EVENT TRANSCRIPT: THE SARAWAK REPORT
DATE: 6.00PM – 7.00PM, 17TH JANUARY 2019
VENUE: MILLBANK TOWER, 21-24 MILLBANK, WESTMINSTER, SW1P 4RS
SPEAKER: CLARE REWCASTLE BROWN
CHAIR: NIKITA MALIK
NIKITA MALIK: “Good evening everyone, thank you so much for coming and joining us today at the Henry Jackson Society. I’m delighted this evening to be hosting Clare Rewcastle Brown who was introduced to us by one of our Henry Jackson Society members, Arnie (inaudible), so we’re very grateful Arnie for the introduction to Clare and what will I’m sure be an incredibly insightful evening.
In terms of context, what we will be discussing today is the 1MDB scandal, the theft of billions of dollars from Malaysia’s sovereign wealth fund and the attempt to cover it up which became South East Asia’s ‘Watergate’. In 2018 this led to the bringing down of government of Prime Minister Najib Razak after 61 years of single party power. Beyond that it has had repercussions throughout the global banking sector, shook Goldman Sachs to the core, and is proving a test case of international authorities resolve to tackle kleptocracy.
Clare Brown is a journalist who while investigating the deforestation of Sarawak, Borneo and the dispossession of its people first uncovered the story and relentlessly pursued it to bring it to public attention. Her reporting on her website, Sarawak Report, exposed the shady dealings of international politicians, finance powerhouses, prominent Western PR and legal firms, the United Nations, and Hollywood glitterati which convulsed into Malaysian politics and shook the world. So we’re very pleased to have you today Clare, I’m also so impressed with your biography that I’m actually going to talk a little bit more about what Clare has done because it’s absolutely fascinating. So the website and the book which is on sale outside today is also to be turned into a major Hollywood film, in 2018 Clare received the Environmentalist of the Year award by the Bob Brown Foundation in Tasmania, previously Fortune Magazine named her one of the world’s 50 most influential figures and she was named as one of Britain’s Women of the Year in 2016, and in 2013 she received the International Press Institute’s Pioneer of Media Freedom Award.
So Clare without any delay we’d love to hear your thoughts and we will after hearing from Clare open up the floor to questions because I’m sure so many people like me have questions for Clare and we’re certain this will be a very interesting and exciting evening.”
CLARE REWCASTLE BROWN: “Thank you so much Nikita and thank you Arnie for organising for me to come along. I think I’ll stand up, it might give me a better chance of seeing the pictures as they unfold. Every time I come to speak about 1MDB, the landscape’s changed and there’s no way of really to make a prepared speech.
Today we had a whole new series of developments that had us all sitting up straight, those of us who follow 1MDB, for example for the first time really the spat between Goldman Sachs bank and the former Prime Minister sort of erupted into an exchange of accusations, denials, brickbats, and blame shifting between this incredibly powerful global bank and this former incredibly powerful Prime Minister. David Solomon, the new CEO of Goldman, specifically pointed to Najib’s responsibility and culpability in statements he made saying that people at the highest level of government in Malaysia, for the first time making that accusation, had been responsible for the missing money from 1MDB and of course that in itself was a public acknowledgement by Goldman for the first time in the 3 years this scandal has been carrying on that yes money has been stolen by bucket loads from 1MDB. Within a few hours the Malaysian Prime Minister, former Malaysian Prime Minister, had rebutted putting all the blame on Goldman Sachs’s shoulders as a bank and saying that they’d hired the bank and if there’d been any money disappearing it was the bank’s fault and not his, and then as an end to the day to astonish us all his lawyers marched into a court in Kuala Lumpur and suggested that the criminal case against due to open in February which involves 38 charges relating to theft and criminal breach of trust and that sort of thing should be postponed indefinitely. So this is all sort of been gripping, gripping stuff for me to cover as a journalist.
