Are we complicit in the 1MDB scandal?

A former Goldman Sachs Group Inc. banker is fighting extradition to the U.S., where he would face charges of money laundering and bribery related to scandal-plagued Malaysian state investment company 1MDB.

WHY did most of us fail to voice our concerns when the 1MDB scandal was unfolding? Those who did say something did so cautiously.

On the media front, publications like The Edge and a few online news portals had sounded the alarm in response to facts and figures revealed by The Sarawak Report and foreign newspapers.

It took almost two years after the 2013 general election before the suspicions surrounding 1Malaysia Development Bhd exploded into a full-fledged scandal in Malaysia. With The Sarawak Report coming out with more exposes, the former prime minister was on the defensive.

Even the Attorney General’s Chambers had to initiate a probe. A task force was set up, bringing together Bank Negara, the Malay­sian Anti-Corruption Commis­sion and the police.

It didn’t take long before the “powers that were” realised the probe on SRC International Sdn Bhd, a 1MDB subsidiary, was detrimental to them. Facts didn’t lie. The money trail allegedly was leading to the prime minister himself.

In a drama more intriguing than a John le Carre novel, the AG himself was sacked. The MACC was harassed.

Two of its senior officers, Datuk Bahri Mohamad Zin and Datuk Rohaizad Yaakob, were transferred out. Deputy Chief Commissioner Datuk Seri Mohd Shukri Abdul was allegedly threatened.

The MACC Advisory Panel that I led made a strong statement to reinstate the two officers and to allow MACC to investigate the case without fear and favour. The Consul­tation and Prevention Panel (better known as PPPR) was revamped; all the panel members, except one, were not reappointed.

Billion Dollar Whale by Tom Wright and Bradley Hope is one of the several books so far on the scandal. A lot have been said about Jho Low and other major players in the case but this book is astonishingly readable and insightful. It is a publishing event unlike any other.

Last Tuesday, the Kinokunia bookshop at Suria KLCC was swarmed with buyers and many were disappointed when they were unable to get a copy. The queue to get Wright’s signature was long and winding.

Tan Sri Rafidah Aziz, who was given the honour to speak during the session with Wright, was right when she opined that there are simply too many lessons to be learned from the debacle, one of which is not to allow greed to take over one’s live. The scandal according to her was “too atrocious to be true”.

Sadly, it is true. And many among us were just ignoring the facts at the time. We knew something was not right. Perhaps many of us were not privy to the details but as one expose over another unfolded and as opposition leaders harped on the issue relentlessly, many among us were still unconvinced, or worse, decided to close one eye.

Even when Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin and Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal raised the alarm from within, which led to their ouster, Umno leaders were still ignoring the compelling facts. As the country was going to its 14th general election, 1MDB was a thorny issue besides the hugely unpopular GST and the high cost of living.

I have to single out the press for being part of the problem. We have failed the people. We betrayed the trust of our readers, viewers and listeners. Many in the mainstream media chose to ignore the facts, which is against the very thing that we are supposed to do – to be the eyes and ears of the rakyat.

The media is meant to be free and fair, and the press corps should first and last behave like professionals. This is not an easy country to practise journalism. There are simply too many laws that stifle us and even under the current government, there is no sign that these laws will be abolised. However, within these imperfections, there is room to manoeuvre, I am sure.

During Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s first tour of duty as prime minister, editors weren’t too happy either, but at least we were able to expose many wrongdoings and scandals of the day – involving institutions, the financial sphere or individuals.

The 1MDB scandal was too big to be contained. But editors were told to ignore the story, reporting only statements from the political masters and becoming apologists for their deeds.

At the Dewan Rakyat, 1MDB was not even worthy of discussion. The line taken by the mainstream media at the time was that the then PM was right, 1MDB was well, Jho Low was not guilty and the attack on 1MDB was a concerted effort by anti-government forces to discredit the PM, his wife and his party.

On the part of party members, despite the murmurings, the silence was palpable. That cost them the election.

1MDB was a slap on the face of the cowering media.

1MDB is also a wake-up call for the local media.

Docility sucks.

We have only ourselves to be blamed for allowing the shenanigan to explode into one of the worst financial scandals the world has ever known!

Johan Jaaffar was a journalist, editor and for some years chairman of a media company, and is passionate about all things literature and the arts. The views expressed here are entirely his own.

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