The Sarawak Report (15th Sept 2018)

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If you are Malaysian, you already know of the Sarawak Report, and if you are new to the country, you should read the Sarawak Report! On Saturday 15th Sept, the organisation ENGAGE arranged the Johor Bahru book launch for Clare Rewcastle Brown’s book, to honour the lady who changed Malaysia for ever!  This event was held at the Tropical Inn in Johor Bahru, and the room was packed with 250 people eager to hear what Clare had to say. Our bags were searched before we entered the venue, and it was only after hearing Clare describe the various forms of harrassment and intimidation she had experienced while exposing the 1MDB scandal that I realised why her personal security really was an issue.

Clare is an investigative journalist, born and raised in Sarawak, with a long standing interest in environmental matters. While living in the UK, she became aware of the massive deforestation occurring in Sarawak, in East Malaysia, with huge sums of money disappearing into the Government coffers but not coming back out to benefit the indigenous communities who had suddenly lost their land, their homes, and their livelihoods. She set up a website to bring these activities to the notice of the world, and thus the Sarawak Report was born. During the Q&A session, Clare made the fascinating statement that Abdul Taib Mahmud (Chief Minister of Sarawak, 1981-2014) felt annoyed when the Sultan of Brunei claimed to be the richest man in the world, when he himself was the richest but he could not say so!” And why could he not say so? Well, then people would be asking where his US$60 billion came from?

This investigation alone was momentous, but what happened next was the thing which largely brought about the change in the government of Malaysia after 61 years. Through a series of otherwise innocuous events, and tips from anonymous sources, Clare pieced together the intricate web of the 1IMDB (!Malaysia Development Berhad) scandal and the involvement of the then Prime Minister of Malaysia, Najib Razak, who reportedly spirited away US$681 million into his personal bank accounts. So, by the time of the 14th Malaysian General Election on 9th May 2018, the people came out to say enough was enough and Najib Razak and his ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) party were removed from power. 

Clare summarized the whole scandal as the consequence of people acquiring huge sums of money and thinking they could cover it up for ever. But when minor players in the world of high finance suddenly start flaunting their new-found (and illegal) wealth around the world, someone was going to take notice.

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After a thoroughly interesting talk, Clare’s parting words to the audience were that she hoped to encourage new journalists to keep democracy safe.

So, practically everyone in the room then queued up for Clare to sign their copy of The Sarawak Report. As we took turns to come up for the signing, one of the staff, wearing the yellow colour of Bersih (the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections), took our phones and took photos of us with Clare. It was exceptionally well organised! One had to bear in mind also that these guys were also acting as security, after all, Clare had only just been allowed back into Malaysia following a warrant for her arrest issued in 2015, citing activities “detrimental to parliamentary democracy”.

So, if you missed this event, please do try and get a copy of this book from the major book stores in Malaysia. I should warn you that it is currently sold out, but do keep looking because if you live in Malaysia and you want to understand the workings of this place, then this book will help you make sense of it all.

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© Helen Gray 2021