Notes on a scandal

Clare Rewcastle

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Najib Razak. Illustration: Charis Loke

Since 9 May Southeast Asia has been gripped by a drama few could have imagined. Malaysia’s all-powerful prime minister has been deposed, unseated by a democratic process that all had come to believe was little more than a facade. The reason? Popular opinion had overwhelmingly turned against him, thanks to a scandal that became known as the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) affair. This was the scandal I unravelled and brought to public attention.

It was back in 2014 when it dawned on me that Malaysia’s prime minister Najib Razak had been directly involved, together with his known proxy Low Taek Jho (Jho Low), in the purloining of a so-called development fund that he controlled. Jho Low was already a figure of some notoriety in Malaysia, having emerged while still in his twenties as a mover and shaker on the nightclub scene in the United States and Europe, as a spender of gargantuan sums of money. The flamboyant partygoer, nicknamed “the Whale”, was given to buying millions of dollars’ worth of champagne, which he would shower on Tinseltown celebrities. The nature of his sudden wealth remains a mystery today.

The 1MDB fund — indelibly linked to Najib and Jho Low — had plunged into billions of dollars in debt, thanks to a series of shadowy investments that everyone suspected were just a cover story for straight thefts, something I was starting to prove was indeed the case.

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