PETALING JAYA - Broadcaster Al Jazeera's interview with former Malaysian premier Najib Razak won the Interview of the Year prize at the Royal Television Society Television Awards 2019.
The interview by Ms Mary Ann Jolley in the 101 East Al Jazeera English programme titled Malaysia: Najib Speaks won the award, beating two others - privacy campaigner Max Mosley for Channel 4 and British singer Sir Cliff Richard for ITV, The Star reported.
101 East Al Jazeera tweeted on Thursday (Feb 28): "@AJ101East is thrilled to announce we've been awarded Interview of the Year at the prestigious @RTS_media Awards in London. Watch @jolleyma's interview with former Malaysia PM @NajibRazak here: http://aje.io/najib."
According to the RTS jury, all the nominees were great examples of the interviewer's craft.
"But one interview stood out for its courage, tenacity and sheer unadulterated watchability - Malaysia: Najib Speaks," it said.
"Although the story focused on an issue few would have known about prior to the interview, this did not detract from the viewer's ability to understand the jaw-dropping venality of the interviewee."
The jury added that the interviewer's "forensic approach was compelling, her knowledge formidable and her ability to combine persistence with grace quite extraordinary".
In October last year, when the interview was being recorded, Najib lost his cool and walked out as he was quizzed over matters such as the notorious "pink diamond" scandal and state investment arm 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).
His wife Rosmah Mansor was accused of receiving US$30 million (S$40.6 million) worth of jewellery bought with money originating from 1MDB, including a 22-carat pink diamond necklace worth US$27.3 million alone.
Najib had earlier said that while things "went wrong" at 1MDB, he was not involved in any wrongdoing.
He also said that a large sum of money found in his bank account just before the 2013 general election came from a Saudi donation.
"My conscience is clear," he told the programme.
"I would not receive a single cent from sources connected with 1MDB because if it's 1MDB, I would know right away it would not be the right thing to do."
Najib started 1MDB in 2009 soon after he became prime minister and headed the fund's board of advisers until the board was disbanded in May 2016. He has been charged in Malaysia's court in connection with 1MDB.
The affairs of 1MDB are being investigated in half a dozen countries including the United States, Singapore, Switzerland and Malaysia.
The US Department of Justice had alleged that US$4.5 billion was siphoned from 1MDB.
Asked in the Al Jazeera interview whether he checked the source of the large sum of money that ended up in his bank account, Najib said: "I assumed it was a genuine donation. I do not have any knowledge beyond that."
Najib got visibly irritated when the questions asked by Ms Jolley revolved around 1MDB and Jho Low, who is believed to have orchestrated the US$4.5 billion theft.
The fugitive Malaysian financier, who was close to Najib, was charged in November 2018 by the US Department of Justice for conspiring to launder money and conspiring to violate the US' Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) by paying bribes to various Malaysian and Abu Dhabi officials. In Malaysia, he was slapped with charges under the anti-money laundering and anti-terrorism financing legislation.
Najib, in the Al Jazeera interview, called on investigators to probe "other international figures" linked to the 1MDB scandal.
After around 20 minutes, Najib said: "We are supposed to talk about the economy. You are going too much about this. I do not want to talk too much about it".
The interviewer then asked about the 2006 murder of Mongolian national Altantuya Shaariibuu whose death was said to be part of a scandal involving claims that an associate of Najib arranged huge kickbacks for the purchase of French submarines in 2002.
Najib responded to the question: "I am totally, totally innocent of the Altantuya case. Absolutely".
He then said: "Can we go to the economy please? You have spent so much of this time (on 1MDB), otherwise, I'm going to walk out - no more, no more, please, no more.
He stood up, saying: "That's it, I'm done. If you are going to talk about the economy I'll sit down."
He then raised his voice: "Come on, you are not being fair to me. If you want to ask about the economy, what I did..."
He sat down when told a question about the economy was next, and he spoke about his legacy of strong economic growth in the last six years.
But the question after that was on 1MDB again, to which Najib replied: "I wish there was no 1MDB issue whatsoever."
He stood up when the question following this was on Low, whose real name is Low Taek Jho. "You are coming back to Jho Low."
He said he is not in contact with Low and walked out of the interview with an aide.
However, Najib later apologised on Facebook for his outburst, saying that he was concerned for his wife and his sons Norashman and Riza Aziz, who were being questioned by the police at that time.
"Although the interview went beyond our agreed schedule and beyond the scope which we had agreed on, I was happy to answer those additional questions," he added.