Today, and sometimes I have to sort of pinch myself that this story that began as perhaps as the most remote thing you could start looking into, you know, in a jungle region on the other side of the world on the Tropics could now be, you know, grabbing world headlines threatening a major bank such as Goldman Sachs which has seen its share price plummet by some 40% since this particular scandal erupted in its face, and of course having already seen the disappearance of one of the most entrenched regimes in the world which was the Malaysian regime which had been in power for 60 years. Just seeing if I can make this work. There we go, well I hardly dare touch it. As I say, as a story it has been enormous fun to follow, we’re talking about the nefarious theft and then expenditure of roughly 7 billion pounds, I mean dollars, and so that money has really gone into every single possible excess, and so as a journalist again given that this has been a very serious story with a very depressing underbelly to it, I have nevertheless along with several other journalists of course soon picked up on it had fun talking about the quarter of a billion super-yacht that was bought with the money, numerous Beverly Hills and other New York penthouses and mansions such as this which was the most expensive sale in Beverly Hills which went to one of the conspirators at 1MDB, and of course even movies such as Wolf of Wall Street which basically was a story about the sort of thing that the people behind the movie actually got up to themselves in excess that makes that film look like child’s play really compared to the amount the Malaysian thieves and their collaborators stole and spent. Behind it all the then Prime Minister of Malaysia Najib Razak seen there together with his grim and rather frightening wife who in herself a major player in this story. The contact really between the Prime Minister and the young orchestrator of the financial heist who’s a young Chinese-Malaysian called Jho Low and Rosmah and Jho Low had a fascination, I think it can be said, for the acquisition and spending of extraordinarily amounts of cash. Let’s see if I can go backwards, I can’t, OK I lost the picture which showed some of the great hordes of things that were taken out of the Najib household in the days following the election. About nearly a billion dollars’ worth of cash and boxes and boxes of Hermes and similarly massively expensive handbags which Rosmah liked to collect.
So all this was the backdrop to a story which I began because of people like this, I didn’t go in to topple governments, challenge banks or indeed do a story about high finance and business which is definitely not my strong points. I started writing about the, what turned out to be the impact of this kind of corruption which was a great lesson to me and something I want to communicate very strongly, what corruption does to folk like this that people of Borneo. These were the naive tribes people of Borneo and this is a picture I took of them at a blockade where they were trying to prevent the remainder of their lands from being broken into by as appropriated from them by the state and then logged and destroyed and turned into oil palm, and I had grown up in that part of the world and had lived the first 8 years of my life there and knew it to be a very special, beautiful place and the most bio-diverse corner of the planet and, you know, until recently one of the few untouched areas, an absolute vital resource for our planet in so many ways and I was painfully conscious of the utter folly of this extraordinary and negligent and unnecessary mass logging that was going having such an impact on the people and the replacement of vast tracks of land with this ghastly mono-culture, and I can go on and if any of you are interested please do ask me about the appalling consequences to us all of this kind of destruction, you’re going to see the erosion of that soil means that eventually that beautiful, tropical paradise will be desertified, all the rivers are being clogged up and destroyed by the deluge of the soil, of the pesticides, of the fertilisers that are going in killing these rivers, turning what was a region of great, immense value into something that’s becoming akin to the Australian desert and the impact of that on Global Warming is immense and under reported. All these things were under reported which is why I felt as someone who had gone back there, who had grown up there, and I went back in 2006 to attend a conference and somewhat ironic, I think, that my flight and accommodation was probably paid for by the Sara state government and I can’t think of anything they must regret more because I got back, did my bit at the conference, and then ended up talking to lots of the local journalists and very soon began to realise what was behind all of this destruction, and I still haven’t quite worked out what I’m supposed to press. Right, sorry, what do I have to press? Sorry folks.
