1MDB saga: Key players - Najib Razak

PM's backers try to turn the tables on his accusers

They say there is a conspiracy to topple him and question the wealth of Mahathir's sons

It is business as usual for Prime Minister Najib Razak, even as others around him are busy fighting fires.
It is business as usual for Prime Minister Najib Razak, even as others around him are busy fighting fires.PHOTO: REUTERS

Prime Minister Najib Razak is quietly fighting back to hold on to his job.

In the first week after The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) alleged that US$700 million (S$960 million) was deposited into his bank accounts, Datuk Seri Najib appeared on the defensive, insisting that he never took money for "personal gain" and would never betray the trust of Malaysians.

Now, government supporters are trying to turn the tables on his accusers. They have pointed fingers at a so-called conspiracy to topple him, claimed that his critics used tampered documents to smear him, and even questioned the wealth of the sons of his harshest critic, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, in a bid to show that no one is clean.

The authorities yesterday took a step further in fighting the critics by blocking access to the Sarawak Report website, which has published allegations of affairs linked to troubled state investment fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).

As for Datuk Seri Najib himself, he has not spoken about 1MDB, WSJ or anything related to the issue for 12 days. The last time he mentioned the issue was on July 8 when he tweeted that he had sent WSJ a legal letter.

"This is the government's defence mechanism to buy time," political analyst Azman Ujang, former editor-in-chief of the national Bernama news agency, told The Straits Times.

He was referring to the government's counter-claims even as there are ongoing probes into 1MDB and what role the Prime Minister might have played in them.

Three high-level groups are separately looking into the matter - unprecedented in Malaysia as it involves a sitting prime minister.

One is a multi-agency task force comprising the Attorney-General's Chambers, the central bank, the police and the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission; a second comprises Parliament's bipartisan Public Accounts Committee; and the third is led by the respected Auditor-General Ambrin Buang.

They are expected to take several weeks, if not months, before concluding their investigations.

In the meantime, Mr Najib is in a business-as-usual mode, meeting people in the Hari Raya season that started last Friday, analysts said.

His official Twitter account in the past 10 days showed a busy leader visiting sick friends, and meeting constituents and wishing them well as they celebrate the Muslim festival.

Meanwhile, those around him have been busy fighting the fires.

The country's multimedia watchdog, the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission, in blocking the Sarawak Report, cited national stability as a key reason.

Said communications director for the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition Abdul Rahman Dahlan: "The decision to block Sarawak Report is the responsibility of the government. No government in the world would allow such blatant lies and controversial news portals to operate within the country."

The Utusan Malaysia newspaper, owned by Mr Najib's Umno party, said on July 12 it "has discovered there is a conspiracy to topple the Prime Minister that involves several opposition leaders".

The authorities are trying to link a Swiss national who worked for PetroSaudi International, an early business partner of 1MDB, to meetings in Singapore and Bangkok involving opposition politicians and a media tycoon.

Last week, a group called Malaysian Malay Network, or JMM, called a news conference to allege that the two businessmen sons of Dr Mahathir - Mirzan and Mokhzani - became rich from financial misappropriation during the former prime minister's 22-year administration. JMM president Azwanddin Hamzah held up a list of supercars allegedly owned by "multibillionaire" Mokhzani worth RM36.2 million (S$13 million).

And yesterday, a BN-friendly non-governmental organisation released a second video involving Sabah journalist Lester Melanyi, who had earlier alleged that he helped the Sarawak Report tamper with documents to smear Mr Najib. Mr Melanyi now alleges that the expertise of a Web designer was used to fabricate e-mail and documents.

The fightback strategy, especially shots targeted at the media, has raised concern among some journalists that there may be an impending media crackdown.

Add to this the blame pinned on social media and news websites for raising tensions in the race-tinged riot at the Low Yat Plaza tech mall last week, and the usual recipe for a crackdown is brewing.

"The media today has come a long way from its depressingly chained state in the immediate aftermath of Ops Lalang all those years ago. But while we would be right in celebrating the distance we have travelled, we should not lose sight of the distance yet to be gone," wrote columnist Khairie Hisyam Aliman for the Malay Mail Online yesterday.

He was referring to the 1987 crackdown blamed on racial tensions that put more than 100 opposition politicians and activists in jail, while three major papers then were shut down for five months.

But to Dr Mahathir, none of the conspiracy talk matters as no one is planning anything in secret.

"Where is the conspiracy? It is all in the open. There is no need to conspire. There is open campaigning for his (Najib) ceasing to be prime minister," the former premier wrote in his blog yesterday.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 21, 2015, with the headline 'PM's backers try to turn the tables on his accusers'. Print Edition | Subscribe