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Najib faces 1MDB verdict as Malaysian political ground shifts - Al Jazeera English
Judge to give decision in first case relating to failed state fund in decision that could have a major political impact.
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia - After nearly 16 months, dozens of witnesses and thousands of pages of evidence, a Malaysian judge will on Tuesday deliver his verdict on whether former Prime Minister Najib Razak is guilty of corruption in the first of a series of trials related to the alleged theft of billions of dollars from state fund 1MDB, in a decision that could have major political ramifications. Najib faces seven charges in relation to SRC International, a unit of 1MDB, and allegations that millions of dollars ended up in his personal bank accounts and were used to shop at luxury stores, pay for home renovation projects and provide funding for the component parties of his then-ruling coalition. If found guilty, he could face decades in prison and substantial fines. He would also become the first Malaysian prime minister to be convicted in a criminal court. "It's a test for Muhyiddin's [the current prime minister's] government," said Bridget Welsh, an expert on Malaysia and honorary research fellow with the University of Nottingham's Asia Research Institute Malaysia. "It will also send a very important signal about whether leaders will be held to account for what they do while in office, as well as the penalties for elites abusing the system." Najib might be facing more than 40 charges in relation to 1MDB and spending most of his days in court, but he remains an influential figure in the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), which was ousted in May 2018 amid popular anger about 1MDB, but is once again the biggest party in the coalition after Muhyiddin Yassin - the deputy Najib sacked over 1MDB - emerged as prime minister in March. Judge Mohd Nazlan Ghazali, who began his legal career at the Securities Commission and Malaysia's biggest bank, is due to deliver his verdict at 10am (02:00 GMT). 'Near-absolute power' When the trial got under way on April 3 last year, then-Attorney General Tommy Thomas told the court that Najib, who sat on the dock's wooden bench leaning against a plump cushion provided by an aide, had wielded "near-absolute power" as prime minister; a time when he was also finance minister. The "highest trust" had been placed in Najib by the Malaysian people, Thomas noted. The prosecution called scores of witnesses to buttress its case, including anti-corruption investigators, former Second Minister of Finance Ahmad Husni Hanadzlah and senior bankers at AmBank where Najib kept his personal accounts. The defence, meanwhile, sought to show that Najib was not aware of the source of the funds and was misled by Penang-born financier Jho Low, a man notorious for blowing thousands of dollars on bottles of champagne and partying with celebrities and socialites. He is now a fugitive, and has denied wrongdoing. Investigators in the United States have said $4.5bn was siphoned from 1MDB - where Najib chaired the board of advisers - through a complex web of shell companies before it was used to buy the trappings of the uber-rich, including luxury homes, an ocean-going yacht, and art by Picasso. Najib himself took the witness stand in December, reading from a prepared statement that was nearly 250 pages long. His defence team is convinced they have done enough. "We are very confident in the defence and the outcome as well," Muhammad Farhan Shafee, one of Najib's team of lawyers, told Al Jazeera. "Enough doubt has been aroused during the proceedings, and that's the burden of proof we have to meet." Optimism Najib, who turned 67 last week, has oozed confidence throughout, and the change in government has reinvigorated his political profile. Earlier this month, he joined campaigning for a state assembly seat in his east coast constituency, and last week got special permission from the court - initially denied - to attend Parliament to deliver a speech. On social media, the former prime minister continues to pepper lighter fare on family - his cat Kiky makes regular appearances - with his views on political developments. Last week, he posted a video of himself surrounded by dozens of staff singing happy birthday to the man they dubbed "bossku" a reference to the online persona he crafted in the run-up to the trial. On Tuesday night, in a Facebook posting ahead of the verdict he thanked people for their support, took potshots at the government that ousted him, and said he would appeal if found guilty, "I want justice," he wrote. "I want to clear my name." Some cases related to 1MDB have been settled without jail time being served. Last week, Malaysia reached a $3.9bn deal with US investment bank Goldman Sachs to drop criminal charges over its role in the scandal, and in June withdrew money-laundering charges against Najib's stepson Riza Aziz, who had been accused of using money diverted from 1MDB to fund the blockbuster movie the Wolf of Wall Street. The film, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and directed by Martin Scorsese, was banned in Malaysia. Riza's production house had already paid a fine to the Department of Justice in the US, while the settlement with Malaysia came to just over $107m. Away from 1MDB, other politicians forced to answer corruption allegations after the 2018 election have also had their cases dropped or settled, including the former chief minister of the Borneo state of Sabah. "Since the change of government, there have been a number of rulings in favour of those who were prosecuted," said Ross Tapsell, senior lecturer at the Australian National University's College of Asia and the Pacific. "The trend seems to be towards softer rulings." The SRC decision is being handed down five years to the day that Najib fired Muhyiddin and four other ministers as the revelations about 1MDB snowballed. Muhyiddin was sacked as deputy prime minister and home