So what I learnt on that trip was that we had a situation in Malaysia which was far worse than I understood as someone from the outside. You had an entrenched regime that had been in power for over 50 years for that stage, the local state government was a sort of separate mini despotism on its own which operated with the licence of the federal government in return for surrendering all of Sarawak’s oil to the federal government. In return Taib Mahmoud, this diminutive billionaire, here was given free range with all the other resources of that state and was secretly one of the richest men on the planet and this was all very interesting stuff and I said to the journalist ‘well how come you aren’t writing about this amazing story?’ to which I was, you know, big sigh ‘Clare of course we can’t write about this, we want to keep our jobs, we don’t our families to be victimised, you know we couldn’t put it out anyway, why don’t you write about it Clare?’. So I went back to Britain and worried about this for some time because I could see the international media weren’t going to cover this story either and we can talk about all the reasons for that but, you know, a distant troubled corner of the globe where there wasn’t much violence going but desperate, desperate need and destruction was only getting very occasional stories and I started trying to write about it and make films about it and there wasn’t much take up and I could see what take up I had would not have much impact, 3 minutes on Sky TV, the world moves on. So I thought about this and just so that you know the picture, standing next to Taib is Musa Aman, the next door despot of Sabah, he was equally getting into, he’d made hundreds of millions of dollars and was following in Taib’s footsteps but had really only just entrenched himself compared to Taib. So I started to think about this and decided well you know something has to be better than nothing, and you never know you could have an impact. I was a journalist by background and I worked as a television reporter for many years locally here in London and had specialised in the end in consumer affairs stories chasing after plumbers. They put me in the Parliament job for about a year and after I, sort of, chased after and got to politician’s jail they realised that probably that wasn’t the sort of profile they were looking for in a political correspondent, they shoved me back on the consumer desk. So I had a lot of background of that and I had sort of semi-retired as I had young kids and I was freelancing. So I thought well what if I start using my skills, my background, my experience to reach out to Malaysians themselves, the reason this had become possible was because of the invention of the internet, the arrival of the internet at that time in Borneo and in these areas of Malaysia. It was incredibly popular, the language that was being widely used on the internet was still English and I thought well these are the people who are going to change things and they’re probably the people who are going to be interested in what I’ve got to say. So instead of trying to get, sort of, world attention about this, why don’t I start one of these blogs and start bringing the information to Sarawakians and Malaysian folk that their own reporters telling they can’t and if it has, you know, if one person reads it, great.
So that’s what I did, I started the blog and got stuck in to Taib and started looking at his immense wealth because of course what he had been doing was filching all those kickbacks, not only investing them in the Sarawak economy but also tower blocks like this in Canada and properties all over the world, including the FBI headquarters in the United States over on the western United States in Seattle. So these were all good stories and I, sort of, lined them up, I got some great whistle blowers and then I started lancing them in to my new blog back 2010 and found that I really did get immense feedback and interest from Malaysians which was great. So I was then on a roll and of course I was also thoroughly locked in and wasn’t going to get away from the story and having sort of exposed a lot of Taib’s wealth and a lot of his connections and the extraordinary excesses of his family, I started looking at Musa Aman too and actually got some amazing banking information relating to how he had been squirreling through the using of the offshore system. His timber kickbacks were to the tune of nearly a hundred million dollars that I was able to identify into his UBS bank account in Zurich, and that ties in actually with something very important that I was beginning to look at with this whole story which was once again the global significance and the global action behind all of this apparently local remote story. It became very clear to me and to all of the people I was talking and working with that, you know, this was also about international financial processes. These guys were not getting the money, they were borrowing the money to go in, they were logging the jungle and then were getting the money out and they were investing in developed areas of the world and the advanced economies where they can then, you know, get great returns on property investments and businesses and so forth, and for of that they needed the cooperation, the facilitation and assistance of the major banks who were clearly doing business with these dictators and despots and these very corrupt people and these is no way that the banks, like myself, couldn’t have been aware of that. So I was covering these stories getting crosser and crosser about these banks, by the way that UBS