Malaysia Sidelines Officials Accused of Ignoring Graft

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Malaysian officials accused of covering up a large corruption scandal stepped down or were placed on leave Monday as Malaysia’s leadership continued to be upended by the defeat of the governing coalition last week.

Mahathir Mohamad, the new prime minister, said Monday afternoon that the attorney general, Mohamed Apandi Ali, had been placed on leave.

Mr. Apandi, who was named attorney general three years ago, cleared the previous prime minister, Najib Razak, of any wrongdoing in connection with the misappropriation of billions of dollars from 1Malaysia Development Berhad, a government fund known as 1MDB.

He was among the most prominent officials supporting Mr. Najib’s assertion of innocence, and he may now face an investigation for what critics contend was a cover-up.

Mr. Apandi showed up for work on Monday even though Mr. Mahathir said last week that the attorney general had been removed from office. He acknowledged in a text message that he had gone to work but declined to comment on his situation.

Mohammad Irwan Serigar bin Abdullah, secretary general of the Malaysian Treasury and chairman of 1MDB, was also relieved of his duties on Monday.

Mr. Mahathir also said he hoped that a new leader of Malaysia’s anti-corruption commission would be announced by Tuesday. The previous commission chief, Dzulkifli Ahmad, offered his resignation on Monday, according to reports in Malaysian news outlets. He did not respond to a request for comment on Monday.

Last year, Mr. Dzulkifli said the anticorruption commission would not reopen an investigation into 1MDB, even after a United States Justice Department complaint outlined how huge sums were diverted from the fund and spent by associates of former Prime Minister Najib Razak. An assets-seizure lawsuit filed by the Justice Department said that $731 million had been deposited into Mr. Najib’s accounts.

On Saturday, the government announced that Mr. Najib and his wife, Rosmah Mansor, were barred from leaving the country amid concerns that they were planning to leave for Indonesia. On Monday, a bodyguard at their home said they remained inside, though the number of visitors as well as staff members had dwindled.

Nurul Izzah Anwar, Mr. Anwar’s daughter and a member of Parliament, said that the board was expected to rule that there had been a miscarriage of justice and that her father was innocent.

The king’s pardon would allow Mr. Anwar to participate in politics again, lifting a five-year ban on political activity that he would have faced based on his release under normal circumstances.

Mr. Anwar is expected to replace the 92-year-old Mr. Mahathir as prime minister at some point. Mr. Anwar’s wife, Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, is the deputy prime minister and has long said that her goal was to win his freedom.

The pardon process can take many months. An immediate pardon, which was agreed on last week in meetings between the king, Mr. Mahathir and Ms. Wan Azizah, according to the new prime minister, would accelerate the potential timetable for Mr. Anwar to take over from Mr. Mahathir.

But there are still some hurdles. To become prime minister, Mr. Anwar must win a seat in Parliament. And for a new election to be held, someone must leave office to create a vacancy.

Ms. Nurul Izzah said that there was no rivalry between the two leaders, who were once allies and then foes before becoming allies again.

“He has given his unequivocal support to the prime minister, Mahathir Mohamad, and the reform agenda,” she said of Mr. Anwar.

Sharon Tan contributed reporting.

Seeking Foreign Money, G.O.P. Donor Pushed for Trump to Golf With Malaysian Premier

Mr. Broidy and Mr. Nader met around the inauguration and worked to sway the Trump administration on behalf the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia at a time when Mr. Broidy was seeking contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars from the two countries.


George Nader in 1999. He an adviser to the Emiratis who is cooperating in the special counsel investigation.

Ron Sachs/Picture-Alliance, via Associated Press

In a statement, Mr. Broidy said, “This whole narrative is a fabrication driven by hackers who want to undermine me.”

Mr. Broidy resigned as deputy finance chairman of the Republican National Committee last week after admitting that he had worked through Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael D. Cohen, to reach an agreement to pay $1.6 million to a Playboy model who became pregnant during an affair with the fund-raiser.

