Asian Insider Aug 28: 1MDB, Japan under water, Harvard student barred from US

Asian Insider brings you insights into a fast-changing region from our network of correspondents.

In today’s bulletin: The heavily-anticipated corruption trial involving former Malaysian PM Najib Razak’s handling of state fund 1MDB finally begins; Japan evacuates nearly 1 million people as record rains strike; a student headed to Harvard was allegedly barred entry into the US over the social media posts of his friends and more.

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The long-awaited corruption trial over former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak’s handling of state investment fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad began today with opening remarks by the prosecution. Of all the 1MDB-linked cases involving Najib, this is seen as the key one, involving alleged illegal transfers of some RM2.28 billion (S$750 million) into his personal bank account. The prosecution said today it intends to show that Najib placed himself in sole control of important matters at the fund so he could misappropriate the money. And it also said that it will make the case that fugitive financier Jho Low and Najib “acted as one at all material times”.

Background: Najib charged: A timeline of events leading to his arrest

Get all the latest from the trial (which resumes on Thursday) at our special 1MDB website.


Japanese authorities issued a rare emergency warning and evacuation orders for some 850,000 people after record rains caused floods and landslides on the southern island of Kyushu.  At least two people have been killed including one man whose car was washed away by the rising waters. Japan has been dealing with unprecedented extreme weather in recent months. Heavy rains during the past Japanese summer has already killed more than 200 people in Japan’s west.

The summer of extreme weather around the world: 

Extreme weather in Japan: 1 million ordered to flee due to onslaught of rain

Extreme weather in China: 'Sauna days' and more heavy rainfall likely

Extreme weather in India: Major disruptions in Mumbai, 30 dead


Hong Kong carrier Cathay Pacific, which  has found itself caught in the crosswinds between Beijing and protesters in recent weeks, is now set to be the target of protests today. Protesters are planning to gather downtown later today to demonstrate against recent dismissals of Cathay staff who participated in protests. The protest, originally intended to be held outside the airline’s airport offices, was moved after police banned the protest art the carrier’s headquarters. More protests are expected in the coming days, including a general strike on Monday. With the school term restarting next week, observers are watching to see protest might hit another turning point.

The latest from Hong Kong today:

Hong Kong website offers up to $180,000 for information on radical protesters

Hong Kong good citizenship applications jump as people eye exit

Chinese diplomat says Hong Kong facing worst crisis since 1997 handover

Hong Kong investors shun Singapore homes for cheaper property in Malaysia, Taiwan


Bishop Antonio Yao Shun has reportedly become the first bishop in China in decades to be appointed with an official mandate from the Pope in the Vatican. For decades, Catholics in China had been split the government-run Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, whose clergy is appointed by the Communist Party, and an unofficial underground Catholic Church loyal to the Holy See. After years of negotiations, China and the Vatican reached a compromise that would give both a say in the appointment of bishops. Though this marks a significant improvement in ties, tensions remain given that the Vatican continues to recognise Taiwan diplomatically. Beijing does not allow countries to have diplomatic relations with both China and Taiwan.

Details of the deal: Vatican, China sign landmark accord on appointing bishops


Mr Ismail Ajjawi, 17, a Palestinian from Lebanon, was barred entry into the US at Boston’s Airport when he arrived to begin classes as a freshman at Harvard University. Mr Ajjawi said he was questioned at the airport about his friends’ social media posts which an agent said contained political points of view that oppose the US. He said he did not share, like or comment on any of the posts and was being held responsible for the views of others. Observers say the case highlights the dangers of a Trump administration policy where nearly all visa applicants are asked to submit social media usernames for the past five years.

The full story: Harvard student says he was barred from US over his friends' social media posts


Amazon fires: Brazil said on Tuesday (Aug 27) it was ready to accept foreign aid to help fight fires in the Amazon but only if it could determine how it was spent, in an apparent attempt to smooth over a public spat between the Brazilian and French presidents.

Kashmir: India's top court on Wednesday (Aug 28) took up legal challenges to the government's decision to revoke Indian-controlled Kashmir's special status and asked the government to explain its stance to the court.

Pioneer of self-driving tech charged: Federal prosecutors charged former Google and Uber star engineer Anthony Levandowski with 33 counts of theft and attempted theft of trade secrets from Google

Adversity score: The College Board, the company that administers the SAT exam, said on Tuesday (Aug 27) that it would withdraw its much-debated plan to include a so-called adversity score on student test results, saying it had erred in distilling the challenges faced by college applicants to a single number.

That’s it for today. Thanks for reading and see you tomorrow.

 - Jeremy