case is still now going through, is being prosecuted in Switzerland and UBS has been fighting money laundering charges for some time based on the documentation I was able to get my hands on and provide to the Swiss authorities. But I have a sort of determination that we had to get this story to ordinary folk and I just want to mention that one of the things I was also doing and spending a lot of energy and time together with a bunch of volunteers who’d come forward by that stage, we set up a radio station which broadcast twice a day in the language of native Sarawakian people to bring these issues to them and more importantly to hear their stories, to listen to them, they would sometimes walk for miles to get somewhere where they could get a mobile phone signal and ring us in London and then we would record the stories that they all shared of abuse, the snatching of their lands and hear themselves having a voice at last, and that created waves, this was all about doing something that the people of Sarawak and these areas haven’t been able to do before which was to speak back to the government that had had its way in every respect. Having said that, of course, we were finding it very difficult to really make changes. There had been Malaysian anti-corruption investigations into both Taib and Musa Aman, based on a lot of the work, you know, that I and together with us had been digging out but Najib Razak, the new Prime Minister in charge at that time, was clearly shutting all those investigations down because clearly these were his political allies and he didn’t want arrangements disrupted, he didn’t want them got rid of and indeed of course the rumours were that he was profiting from everything that was going on as well, corruption starts at the top. So, frustrated I suppose and really where else could one go under such circumstances?
I started looking at Najib and in particular this 1MDB development fund that everyone was telling was his pet slush fund that he’d set up and that it had helped him win his first very challenging election, which had been in 2013, and I covered that election in Sarawak and, you know, everyone, it was just the most disgusting affair, you know, money was being handed out blatantly and openly, bribes were being made openly on the hustings, you know, and of course there wasn’t much chance for the ballot to have gone the wrong way anyway. You felt that there wasn’t much chance, certainly in remote areas of Sarawak and Sabah, of the opposition getting in. So I started, you know, looking around and 1MDB was interesting in that it had also invested in Sarawak allegedly or there were links, particularly with the young man who was most associated with 1MDB. This was his, these were his projected development plans that this one Malaysia development (inaudible) was supposed to be, you know, raising money for and it was, everyone said it was peculiar the nature of this so called sovereign fund that wasn’t actually using money that had sort of come into the country from its oil or any other, sort of, resource that it had. Najib was actually posing as a, sort of, government entrepreneur and he was borrowing billions and the idea was he was going to use his brilliant investment skills to invest those billions in projects that would grow business centres like this one he’s showing here, except that by 2013 it was quite clear that nothing much was happening to the money. The accounts were not being produced, auditors were being, you know, sort of rotated and more and more suspicious opposition politicians were criticising and concerned that the billions that were borrowed at high rates of interest, you know, was seemingly disappearing into a black hole. On the right there is the young man, the adviser I mentioned earlier, the owner of that yacht who had emerged as the, sort of, informal adviser to 1MDB and he was known as Najib’s, sort of, whizz kid although he had started denying fairly early on. But everyone was fascinated by Jho Low because he was such an ostentatious spender and everybody was wondering how this mysterious Malaysian had got his money by 2013, he’d been in all the international press, you know, which had got picked up by astonished Malaysians. At the age of 26 he was, sort of, hitting records at nightclubs and hot spots, you know, like in St Tropez and Vegas and places like that for spending on Cristal champagne and, you know, sort of wining and dining and entertaining all the top stars and it was kind of like where did this guy come from and how did he get to be so disgracefully rich and, you know, what’s all this about? And, oh that’s odd, he’s also Najib’s adviser on 1MDB so that had kind of registered politely with the Malaysian media and I had been following this, and I guess everything came together with this movie ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’, which was launched at the end of 2013 beginning of 2014 and that Christmas I got a little message from one of my fellow bloggers who said ‘you know the new 100 million dollar movie that’s being launched in Hollywood? The producer of that and supposed funder is Najib Razak’s stepson’. So I found that intriguing, you know, and I started looking up, it became very clear that there was no, you know, there was no legitimate or public source of wealth for this young man and one had to be suspicious, and so I started looking further, it became clear that the movie was being advertised that he had bankrolled together with contacts and by the end of my Boxing Day, which is when I, sort of, removed myself from my angry family and got stuck into this.
