Has Malaysia got a kleptocrat as a Prime Minister?

The Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Razak, has established a special niche for himself in the Guinness Book of Records and of course the Malaysian Book of Records as the Prime Minister who has broken all the records of previous Malaysian Prime Ministers by achieving the most “firsts”.

This despite Najib’s short premiership of less than six-and-a-half years which cannot compare in length to the more than 22 years as PM of Tun Dr.Mahathir Mohamad or the more than 13 years of the first Prime Minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman – but unfortunately, mostly for the wrong reasons establishing bad records.

For instance, Najib is the first Malaysian Prime Minister to be investigated for alleged money laundering and corruption in four foreign countries, namely United Kingdom, Switzerland, Singapore and Hong Kong.

Now he has added to this roll of dubious honour by being the first Malaysian and ASEAN leader to be investigated by a federal grand jury in the United States in connection with corruption and money-laundering.

New York Times reported yesterday that a US federal grand jury is examining allegations of corruption involving Najib and people close to him.

It said the inquiry, which is being run by a unit of the Justice Department that investigates international corruption, is focused on properties in the United States that were purchased in recent years by shell companies that belong to the prime minister’s stepson as well as other real estate connected to a close family friend, including the US$681 million payment made to Najib’s personal bank account.

What is this unit in the US Justice Department that investigates international corruption?

This is the Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative launched by the United States Attorney General in 2010 under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) 1997 that relies on the the use of U.S. civil forfeiture actions to recover the proceeds of foreign official corruption that pass through the United States.

This was the explanation by Leslie Caldwell, the Assistant Attorney-General who as head of the Department of Justice (DOJ)’s Criminal Division team of nearly 600 lawyers as to why the US Department of Justice is involved in the fight of corruption abroad when there are people who claim that taking aim at foreign bribery puts U.S. companies at a competitive disadvantage in countries where bribery is just business as usual.

She said:

“The threats posed to the United States by international corruption, however, cannot be overlooked. Foremost, corrupt countries are less safe. Corruption thwarts economic development, traps entire populations in poverty, and leaves countries without a credible justice system. Corrupt officials who put their personal enrichment before the benefit of their citizenry create unstable countries. And as we have seen time and again, unstable countries become the breeding grounds and safe havens for terrorist groups and other criminals who threaten the security of the United States.

“International corruption also inhibits the ability of American companies to compete overseas on a level playing field. Once bribery and corruption take hold, fair and competitive business practices are eliminated. Nobody but the corrupt official benefits from bribery.

“For all of these reasons, fighting foreign corruption is not a service we provide to the global community, but rather a necessary enforcement action to protect our own national security interests and the ability of our U.S. companies to compete on a global scale.

“And, it is not just the United States that is recognizing the importance of foreign bribery laws. There is an ever growing chorus of countries voicing support for the fight against this type of corruption. More and more countries are joining international bodies that provide uniform standards for the criminalization of bribery of foreign public officials in international business transactions. This type of collaboration is critical if we are going to have a meaningful impact on international corruption.

“These themes apply equally to our Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative launched by the Attorney General in 2010. The initiative relies on the use of U.S. civil forfeiture actions to recover the proceeds of foreign official corruption that pass through the United States.

“More simply, it takes the monies and assets stolen by foreign despots and returns them to the people harmed. This initiative protects the integrity of the U.S. financial system from use by corrupt officials, and denies corrupt officials the ability to enjoy luxuries purchased in the United States at the expense of the populations they purport to serve.”

One Oxford definition of “kleptocrat” is “A ruler who uses their power to steal their country’s resources” while the online dictionary.com defines a “kleptocrat” as “a government official who is a thief or exploiter”.

Whichever the definition, has Malaysia a kleptocrat as a Prime Minister as Najib is reported to be targeted for investigations under the US Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative?

This is no small or slight matter.

Deputy Inspector-General of Police Datuk Seri Noor Rashid has said that the police is not certain about the veracity of the New York Times report of a US grand jury investigation into Najib under the Justice Department’s Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative.

Unless and until the relevant authorities, whether the Police, the Attorney-General’s Chambers, Wismaputra, the Prime Minister’s Office or the Prime Minister himself can come out with a clear-cut and satisfactory denial, then Malaysians will have to live with the brutal fact that we have a Prime Minister who is suspected of being a kleptocrat by the US Justice Department.

If this is the case, then Najib should honourably step down as Prime Minister until he can fully clear himself of the charge and suspicions of kleptocracy, and he should not be presenting the 2016 Budget in Parliament on 23rd October but by a new Finance Minister.

Lim Kit Siang DAP Parliamentary Leader & MP for Gelang Patah