The results of Mr. Broidy’s efforts on Mr. Guo’s case are unclear. China has charged Mr. Guo with corruption, but he remains in New York, where he has become an outspoken critic of Chinese government self-dealing and is seeking asylum.

Mr. Broidy’s attempts to curry favor with Malaysia through the golf date, however, entailed more direct and insistent communications with the White House, illustrating the influence he hoped to use for the benefit of both Asian countries.

“I have done work in Malaysia over many years and know Prime Minister Najib Razak well,” Mr. Broidy wrote in an email to the White House chief of staff, John F. Kelly, dated Aug. 31, 2017, early in Mr. Kelly’s tenure.

Mr. Broidy had personally appealed to Mr. Trump in June for a one-on-one golf date with Mr. Najib during the prime minister’s coming visit to Washington, and “the president told me he would be happy to play golf with the PM,” Mr. Broidy wrote in the email. The president’s previous chief of staff, Reince Priebus, had confirmed the golf date to Mr. Broidy, but “unfortunately, the golf game is not appearing on the schedule that has been provided through protocol to the PM,” he wrote.

“I look forward to discussing this with you,” Mr. Broidy wrote to Mr. Kelly, thanking him for his assistance. A person close to Mr. Broidy said Mr. Kelly did not reply.

For Mr. Trump, a golf date with Mr. Najib could have fueled criticism that the president is indifferent to the appearance of corruption. Mr. Najib is under investigation by prosecutors in both the United States and Malaysia on suspicion of embezzling from a state investment fund, the 1Malaysia Development Berhad, or 1MDB. The Justice Department has filed a lawsuit seeking to seize $540 million in American assets purchased with money stolen from the fund.

A person close to Mr. Broidy said the golf date never happened and his business discussions with Malaysia never passed the preliminary stage.

The Chinese dissident, Mr. Guo, made a fortune in real estate and finance in China but fled in 2014 in anticipation of charges of corruption. He has said the allegations were fabricated by business and political opponents, and he has since styled himself as a whistle-blower exposing the corruption of the Chinese elite. He lives primarily in a 9,000-square-foot apartment overlooking Central Park that he bought three years ago for more than $67 million.

One person close to Mr. Broidy said he was interested in the case because of his friendship with Steve Wynn, another top Republican fund-raiser. Mr. Wynn, a casino mogul who himself recently resigned as a Republican finance chairman after a sex scandal, had large business interests in China and also sought to persuade the United States to expel Mr. Guo.

A representative of Mr. Wynn did not respond to requests for comment, and a representative of Mr. Guo declined to comment.

Mr. Broidy wrote a draft memo dated May 6, 2017, to Mr. Nader, the Emirati adviser, laying out a complex proposal for both men to profit from an unusual three-way trade relying on their combined influence in Washington and Abu Dhabi, the capital of the U.A.E.

Mr. Nader would encourage his patron, Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Zayed al-Nahyan, to ask the United States to hand over Mr. Guo in connection with a business dispute with the U.A.E.

Mr. Broidy, meanwhile, would prod the Trump administration to comply with the extradition request from the U.A.E. while avoiding the appearance of turning a Chinese dissident over to China.

The Emiratis might then agree to deliver Mr. Guo to China, Mr. Broidy wrote, because they believe Mr. Guo owes $3 billion to Emirati investment funds. In exchange, the Chinese might pay off that debt, Mr. Broidy wrote.

“China would agree to pay” Mr. Nader and himself, Mr. Broidy wrote, and “Abu Dhabi would pay” them as well.

He and Mr. Nader “can assist members of the Trump administration, including President Trump, Mr. Kushner, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Secretary of Defense James Mattis, Secretary of Homeland Security John F. Kelly, and National Security Adviser H. R. McMaster, see the value of cooperating with Abu Dhabi in getting custody of Mr. Guo, which in effect helps China get one step closer to acquiring custody of Mr. Guo,” Mr. Broidy wrote.

