Malaysia’s 1MDB Scandal and beyond – Interview with journalist Clare Rewcastle-Brown

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On Tuesday morning, after almost 16 months since the trial began, Kuala Lumpur high court sentenced Malaysia’s ex-president Najib Rezak to 12 years in prison. He has been found guilty of several charges in his first trial linked to the multibillion-dollar 1MDB scandal. Investigative journalist Clare Rewcastle Brown who uncovered the scandal and wrote about what might be called the world’s biggest fraud and robbery was Özge Somlyai-Çakır’s guest.

Rewcastle-Brown emphasizes that the 1MDB scandal interests not only people in Malaysia but also people outside of Malaysia, all over the world. “Because it symbolizes a global problem,” she says. “1MDB was a vehicle to enable the people in power in Malaysia to cheat on their people and to rade public money,” Rewcastle-Brown says and “The way our global financial system works makes it possible for these people to steal money in such ways,” she adds. She underlines the massive offshore system that enables so much money to “get lost” behind bogus companies with bank accounts in the United States, Singapore, or in any part of the world. 

Clare Rewcastle-Brown

Clare Rewcastle-Brown was born in Malaysia and spent many years in the country. She mentions that being able to observe the consequences of corruption in the country caused her to ask the question “Why?” “While she was looking into the issue, at the beginning of 2014, the 100 million-dollar movie, The Wolf of Wall Street hit Hollywood. The movie was all about people who steal money, and how they steal it. Malaysia’s ex-president Najib Rezak’s son was the producer of the movie and his business partner was known to be the advisor of the prime minister. Rewcastle-Brown says, then she realized that “the people who were making the movie were ten times worse than the people in the movie. They made a movie about themselves!” 

“I chose to stand up against the wrongdoings I witnessed. I have spent my life writing about corruption and fraud, uncovering such stories. Simply because I am a journalist, this is my job,” says Rewcastle-Brown. When she realized that thanks to the Internet, she does not need to be writing for any other newspaper but instead she could just start her own blog and see whether people are interested in reading about the fraud and corruption in Malaysia and how this is related to the global financial system. She established the Sarawak Report in 2010 and received so much positive feedback. People were interested in reading her content, and she encouraged many young journalists in Malaysia to be brave and to choose journalism as their profession. 

“Najib will not stop, he will try to cause political chaos now,” Clare Rewcastle-Brown says. “Najib had such control over the whole judicial system and media in Malaysia that he thought he could get away with what he did,” and “He will try to get support, create polarization between different ethnic groups in the country, he will do anything to get him off the hook,” she adds. 

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