Clare Rewcastle-Brown, a thorn in the Malaysian government’s side

Tan Wan-Peng

Clare Rewcastle-Brown says the alleged crimes in 1Malaysia Development Bhd raises global issues of financial regulations and is not just a Malaysian matter. – The Malaysian Insight pic, November 14, 2017.

CLARE Rewcastle-Brown is no stranger to the millions of Malaysians who for seven years have closely followed the Sarawak Report editor’s latest exposes and allegations of corruption and misconduct by Malaysian leaders.

Rewcastle-Brown’s run-ins with Malaysian politicians and authorities are also nothing new, with the latest case making her the defendant in a defamation suit filed by PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang.

In August last year, the Sarawak Report editor published an article about senior PAS leaders allegedly receiving RM90 million from Prime Minister Najib Razak in return for support for Barisan Nasional.

In April this year, Hadi sued Rewcastle-Brown in the United Kingdom and in a counter-claim filed on October 11, the Sarawak Report editor named prominent lawyer and civil rights activist Ambiga Sreenevasan as a source of her information.

Days later, Malaysian authorities said they are investigating Ambiga for “causing public alarm”, and Rewcastle-Brown’s only comment on the matter is that she respects the British justice system.

“Out of respect for the British court and, indeed, for the plaintiff (Hadi), who has brought this case, I have to follow procedures as best I can and not talk about this matter outside court,” she told The Malaysian Insight in a recent interview.

“I can’t talk about it. I can’t talk about it because it’s in contempt of the court. Hadi laid this case before the court and he has a right to have it dealt with in court. I respect that right.”

Rewcastle-Brown was being circumspect and would also not comment on Ambiga’s statement that the police action against her was a form of intimidation and harassment.

Rewcastle-Brown herself has been a victim of intimidation and harassment.

In July 2015, after she published reports on how nearly US$700 million was paid into Najib’s account, Rewcastle-Brown lodged a report with UK police over “teams of stalkers” who allegedly harassed her.

Malaysia has also issued a warrant of arrest for her, and has tried to place Rewcastle-Brown on Interpol’s red notice, accusing her of conducting “activities detrimental to parliamentary democracy”.

When she started the Sarawak Report blog in 2010, she felt a “moral responsibility to speak out” against the destruction of the Borneo rainforests, saying that she couldn’t care less that if she only reached out to two readers.

Instead, she found herself five years later embroiled in what is now known as one of the largest kleptocracy cases in the world, with the US Department of Justice filing a number of civil and criminal suits to recover billions of assets allegedly bought with funds stolen from state investor 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB). 

The DoJ suits are targeted at Najib’s relatives and associates.

In her interview with The Malaysian Insight, the “accidental whistle-blower”, as Time dubbed Rewcastle-Brown, shares her thoughts on why 1MDB is not just a Malaysian crime and her determination to see that the perpetrators are caught.

TMI: What made you pursue this particular story (1MDB)?

CRB: As a journalist, you go after the story. I knew this 1MDB scandal was of enormous public interest. It was a terribly important story.

One of the things that absolutely gripped me when I first got early information about the whistleblowing material was that one of Britain’s most-respected private banks (Coutts) was involved.

I realised that this epitomised how the international financial system and many Western professionals were deeply engaged in enabling corruption on the ground in places like Sarawak and indeed sadly, it appears at the heart of government in Malaysia.

This isn’t just a Malaysian crime, it’s a global issue. Failings at a global level, and we are seeing a growing recognition of that issue (Panama and Paradise Papers) with the growing campaign now against offshore finance.

I see the same pattern with 1MDB. And the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigations), DoJ (Department of Justice) court filings have details.

A perfect case study on how the offshore system is so easily used to enable criminal proceeds to be laundered back into the United States, United Kingdom and other countries where the money should not be going.

This is Malaysia’s money and should be reinvested into making life better for Malaysians. I feel very strongly about that.

Opposition and civil society activists have slammed claims by minister Nazri Abdul Aziz that the DoJ probe into 1MDB was merely a political ploy.– AFP pic, April 7, 2017

TMI: This is obviously a financial drain. Yet you are doing this. Why?

CRB: I have been a journalist for many years. Every journalist wants to get their teeth into a story that they really think matters.

When you spend years and years doing stories about dogs standing on their hind legs or dodgy plumbers or whatever, and when you come across a really big story that matters to the lives of many people, there is a sense of obligation and commitment but also fascination as a journalist.

One way or another, I wouldn’t want to be deterred from covering these issues. I don’t think the case is relevant to my coverage. My wider remit is completely different.

TMI: When was the last time you were in Malaysia?

CRB: The last time I was in Malaysia was when I interviewed Dr Mahathir (Mohamad), and that was January 2015.

I wasn’t sure that I would be allowed in. I knew I was banned in Sarawak. I’d been warned there was an alert put on me for wider Malaysia as well. I was somewhat apprehensive.

I took a day trip to KL because I managed to get this interview, which is obviously very interesting. He was about to visit Sarawak. I went to Putrajaya and went straight back to the airport and flew out.

Since then, of course, a few weeks later I clinched the 1MDB material and published, and haven’t attempted to go back since then.

TMI: You were born in Sarawak but you left as a child. So, why this continued fascination with your birthplace?

CRB: It was close to my heart. I had lovely memories. You grow up with nature in a place like that, and we were just kids together in the local school. So, I have great affection for nature. I had great memories of the vivid beauty of living in Sabah, particularly, where I was later.

Our bushes in the garden would light up at night with glow worms, beautiful orchids and flowers, climb Mount Kinabalu. You remember the glorious birds, hornbills and we used to spend every weekend on the islands that were deserted in those days off Sabah. And the coral reef and very vibrant ocean life.

To think all of that was destroyed and replaced by the largest monoculture on earth (oil palm) that kills everything. I remember going back. I’ve been concerned about this. The Borneo fires were on television in the 1980s here in the UK while I was a university student. I just remember being appalled.

Although I had to earn my living and it cost a lot of money to go back to Sarawak, I got into a very busy life as a TV reporter and didn’t get a chance to go back for a long time. But I was very conscious and concerned about that issue all my life.

TMI: What’s your next move and what is your rationale?

CRB: Can I just make a point? That is my rationale. I am not paid by opposition figures to do what I do or indeed anybody, apart from the subscriptions and donations that I thankfully get.

Some of them generous and some people are giving me up to US$100 (RM430) a month. It keeps my website up. But I am getting lots and lots of people paying me RM10 a month. That really helps. I am not being paid millions of dollars by rich people.

TMI: The court case is a distraction when you could be doing something else right?

CRB: It seems to be throwing out a bit of emotion of its own accord.

The court case is about half a sentence I wrote about PAS. I’ve now been forced to focus my attention far more considerably on that subject. I know a lot more about PAS than I did. There’s quite a lot in my defence document. – November 14, 2017.

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