minister while then-Attorney General Abdul Gani Patail, as well as the head of the Special Branch, were also removed from their positions. Later, Muhyiddin joined forces with the opposition, which had united in a bid to remove Najib. In the 2018 polls, he campaigned alongside veteran leader Mahathir Mohamad and the Pakatan Harapan coalition, to call for a full investigation into 1MDB and an end to corruption. "It would look very bad for the Muhyiddin government if Najib was let off, especially as Muhyiddin himself was sacked and campaigned on these corruption cases," Tapsell said. Divisions Muhyiddin became prime minister in March, aligning himself with UMNO and the Islamic party PAS to form a conservative, Malay-nationalist administration, after the king was convinced that he had a majority in Parliament. Still, while he was won plaudits for his effective control of the coronavirus pandemic in Malaysia, his coalition's majority is wafer-thin. Parliament did not sit until earlier this month - bar a single ceremonial day for the official opening - and a vote to remove the speaker who had taken on the job under the previous administration was secured by only two votes. Rumours of a snap election are rife. "For Muhyiddin, a conviction would take away his absolutely most daunting rival - and would spare him from having to cooperate with a coalition-mate he has ripped apart previously," said Meredith Weiss, professor of political science at the University at Albany. "At least as important, a conviction (especially one worded clearly enough to increase the odds of its holding up on appeal) would certify his government as opposing corruption." UMNO too has its problems, which could undermine the ruling coalition's position. A number of senior politicians, including leader Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, are on trial for corruption. If any of them are found guilty, and the decision is upheld on appeal, they will lose their seats in Parliament. Najib himself was also ordered last week by a Kuala Lumpur court to pay a staggering 1.69 billion ringgit ($397.4m) in unpaid taxes for the period from 2011 to 2017. When Najib was first charged over SRC, Thomas noted the case was one of the most straightforward involving 1MDB; a case that spans at least six countries and involves a complex money trail through numerous shell companies and far-flung tax havens. There was "overwhelming evidence" against Najib, he said. Many Malaysians, emboldened by the May election result - the first time UMNO had been defeated since independence - were eager for a conviction, but there were also die-hard supporters who refused to believe that the scion of one of the country's most influential political families could be guilty of such a crime. Najib's supporters plan to gather outside the court on Tuesday. "For many Malaysians, it would be nice if Najib Razak was convicted," said Oh Ei Sun, a political analyst who once worked in Najib's office. "People are worried about the economy and wider government policies. A conviction would be an antidote to what progressives see as the regression of the country."
Malaysia's Muhyiddin wins vote to replace speaker by a whisker - Al Jazeera English
Muhyiddin's coalition won by two votes in first test of parliamentary majority since manoeuvring to power in March.
Malaysia's Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin narrowly cleared a major political test on Monday, as his coalition won just enough votes to remove the lower house speaker in a vote seen as an important barometer of his government's support. The vote was the first real measure of Muhyiddin's backing since his coalition took over the government in March after a power grab within the then ruling coalition led to the resignation of predecessor Mahathir Mohamad. A total of 111 lawmakers supported Muhyiddin's bid to remove Mohamad Ariff Md Yusof, a widely-respected former Federal Court judge, who became speaker after the last election in May 2018. Some 109 voted against the move. One government member was absent for medical reasons. Nga Kor Min, one of two deputy speakers and a member of the opposition Democratic Action Party, announced his resignation before the motion to remove him from his position was tabled. Malaysia has been grappling with political and policy uncertainty since Muhyiddin, who was part of Mahathir's administration, unexpectedly became prime minister after forging an alliance with the corruption-tainted United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), which was removed from power in the 2018 election. After the session resumed after the lunch break, the new speaker was installed without a vote. Opposition members jeered as Azhar Azizan Harun, popularly known as Art Harun, took his oath of office. He had been appointed to lead the Elections Commission when Mahathir was prime minister. Amid the uproar Azhar suspended the sitting and said parliament would reconvene at 10am (02:00 GMT) on Tuesday. This week marks the first full sitting of Malaysia's parliament since the sudden change in government, and the coronavirus pandemic, which led to a nationwide lockdown, or movement control order, on March 18. Parliament previously sat on May 18 but the government limited the session to the ceremonial opening and the king's address because of the coronavirus. No online sittings were held. How can Art Harun be Dewan Rakyat Speaker without a vote? It's an elected job, not an appointment from the Executive. Parliament must be independent of the Executive. The Speaker must be voted in by MPs, representatives of the people, not appointed by the PM. Boo Su-Lyn (@boosulyn) July 13, 2020 Mahathir and others in the opposition have been pushing for a confidence vote since March, but the motions are unlikely to be discussed because government business is always given priority.
Japan concerned over Hong Kong as dozens arrested in new protests - Al Jazeera English
Hundreds take to Hong Kong streets to mark one year since start of protests against a now-withdrawn extradition bill.