A person close to Mr. Broidy and familiar with the case said he did not send the email but still approached Mr. Nader in general terms about the proposal. In his statement, Mr. Broidy said: “I have never had a strategy or plan regarding Mr. Guo nor was there any compensation given or even discussed. And, to be clear, at no time was I told by George Nader or anyone that anyone from U.A.E. had any interest whatsoever in Mr. Guo.”

Most of the documents appear in 20 pages of emails from Mr. Broidy’s account that were provided to The Times by an anonymous group critical of his advocacy of foreign policies in the Middle East. Lawyers for Mr. Broidy have filed a lawsuit charging that hackers working for Qatar stole his emails in retaliation for his criticism of the country; Qatar has denied responsibility. The email to Mr. Kelly was provided by a different person.

Mr. Broidy drafted another memorandum, dated May 21, 2017, to Mr. Sessions. In it, Mr. Broidy wrote that “while conducting business in Malaysia” he had learned of “a potential opportunity for the U.S. and China to increase their law enforcement cooperation.”

A delegation from China was on its way to Washington four days later, Mr. Broidy wrote, and “the one request China will make” is the extradition of Mr. Guo, “who China alleges has conspired with others who have been arrested and charged with violations of numerous criminal laws of China.”

A person close to Mr. Broidy said he never sent that memorandum, and a Justice Department spokeswoman said Mr. Sessions never received it. But as late as the end of 2017 Mr. Broidy was evidently seeking to encourage Mr. Guo’s expulsion, in part by generating negative publicity about him. “Slam him,” Mr. Broidy wrote in October to an associate seeking to promote negative articles about Mr. Guo.

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Malaysian Leader Jump-Starts Elections, and Stacks the Odds

Discontent with Mr. Najib has simmered for years, especially among members of Malaysia’s ethnic Chinese minority. But Mr. Najib, who is the scion of an ethnic Malay political dynasty, has been able to count on rural Malay constituents whose influence has been amplified by race-based policies that benefit them.

The governing National Front alliance is dominated by Mr. Najib’s United Malays National Organization, which has safeguarded preferential treatment for the Malay majority in areas ranging from government jobs to university places.

In the run-up to the campaign season, the governing alliance appears to have focused on creating ideal conditions to assure Mr. Najib’s re-election. On Thursday, a government body temporarily deregistered Mr. Mahathir’s new political party because it had filed incomplete paperwork. Until the documentation is complete, Mr. Mahathir’s political bloc will not be allowed to campaign or display its logo.


Discontent with Mr. Najib, foreground right, has simmered for years, especially among members of Malaysia’s ethnic Chinese minority.

Sadiq Asyraf/Associated Press

“There is no rule of law in this country,” Mr. Mahathir said at a news conference late Thursday night. “Najib is cheating to win the election by paralyzing his opponents.”

Even before the order to dissolve Parliament was announced on Friday, flags for the National Front began appearing at overpasses and major intersections in Kuala Lumpur, the nation’s capital. Banners for opposition parties, which are expected to band together under the People’s Justice Party in order to contest the elections, were not on display.

Two controversial bills were passed in the waning days of Parliament. One rejiggered voting districts so drastically that the opposition derided it as gerrymandering. Another piece of legislation made creating or circulating “fake news” punishable by up to six years in prison. The definition of “fake news” has not been made clear.

Earlier this week, Mr. Najib promised to give raises to Malaysia’s 1.6 million civil servants, most of whom are Malay. The prime minister also vowed to lavish hundreds of millions of dollars on police officers and certain companies run by bumiputra, or sons of the soil, as Malays and indigenous peoples are known.

Mr. Mahathir was the architect of the affirmative action program for Malays, who were discriminated against during British rule. Encouraging mass immigration by Chinese and Indians, the British also gave some prime jobs in the colonial administration and business sphere to non-Malays, fostering resentment that festers to this day.

