Three shocks from the Opposition in Parliament during the 2019 Budget presentation
I was wrong yesterday, I thought there would be an empty seat next to the Parliamentary Opposition Leader, Datuk Seri Zahid Hamidi, during the presentation of the 2019 Budget in the Dewan Rakyat yesterday as a day earlier, the United States Department of Justice had finally indicted fugitive financier Jho Loh and a former Goldman Sachs banker Tim Leissner had pleaded guilty to 1MDB corruption and money-laundering charges.
Jho Low was charged in the federal court at the Eastern District of New York for conspiring to launder billions of dollars embezzled from 1MDB.
Low and former Goldman Sachs banker Ng Chong Hwa, also known as Roger Ng, were also charged with conspiring to violate Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) to paying bribes to Malaysian and Abu Dhabi officials.
When the news of the US 1MDB criminal court proceedings broke on Thursday night, my first thought was what would have happened if UMNO/Barisan Nasional had won the 14th General Election and Najib had not been toppled as Prime Minister on May 9, 2018.
This was because Najib and the former Attorney-General Tan Sri Mohamad Apandi Ali had been arguing since the first US DOJ kleptocratic litigation to freeze billions of dollars of 1MDB-linked assets in July 2016 that there was no criminal suit, but only civil actions.
Or in the words of Mohamad Apandi: “At no point in the civil claims is the Prime Minister named as a defendant or has been alleged to have committed any criminal wrongdoing.”
What would Najib and Apandi say of the latest 1MDB court indictments and proceedings if they had continued as Prime Minister and Attorney-General respectively?
My second thought was that there would be an empty seat next to the Parliamentary Opposition Leader during the presentation of the 2019 Budget by the Finance Minister, Lim Guan Eng, at 4 p.m. yesterday, for it did not enter my mind that Najib could be so shameless and brazen as to continue to pretend that there is no such thing as the 1MDB scandal after the 1MDB criminal indictments in the US court.
In his guilty plea to two charges of conspiring to launder money and conspiring to violate the FCPA by paying bribes to various Malaysian and Abu Dhabi officials, Tim Leisnner admitted in his plea that he bribed officials in two countries to get bond deals for Goldman Sachs.
He admitted that he and others arranged the 1MDB fundraising as bond offerings because it would generate higher fees for the bank.
Leissner also admitted to enriching himself beyond what was publicly known, saying that more than US$200mil (RM835mil) in proceeds from 1MDB bonds flowed into accounts controlled by him and a relative. As part of his settlement, he will forfeit almost US$44mil (RM184mil).
Bribes allegedly went beyond cash. A shell company controlled by Low allegedly sent US$27.3mil (RM114mil) to pay a New York jeweller who designed a pink diamond necklace for the wife of Najib, Malaysia’s then-prime minister.
Low and Leissner also allegedly transferred US$4.1mil (RM17.1mil) to New York to pay for gold jewellery for Najib’s wife, Rosmah Mansor.
But I was wrong. Najib was in his seat in Parliament next to Zahid as if nothing unusual had happened in the latest developments of the 1MDB scandal.
In his recent Al Jazeera 101 East interview, Najib said that Sheikh Mansour, the brother of Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohamad bin Zayed, who is chairman of International Petroleum Investment Company, intended to present the US$23.7 million pink diamond necklace to Rosmah;
But the US DOJ court documents contradict Najib’s claims over who paid for the pink diamond necklace meant for Rosmah, stating that the necklace was purchased by a shell company owned by Jho Low and several co-conspirators.
It is very sad that the Malaysia’s sixth Prime Minister seems to have passed the stage where he could differentiate between right and wrong, or to be ashamed of corruption and kleptocracy.
But this was only the first of three shocks from the Opposition MPs yesterday.
The second shock was when the Opposition MPs booed and jeered Guan Eng at the opening of his budget speech, where he thanked Malaysians for saving the nation from a kleptocratic government and commended the rakyat for their courage to replace the old government with a new, clean and democratic administration.
This should be the final straw – for the nation was presented with a stark spectacle between MPs who support the new government committed to a clean-up of the corruption and criminal breaches of trust prevalent under the Najib premiership, and Opposition MPs (whether UMNO, MCA, MIC) who still supported the old regime of kleptocracy!
Before the budget presentation, UMNO President Zahid asked whether the people could trust the Pakatan Harapan budget when the Pakatan manifesto could not be delivered.
Zahid does not seem to realise that it was the height of irony for him to ask this question, when only sixth months ago, he, Najib and the entire Barisan Nasional government had been rejected by the Malaysian voters and evicted from Putrajaya precisely because the old government had proved to be thoroughly untrustworthy!
The 2019 budget speech makes history as never before had a budget speech in Malaysia focused so much on eradicating corruption and ensuring a clean, transparent and accountable government.
Guan Eng asked “the crooks who have stolen the people's money” to “return the money and be prepared to face justice” and those “who continue to support these crooks” to “apologise and resign from public office”.
Will Najib and his gang do so or will they continue to defend kleptocracy even in Parliament during the debate on the 2019 Budget?
Malaysians will know soon enough when Parliament reconvenes on November 12 after the Deepavali holidays to start the debate on the 2019 Budget.