they are threatened by habitat loss as well as by poachers who hunt them for their meat and eggs.

AFP

Malaysian University Describes Nigerian Student Who Died In Custody As ‘Inspired Young Man”

 

Malaysia’s Limkokwing University of Creative Technology has described the Nigerian Ph.D. student who died in the custody of the country’s authorities as an “inspired young man”.

In a tweet confirming the news, the Selangor-based university said, “It is with the deepest regret that we report the demise of Orhions Ewansiha Thomas.

“Pursuing his PhD in Management, Mr Thomas was an inspired young man. All of us at Limkokwing University wish to express our heartfelt wishes of love and support to all affected.”

 

Ewansiha died after being held for days, a development that has once again led to questions about the safety of Nigerians in some countries.

The Chairman of the Nigerians In Diaspora Commission, Abike Dabiri-Erewa, has called for an investigation into his death.

“I urge the Nigerian High Commission in Kuala Lumpur, to open an investigation into the death of Ewansiha,” she said in a statement on Friday. “We must ensure that the welfare of our countrymen in Malaysia is not compromised.”

According to Dabiri-Erewa, he suffered a seizure while in custody.

“Ewansiha had a valid student pass, but he was still detained for 14 days by the Malaysian authorities until he suffered a seizure while in custody,” she said.
She sent her condolences to his family, his widow and two children for the painful loss.

Dabiri-Erewa Demands Investigation As Nigerian PhD Student Dies In Malaysian Custody

Abike Dabiri-Erewa (left), Orhions Ewansiha Thomas (right).

 

 

Chairman of the Nigerians in Diaspora Commission, Abike Dabiri-Erewa, has called for an investigation into the death of a Nigerian student who was in custody in Malaysia.

According to a statement issued by Dabiri on Friday, Orhions Ewansiha Thomas, who was pursuing a Ph.D. in management, at the Limkokwing University of Creative Technology in Selangor, Malaysia died while in custody.

Despite having a valid student pass, he was said to have been detained for 14 days, during which he allegedly suffered a seizure after which he died.

“Ewansiha had a valid student pass, but he was still detained for 14 days by the Malaysian authorities until he suffered a seizure while in custody,” the statement read.

“My heart goes out to his family, his young widow and two who’ve suffered such a painful loss.

“I urge the Nigerian High Commission in Kuala Lumpur, to open an investigation into the death of Ewansiha.

“We must ensure that the welfare of our countrymen in Malaysia is not compromised”.

The university also confirmed the death, describing Ewansiha as an inspired young man.

It, however, did not explain the circumstances of his death.

“It is with the deepest regret that we report the demise of Orhions Ewansiha Thomas. Pursuing his Ph.D. in Management, Mr. Thomas was an inspired young man. All of us at Limkokwing University wish to express our heartfelt wishes of love and support to all affected,” the university tweeted.

Scores Ill, Schools Closed In Malaysia Due To Toxic Fumes

Emergency personnel wearing protective suits check the air quality in Pasir Gudang on June 25, 2019, after toxic fumes were reported in the area. Scores of people have fallen ill and hundreds of schools have been closed in Malaysia due to toxic fumes believed to have come from a chemical factory, authorities said on June 25. PHOTO: Muhammad SYUKRI / AFP

 

Scores of people have fallen ill and hundreds of schools have been closed in Malaysia due to toxic fumes believed to have come from a chemical factory, authorities said on Tuesday.

It was the second serious incident involving poisonous gas in Pasir Gudang district, in southern Johor state, in three months after thousands of people became sick in March when waste was dumped in a river and emitted noxious fumes.

Residents first noticed the fumes wafting across the industrial area late last week and many people, including schoolchildren, started vomiting and developing breathing difficulties.

Johor chief minister Sahruddin Jamal said 75 people had so far been sent to a hospital for treatment, according to official news agency Bernama.

Authorities have now ordered the closure of all 475 educational institutions in the area until Thursday, including three institutes of higher education, 111 public schools, 14 private schools, and 347 kindergartens.

The latest incident is not believed to be linked to the first.

Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad vowed to act against those responsible.

“It seems like there are factories that are not very concerned about safety,” he said.

“We have to identify those responsible for causing pollution and take stern action against them.”

Residents expressed anger over the latest toxic leak.

“This is also affecting our livelihood as many people are shying away from buying food in this area,” Normah Ahmad, a 63-year-old trader, told The Star newspaper.

“I hope the authorities will take this seriously.”

It was not clear what had caused the latest incident. Sahruddin said authorities were investigating 30 chemical factories in the area.

After the March incident, three men were arrested and charged over dumping waste.

AFP

Malaysia Resumes Trial Of Ex-PM Accused Of Corruption

Malaysia’s former prime minister Najib Razak arrives at the Kuala Lumpur High Court for his trial over 1MDB corruption allegations in Kuala Lumpur on April 15, 2019. STR / AFP

 

Toppled Malaysian leader Najib Razak returned to court for the second day of his high-profile corruption trial Monday, with the former premier accused of plundering large sums from scandal-hit state fund 1MDB.

The 65-year-old finally went on trial this month over his alleged role in looting the investment vehicle, the first of several court cases he is expected to face over the controversy.

The ex-prime minister and his cronies are accused of stealing billions of dollars from 1MDB and spending it on everything from high-end real estate to artworks and a luxury yacht.

The allegations played a large part in prompting voters to oust his corruption-plagued coalition, which had been in power for six decades, at historic elections last year. Since then, Najib has been arrested and hit with dozens of charges over the scandal.