Pakatan Harapan, Malaysia’s opposition coalition, is an unwieldy collection of disparate forces that includes Chinese liberals, Islamists and nationalist Malays. Meaning “alliance of hope” in Malay, it is led by Mr. Mahathir, even though some of the coalition’s most prominent members are veteran opposition leaders who were jailed or harassed during the former prime minister’s long tenure.

Chief among them is Anwar Ibrahim, a former deputy prime minister to Mr. Mahathir who fell out of favor and was jailed on sodomy and graft charges that were widely seen as politically motivated. Mr. Anwar famously appeared in court in 1998 with a black eye that Mr. Mahathir’s allies insisted was self-inflicted.

Mr. Anwar is now back in prison after a second sodomy conviction. He is scheduled to be released in June. How the opposition will deal with two suns in its political solar system — Mr. Mahathir and Mr. Anwar — remains to be seen.

The electoral choice is so uninspiring for some younger Malaysian voters that they have started a movement to cast spoiled ballots to protest the state of national politics.


The dissolution of the Parliament, above, will pave the way for the most contentious general elections in Malaysia since it gained independence more than six decades ago.

Fazry Ismail/EPA, via Shutterstock

The National Front, however, says that it has delivered on 99 percent of its campaign pledges from 2013. The country of 30 million people is among Southeast Asia’s most prosperous, even though a study released last year by the United Nations and the Malaysian Health Ministry found high rates of child malnutrition.

“Our target is nothing short of being one of the top nations in the world,” Mr. Najib said on Wednesday.

Yet Malaysia’s international reputation has been damaged by a scandal surrounding the mishandling of at least $3.5 billion connected to the One Malaysia Development Berhad fund, known as 1MDB.

An investigation by the United States Department of Justice, which is building a case to seize around $1.7 billion in assets connected to the fund, found that $731 million that was deposited into bank accounts controlled by Mr. Najib had come from 1MDB. Mr. Najib contends that the bulk of that money was given to him by a Saudi patron.

“For the prime minister, it’s either be re-elected or go to jail,” said Mukhriz Mahathir, an opposition politician who is also Mr. Mahathir’s son. “The stakes could not be higher for him.”

Multiple Malaysian investigations into 1MDB have found no impropriety connected to Mr. Najib or his associates. Officials with 1MDB have said no money went missing from the fund. Mr. Najib has hinted that investigations by foreign countries into 1MDB are Western witch hunts.

Both Mr. Najib and Mr. Mahathir have a record of blaming outsiders for stirring up dissent against them. Mr. Mahathir suggested that Jews were behind the Asian financial crisis in 1997. Mr. Najib has advised “white people” to stop interfering in Malaysian affairs.

Malay populism is expected to be stirred up during the campaign, and some Malaysian minorities have characterized this election as an existential moment for a country that depends on a delicate balance of races for stability. Although numbers are hard to come by, an ethnic Chinese brain drain appears to be robbing Malaysia of qualified white-collar workers.

“If the opposition loses again, there will be no hope left,” said Liew Chin Tong, an ethnic Chinese strategist for the opposition Democratic Action Party. “I worry that some people will end up leaving Malaysia.”

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As Malaysia Moves to Ban ‘Fake News,’ Worries About Who Decides the Truth

But members of Malaysia’s political opposition say the legislation is intended to stifle free speech ahead of elections that are widely seen as a referendum on Prime Minister Najib Razak, who has been tainted by a scandal involving billions of dollars that were diverted from Malaysia’s state investment fund.

“Instead of a proper investigation into what happened, we have a ministry of truth being created,” said Nurul Izzah Anwar, a lawmaker from the People’s Justice Party and the daughter of the jailed opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim.