I had ascertained that everywhere that this young man Riza went so did Jho Low, and Leo DiCaprio, the star of that movie, had actually just received his, well later received his Golden Globe award and got up on stage and thanked Jho for taking the risk on the movie. So I was intrigued and so I took a punt because there’s Jho Low, that was the image, that’s him playing with Cristal champagne with Paris Hilton and the other, you know, you can see that Jho Low is not beauty, his girlfriend list was phenomenal and that in itself was fun to write about. When he, his maiden voyage on that super-yacht I showed earlier, he took that together with in the presence of Miranda Kerr who appears to have been his girlfriend at the time before she hitched up with the Snapchat guy, and he took her on a spin around the Caribbean and gave her several million dollars’ worth of diamonds as a little Valentine’s Day gift. Other girlfriends included some very famous singers from Asia and so forth, amazing what his attractions may have been. So here we were, here we are there’s the lineup, there’s Jho, there’s Riza the son of Najib who’d, you know, he’d spent two years as a banker here in London and then suddenly turned up in Hollywood funding hundred million dollar movies. Well there’s Leo, there’s Martin Scorsese, there are some of the stars and co-workers. You know, it was just also suspicious and so I decided to write about it and ask the question and the question was, you know, was the disappearing money from 1MDB by any chance involved in Wolf of Wall Street.
I then got on a plane and went to Beverly Hills because I had been tipped off that Riza had properties and it’s one thing to try and say that someone lent you money to fund a movie but they don’t give you money to buy multi-million dollar mansions, and that’s me up a ladder photographing one of the mansions that Riza had just bought for 30 million dollars and was knocking down and rebuilding, and I broke in. I had a little (inaudible) for which of course I got some very, very aggressive legal push back and that was really the beginning of me and 1MDB. The lawyers were hammering away at me and I started digging and the more I dug into it just using open source to begin with the more I could see that these guys were lying, I mean that’s what it’s all about. I mean I’m sure there are journalists in the room here and what you do is beave around, you get them, you nail them on the lie and one of the obvious lies was that Jho Low had nothing to do with 1MDB. He’d started saying ‘oh I was only advising at the very beginning in 2009 and I discovered that he had in fact been using 1MDB money thanks to a court judgement which spelt it all out in the British High Court because he had been involved in this battle for the most expensive hotel chain in London and put a billion dollar bid in for Claridge’s and the Berkeley and other related hotels, and so I was able to just, sort of, keep niggling away at the story until I heard about Xavier Justo and because, you know, when you ask on a story you ask this person, you ask that person, you hear from, you hear from that and eventually I learnt that there was a guy who had been a director of PetroSaudi which was the first joint venture partner, supposedly, with the 1MDB development fund, and PetroSaudi had public, you know, according to what accounts have been made available, had received some 2 billion dollars of investment from 1MDB and there were already a lot of questions about it, and then I heard that Xavier who had left PetroSaudi and gone to live in Thailand was actually looking for someone who might remunerate him for the information, what turned out to be the data from PetroSaudi. All their server was on a disc that he had obtained when he departed from the company or after when he had departed from the company. I didn’t have the 2 million dollars he was expecting to receive but I pursued the poor man relentlessly for the next 6 months and eventually together with a Malaysian based newspaper we persuaded Xavier to pass that information, that data to me and to the Edge.
