Malaysia is due to hold a general election in the next 12 months with the ruling United Malays National Organisation facing a tricky news agenda.
It is not the model way to start an election campaign as Prime Minister Najib Razak looks to repeat his 2013 success.
This week it was revealed that the scandal-laden 1MDB fund is in further financial trouble after missing a payment. Simultaneously French prosecutors ripped the scab off a scandal involving an allegedly pregnant model murdered by state bodyguards who then used plastic explosives to destroy her corpse, backhanders and other claims that the prime minister struggles to silence.
The payment to Abu Dhabi’s International Petroleum Investment Company was due on July 31. The Malaysian fund said it would make the payment later this month, claiming the delay was also due to the need to get more “regulatory approvals”.
The 1MDB scandal is an open sore that eclipses Najib’s floundering administration most days with fresh revelations.
Events in Paris will give the prime minister further headaches.
A close friend and former adviser to Najib has reportedly been charged in France over alleged multimillion-dollar scandal linked to the assassination of a Mongolian model and allegations of bribery, blackmail and betrayal.
Abdul Razak Baginda, a former director of the Malaysian Strategic Resource Centre, faces allegations of “active and passive complicity in corruption” by the French judiciary after a seven-year investigation, according to AFP.
Razak set up a US$2-billion order in 2002, when Najib was defence minister, for Malaysia to buy two French-Spanish Scorpene-class submarines.
More than US$132 million was allegedly paid to an apparent shell company linked to Razak. He claims the payment was for legitimate work.
The submarine deal has been linked to the murder of Mongolian model Altantuya Shaariibuugiin, (pictured) then 28, who was reported to be Razak’s lover and worked as a translator during negotiations.
Pregnant Shaariibuugiin was dragged from a car by two of Najib’s security personnel and shot twice in the head in a forest near a Kuala Lumpur suburb in October 2006, investigators reported at the time.
Najib was then deputy prime minister.
The assassins used Malaysian military C4 explosives to destroy all evidence and the possibility of identifying who had impregnated her, the authorities were told.
Razak was charged with abetting murder in 2008 but the case was dismissed before any evidence was heard in court, sparking opposition allegations of a cover-up.
Allegations that Najib was involved in Shaariibuugiin’s murder and pocketed cash in the submarine deal have surrounded his premiership since he took the top job in 2009.
No official motive was ever established for the murder and the Putrajaya government appears keen for the scandal to be forgotten.
The opposition has sought to link Najib to the case, but he has repeatedly said that he had nothing to do with it and swore on the Koran that he never met Shaariibuugiin.
The scandal-ridden premier says any attempts to link him to the murder are “entirely false smears motivated by political gain”.
But a private investigator working for Razak gave a sworn statement in 2008 claiming Najib had earlier been romantically involved with Shaariibuugiin and had tried to manipulate the murder investigation.
Investigator P Balasubramaniam rapidly withdrew the allegations amid what he later claimed were threats to his family. He fled abroad, only to return in 2013 vowing further revelations, but died suddenly from an apparent “heart attack”.
It is still alleged that Shaariibuugiin was murdered to prevent her exposing backhanders from the submarine deal.
Before her murder, she reportedly claimed she was owed US5$00,000 for helping organise the submarine contract.
Azilah Hadri and Sirul Azhar Umar, from the unit that protects Malaysian ministers, were sentenced to death by the High Court in 2009 for Shaariibuugiin’s murder.
Sirul told the court he was a “black sheep who has been sacrificed to protect unnamed people”.
“I was under orders. The important people with motive are still free,” Sirul told Malaysian news website Malaysiakini in 2015.
The bodyguards were acquitted in 2013 when a lower court ruled there had been gaps in the evidence against them. But in January 2015 Malaysia’s highest court overturned the acquittal and reinstated the death sentences. Sirul was not in court for the ruling as he escaped to Australia in 2014.
The former commando is currently being held at a Sydney detention centre.
“Due to that, the government is still studying the best way to handle the issue,” announced Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi last week.
Australia has said it would not extradite him unless Malaysia gives an undertaking it would not carry out the death sentence.
Ahmad suggested Putrajaya could offer an alternative sentence, such as life imprisonment, in its application for extradition.
Zahid said the government had not yet made an extradition request for Sirul.
Najib might continue to deny all knowledge of these scandals and he may secure another parliamentary majority, based on the sectarian loyalty of Malaysia’s Muslim majority. Whether he deserves another term is different question.
Picture credit: YouTube