Members of Malaysia’s opposition say the legislation is intended to stifle free speech before elections this year that are widely seen as a referendum on Prime Minister Najib Razak, center, who has been tainted by scandal.

Sadiq Asyraf/Associated Press

An inquiry by the United States Department of Justice found that associates of Mr. Najib had mishandled at least $3.5 billion connected to the 1 Malaysia Development Berhad fund, known as 1MDB. American officials have been working to seize about $1.7 billion in assets and have expanded the scope of their inquiry to include a criminal investigation.

The Department of Justice traced $731 million deposited into bank accounts controlled by Mr. Najib to 1MDB. Mr. Najib, who is referred to in American documents simply as Malaysia Official 1, has said most of the money was a gift from a Saudi patron.

A broad alliance of Malaysian opposition parties has tried to foster public outrage over the 1MDB scandal in order to sink Mr. Najib’s efforts to secure a third term. Elections must be held by August and are widely expected to take place before the end of May.

The fake-news legislation targets “any news, information, data and reports which are wholly or partly false, whether in the form of features, visuals or audio recordings or in any other form capable of suggesting words or ideas.”

The Malaysian authorities say the bill intends to protect individuals and businesses from online attacks. “The public wants a law to protect Malaysians from fake news,” said Salleh Said Keruak, the Malaysian minister of communications and multimedia. “If you are a victim of something that’s viral but fake, your life is ruined.”

Mr. Salleh said that Malaysia’s various legal mechanisms — including a strict penal code, the Printing Presses and Publications Act, the Sedition act, and the Communications and Multimedia Act — do not provide ample defense against misinformation.

But that view is not held by some in the legal community.

“You would think that we have more than adequate protection against any mischief that might be considered fake news,” said Lim Chee Wee, the former secretary of the Malaysian Bar. “We have a rather comprehensive set of laws.”


Newspapers in Shah Alam, Malaysia. “When the American president made ‘fake news’ into a buzzword, the world woke up,” a senior official with the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission said.

Sadiq Asyraf/Associated Press

Since irregularities in the investment fund came to light three years ago, a slew of politicians, writers and even a political cartoonist have been charged with offenses such as sedition and defamation. The attorney general, who was looking into the fund’s finances, was fired. Some publications that covered the 1MDB scandal have been censored or shuttered.

Late last month, Jailani Johari, Malaysia’s deputy minister for communications and multimedia, gave his definition of what would fall under the new bill: Any information about 1MDB that has not been verified by the government, he said, “is deemed as fake news.”

The Malaysian government says it has conducted various inquiries into allegations of money laundering and graft connected to 1MDB but has found no evidence of wrongdoing by Mr. Najib. Officials from 1MDB say no money is missing from the fund.

Mr. Salleh, the communications and multimedia minister, walked back his deputy’s statement on 1MDB, saying that simply mentioning the existence of the Department of Justice investigation, for instance, would not constitute a breach of the law. However, tying Mr. Najib to specific dollar amounts connected to 1MDB, he said, could be a prosecutable offense.

“There is freedom of speech in Malaysia,” Mr. Salleh said, “but there will be no freedom to circulate false news.”

The bill against fake news is not the only divisive legislation passed or under consideration in Malaysia in the prelude to the elections. On Saturday, Parliament signed off on a redrawing of voting districts, prompting cries of gerrymandering from opposition parties. Like the bill condemning misinformation, the proposal on voting boundaries was debated and passed in a matter of hours.

Malaysia has been governed by a single coalition since independence. In 2013, the coalition, which is dominated by Mr. Najib’s party, the United Malays National Organization, lost the popular vote for the first time. With the cost of living rising in Malaysia, Mr. Najib’s traditional support base of rural voters could decline further.

“These new laws are designed to create fear and make people think there’s no way to stop the prime minister from winning re-election,” said Charles Santiago, a lawmaker from the Democratic Action Party. “But the government cannot say that everything is fake. Truth still matters in Malaysia.”

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