Japan has said it wants to take the lead in any G7 statement on Hong Kong amid heightened tensions and fresh protests in the city, where China plans to impose a national security law banning subversion and foreign interference. "Obviously, we acknowledge the G7 has a mission to lead the global public opinion, and Japan wants to take a lead in issuing a statement based on 'one nation, two systems' in Hong Kong," Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told parliament on Wednesday. More: The comment came as Hong Kong police said they had arrested 53 people during protests on Tuesday evening, when hundreds of activists took to the streets, at times blocking roads in the heart of the city, before police fired pepper spray to disperse crowds. The demonstrations were called to mark the one-year anniversary of a million-strong march through central Hong Kong. That protest, against a bill proposing extraditions to mainland China, grew into a pro-democracy movement and sparked seven months of demonstrations against Beijing's rule. Police said on Wednesday that 36 males and 17 females were arrested for offences including unlawful assembly and disorderly conduct. Protesters had defied a ban on gatherings of more than eight people introduced by the Hong Kong government to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. "Lawful protests are always respected, but unlawful acts are to be rejected. Please stop breaking the law," police said in a tweet. More protests are planned in coming days, with pro-democracy supporters fearing the proposed national security legislation will stifle freedoms in the city. While details of the security law or how it will operate have yet to be revealed, authorities in Beijing and Hong Kong have said there is no cause for concern and the legislation will target a minority of "troublemakers". But critics say the law would destroy the civil liberties Hong Kong residents enjoy under the "one country, two systems" agreement put in place when the United Kingdom handed the territory back to China in 1997. The agreement is set to end in 2047. Japan had already issued a statement independently expressing serious concern about Beijing's move on May 28, the day China approved the decision, and called in the Chinese ambassador to convey its view. The United States, Britain, Australia and Canada also condemned the move, with Washington saying it would revoke Hong Kong's special trading status granted under a 1992 law on the condition that the city retains key freedoms and autonomy. With US-China frictions rising, Japan is in a sensitive position as it plans for a state visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping, originally set for April but postponed over the coronavirus pandemic. China blames the protests in part on foreign intervention and is rushing to enact the national security law aimed at curbing secessionist and subversive activities in Hong Kong. Hong Kong's problems are a result of the opposition and foreign allies "attempting to turn Hong Kong into an independent or semi-independent political entity and a pawn to contain China's development," Zhang Xiaoming, deputy director of the Chinese Cabinet's Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office, said in a speech posted on the office's website on Monday. "The more the bottom line of national security is consolidated, the greater the space will be for Hong Kong to leverage its advantages under 'one country, two systems,'" Zhang said. China will "unswervingly" protect its sovereignty and block any outside interference in Hong Kong's affairs, he said. Hong Kong Security Secretary John Lee told the South China Morning Post in an interview published on Wednesday that local police were setting up a dedicated unit to enforce the law that would have intelligence gathering, investigation and training capabilities. Companies including HSBC and Standard Chartered have backed the security law without knowing the details of it, drawing criticism from some investors and US and British officials. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo singled out HSBC on Tuesday, saying such "corporate kowtows" got little in return from Beijing and criticising the Chinese Communist Party's "coercive bullying tactics".
'A more troubled' world: Singapore's PM sees tougher future - Aljazeera.com
Lee Hsien Loong braces nation for rising unemployment, less international cooperation after coronavirus pandemic.
Singapore wont return to the open and connected global economy that existed before the island nation went into a partial lockdown two months ago due to the outbreak of the coronavirus, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said. Singaporeans will have to prepare for a different, admittedly tougher future with rising unemployment as companies work to cope with slowing demand and movement restrictions from various governments, Lee said in a televised address on Sunday. The city state has benefited from an open global economy, serving as a hub for trade, investment and the financial market. Countries will have less stake in each others well being, the prime minister said. They will fight more over how the pie is shared, rather than work together to enlarge the pie for all. It will be a less prosperous world, and also a more troubled one. Singapore is spending S$93 billion ($66.7 billion), or 20% of its gross domestic product, as part of its economic response, helping workers stay in their jobs as well as supporting businesses and their employees to cope with the fallout from the virus. The economy is expected to post its biggest contraction in history. The travel industry, such as airlines and hotels, will likely take a long time to recover from the pandemic as health checks and quarantines will become the norm in the future, Lee said. The disease could remain a problem as vaccines are unlikely to be widely available for at least a year, he said. The prime minister referred to jobs as the governments biggest priority, warning that the labor market is likely to be very different, and that many businesses are likely to collapse. The number of unemployed residents in Singapore may rise above 100,000 this year from around 73,000 in 2019 due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said last week. This is more than Singapores highest annual average number of 91,000 unemployed residents that was registered during the 2003 SARS epidemic, he said. On a global level, Lee said that countries like Singapore will have to navigate through a changing geopolitical landscape as tensions worsen between the U.S. and China, the worlds two biggest economies. With almost 400,000 deaths globally, the Covid-19 pandemic has become a point of friction in Chinas relationship with a number of countries, most notably America. President Donald Trump has repeatedly faulted China for having failed to contain the coronavirus when addressing the outbreak in the U.S., which now leads the world in both infections and deaths. Singapore also needs to strengthen its social support for the people as they face more uncertainties brought on by the virus, Lee said. The island city needs to improve its social safety nets and ensure all Singaporeans have equal opportunities. Five more ministers, including Heng, will address the public this month to share more plans for the future of the island city.