The ex-leader’s highly-anticipated trial began on April 3, with Najib denying seven charges related to the theft of 42 million ringgit ($10.2 million) from SRC International, a former 1MDB unit.

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It is just a fraction of the money Najib is accused of stealing  — he has also been charged in a separate case over the alleged transfer of $681 million to his bank account.

He arrived at the High Court in Kuala Lumpur Monday for the second day of proceedings, wearing a dark suit and tie, and passed through a scrum of journalists before entering the courtroom and taking his seat in the dock.

 Bank raid 

The main witness called Monday was Azizul Adzani Abdul Ghafar, an investigating officer from the central bank, who was part of a team that raided the branch of a local lender, AmBank.

The officers seized documents related to accounts held by Najib at the bank, accounts belonging to SRC International, and accounts held by another company. The stolen money from SRC was allegedly sent to Najib’s accounts at AmBank.

Earlier Najib’s defence team cross-examined Companies Commission of Malaysia official Muhamad Akmaluddin Abdullah, who had testified when the trial opened, on matters related to SRC’s records.

After the trial was adjourned for the day, Najib’s chief lawyer Muhammad Shafee Abdullah said the prosecution would have to prove the ex-leader knew the money flows were illicit to convict him.

“There can be many transactions. The issue does (Najib) know the exact thing that is going on, does he know in fact it is from illegal sources?” he told reporters outside court.

“The prosecution needs to show that he is complicit, that he is part of the conspiracy.”

Najib has consistently denied any wrongdoing over the looting of 1MDB.

Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who came out of retirement to lead an alliance to a shock election victory against Najib’s government last year, has pledged to bring Najib to justice and recoup the huge sums of cash stolen from 1MDB.

The US Department of Justice, which is investigating the 1MDB controversy as money was allegedly laundered through the American financial system, believes $4.5 billion in total was looted from the fund.

Malaysia has also charged Wall Street titan Goldman Sachs over the scandal, alleging the bank and its former employees stole billions of dollars from 1MDB.

AFP

Malaysia Revived China Railway To Avoid $5 Bn Penalty – PM

Malaysia PM, Mahathir Mohamad. Credit: @ShehabAgencyEn

 

Malaysia would have faced a $5-billion penalty if a China-backed rail project was axed entirely, the prime minister said Monday, after a deal was reached to revive the controversial scheme.

Last week Malaysia and China agreed to push ahead with the railway at a 30-percent lower cost, lifting a suspension slapped on the project when a corruption-plagued regime lost power last year.

It was among several Beijing-financed deals in the Southeast Asian country put on hold after the change of government, amid concerns they lacked transparency and were aimed at funnelling cash to the administration of ex-leader Najib Razak.

The 640-kilometer (400-mile) east coast rail link will run from northern Malaysia, near the Thai border, to a port outside Kuala Lumpur, and is seen as a key project in China’s Belt and Road infrastructure drive.

Announcing further details Monday, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said that the government “was faced with the choice to either renegotiate or pay termination costs of about 21.78 billion ringgit ($5.3 billion), with nothing to show for it.

READ ALSO: Hong Kong Awards Damages To Domestic Worker Fired For Cancer

“As such, we chose to go back to the negotiating table and call for a more equitable deal, whereby the needs of the Malaysian people would be prioritised.”

He also announced the main Chinese company in the scheme, China Communications Construction Company, had agreed to help with the operation and maintenance of the line, which would ease the financial burden on Malaysia.

Under the new agreement announced last week, the project cost has been reduced to 44 billion ringgit. Malaysia will still need to take a loan from a Chinese state-owned bank to fund the line but it will be less than under the original deal.

Mahathir, 93, returned for a second stint as premier in May last year after he led a reformist alliance to a surprise victory at the polls, toppling Najib’s coalition which had been in power for over six decades.

Najib has since been slapped with dozens of charges over his alleged role in looting state fund 1MDB, and went on trial over the scandal this month.

Malaysia Makes U-Turn On War Crimes Court

Malaysia PM, Mahathir Mohamad. Credit: @ShehabAgencyEn

 

Malaysia’s government did a U-turn Friday on its decision to join the International Criminal Court, the prime minister said, after a backlash from a powerful Islamic ruler and opposition politicians.

The Southeast Asian nation announced in March it was joining the world’s only permanent war crimes tribunal after a reform-minded government came to power last year.

But the move sparked an outcry from opposition politicians and the powerful sultan of southern Johor state, who were furious the country’s revered Islamic royals would not be exempted from potential prosecution by the court.

Malaysia’s decision not to join the ICC is a severe blow to the tribunal in The Hague, which has been under pressure following high-profile acquittals, while Burundi became the first country to quit the court in 2017.

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“We have made a decision that we will not recognise the Statute of Rome,” Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad told a nationally televised press conference, referring to the ICC’s founding treaty.

“(Opposition politicians) have been able to create confusion in the minds of the people, that this law negates the rights of the Malays and the rights of the rulers.”

Ethnic Malay Muslims are the country’s majority group, while the rulers refer to the country’s Islamic royal households.

Nine of Malaysia’s states are ruled by Islamic royalty and the households take it in turns to provide the national monarch, in a unique system.

While they do not have any formal powers, the Islamic rulers are greatly respected by Malays, and criticising them is strictly forbidden.

The new government has been attacked for not doing enough to protect Malays, who have traditionally enjoyed privileges such as a preference for civil service jobs and discounts on buying property.

Malaysia had already signed the Rome Statute but still had to ratify it to formally become a member of the court.

It is the government’s latest policy flip-flop. It comes fives months after they did a U-turn on signing a UN treaty against racial discrimination after Malays expressed concerns it could erode their privileged position.