That basically enabled me to write the first expose on 1MDB and the end of February of 2015 and that expose detailed, I mean there were thousands of emails and what we were able to detail by drilling down those emails and the documents, the whole inside of that deal was there in that database and I was able to show how on the day that the first billion dollars was invested by 1MDB into PetroSaudi, Jho Low had siphoned off 700 million of it into his bank account, and that pattern of theft had continued again with PetroSaudi later the following year and also later with a second similar joint venture partner which was the Abu Dhabi investment fund Aabar which was a subsidiary of IPIC, which was a genuine sovereign wealth fund and the same corruption had continued using that fund Aabar as a front in the same way because Jho had formed a corrupt relationship with the chairman of that fund, a gentleman called Khadem al-Qubaisi, in the same way that he had formed a corrupt relationship with the owners of PetroSaudi originally, and this actually I got off their database. The 50% shareholder at that time of PetroSaudi was Prince Turki, who was the seventh of the then Saudi king (inaudible) and his childhood friend was Tarek Obaid was the other 50% shareholder, and that was the point of using PetroSaudi as the front. The modus operandi was to go for a sort of government related, Middle-Eastern entity that was, you know, drenched in the aura of royalty and power and money and they thought behind that, you know, no one would ask too many difficult questions, they called it a government to government deal when in fact it was this just fickle and feckless Prince trying to make bit of money out of access and his collections and all the rest, and there’s Jho Low of course who’s got this idea and Rosmah bang where she should be in the middle. So they did that line-up on the day that they signed that first corrupt agreement and of course by publishing that story, and I got a helping hand because the Sunday Times did a little bit on it as well, I really let the cat out of the bag and it became a huge story in Malaysia and for the next, well, for the next two or three months it was really, it turned out to be me and Xavier against the Malaysian state and they moved rapidly. He was sitting there in Thailand and they identified him as being the source which I hadn’t realised they would but if I had known then what I know now, I would have told him to get out of Thailand so they were in a position to bribe all the right people, get him arrested, do this great photo shoot and they whacked him in jail and I was sitting in London going ‘oh my God’, you know, what do I do? And that was a whole side story that we went through, it took 18 months to get Xavier how of that hellhole, and meanwhile of course they landed on me because what they managed to do thanks to the help of a few former British policeman who took money to go out and produced a false confession from Xavier who called me a forger and a liar and said that I paid him and then doctored the documents to make the thoroughly innocent 1MDB, Jho Low and Najib look as if they were guilty. So I then became, you know, figure of hatred in Malaysia, you know figure number 1. Just having a look at my time, and therefore it was a very pressured time and I had to really stand my ground here. They issued a red notice alert against me actually and tried to have me arrested to face charges. But I had set the whole thing in motion by the stage, these were local investigators removing documents and very soon thanks to those investigations I was able to show that a billion dollars had travelled from 1MDB to Najib’s own account just before the election and that was what became the big worldwide story. This was the second collaborator Khadem al-Qubaisi who had used Aaabar to assist with that siphoning of cash and there was my story, the Wall Street, I gave it to the Wall Street journal as well which helped make this a global story.
It took a year but of course the other thing I’d done is contact the FBI and I had a meeting with them soon after my original story in 2015 and here we are. They surprised me, I mean you could have knocked me over with a feather when in July 2016 they suddenly came out with this, you know, kind of full (inaudible), massive press conference and announced this were their biggest ever global kleptocracy investigation and vindicated every damn thing I’d said and that was a huge personal relief to me and many other people who bravely stuck their necks out covering the 1MDB scandal in Malaysia. So by this stage we were now a global story, it didn’t mean we were going to succeed in, you know, pushing any of this through. Najib pushed back with all the powers and authority that he had, he declared a state of emergency, new emergency powers which would have enabled him to declare a state of emergency, he issued fake news laws to threaten anyone talking about 1MDB, he closed down all the investigations and said it was completely untrue, there was no wrongdoing at 1MDB and we went into a very threatening period where the election was due to be held and as that was all going on in Malaysia, we had this strange parallel situation in the rest of the world where banks like BSI and so on were all getting caught up in a growing plethora of investigations all around the world. Switzerland had got on the chase and with all those banks and issues I mentioned and United States, Singapore, they were all looking and convicting. There were court cases and the proof was coming out and so in Malaysia, nothing wrong, outside Malaysia banks were going down and they’d been fined and all the rest. So where was this going to go? You’ve got a 60 year old, entrenched regime; no one thought that 1MDB was going to shake that. All the experts, you know, al the intelligence was saying that Najib would hold out at this election, I was convince we were going to change things and the first sign was the uniting of everyone across the board against Najib and his corrupt band of BN rulers. So you saw a uniting of the various opposition forces who’d all been at each other’s throats and the reforming Anwar on the right who’d been jailed for 9 or 8 years on and off and Mahatir, the once strong armed dictator, strong armed ruler I should say himself, who at the age of 92 agreed to lead the opposition into the election and has really proved himself, you know, an iconic politician for South East Asia in becoming the oldest politician stomping for weeks on the hustings to win that election, and it was an extraordinary moment on May the 9th when I guess we showed by exposing corruption, by writing the stories, by getting it out to people through the internet, through Whatsapp against a very, very controlling establishment. We managed to get that story out and it moved the voters and we defied, you know, we achieved what was considered to be the unachievable and the Malaysian election was won by the opposition.
So there we are, there’s the story that began in the jungle with a sort of hope and a prayer that turned into a global story that’s shaking banks, challenging the, you know, the willingness of our offshore system, our regulators to allow it and big banks to do deals with these sorts of politicians and indeed toppled one of the most powerful regimes in South East Asia. So that’s been my story and I’m sorry I went on about it a little too long but I hope there’ll still be time for some questions if you’ve got any.”
NIKITA MALIK: “Thank you so much Clare that was absolutely fascinating. I will now take some questions, if you could please introduce yourself and any organisational affiliation before you ask your question. Yes, gentleman in the back. Great.”
AUDIENCE MEMBER 1: “Thank you very, very much indeed. I think if you had been here all night (inaudible). The name’s (inaudible) Grant from the Institute for Statecraft, I was the former customs and (inaudible) intelligence analyst for transnational crime in the ex-Soviet Union. I was at the wedding in Kuala Lumpur in January just a year ago, the imam was late by an hour and most of the time by the bride’s father and uncle who was taken (inaudible) what on earth I thought on 1MBD and why the Prime Minister needs a hundred (inaudible). My question is partly based on your presentation at the Chatham House presentation a couple months ago, you spoke there didn’t you on the Sarawak Report?” Or was it a college (inaudible).”
CLARE REWCASTLE BROWN: “It might not have been Chatham House.”
AUDIENCE MEMBER 1: “Oh right. The fact that you were looking at something else and identified links, who has been listening to you about that particular achievement from international law enforcement, other than the Americans, but also from the major anti-corruption development NGO’s and charities because I really think that people should be running to you and hear your story. I perhaps have my doubts about who is listening and who perhaps should be listening that isn’t. Thank you.”
CLARE REWCASTLE BROWN: “Thank you, and well I’ve been quite frustrated with the deaf ears of the British establishment. Well, terrible sort of resources for tackling fraud unfortunately, you know. You have to put that down to the financial crash which forced resources to be taken away investigating financial fraud I was told, and there’s a lot of money. I mean Malaysia there is a great deal of Malaysian money and I know have to say dubious Malaysian money and assets here. We have very, very long ties, obviously, with Malaysia and many of these corrupt figures have been, you know, laying nest eggs here and indeed Malaysian’s have been some of the top buyers of London property over the past years which I think is very indicative and I think we sold be looking at this for the benefit of the Malaysian public but nothing is at the moment. Of course Malaysia, you know, is very close friend of our country, they’ve invested in the Battersea Power Station, again a lot of questions about that I would say and there are very strong business links between certain people who have a powerful voice, I think, amongst our decision makers and strong interests with the previous government in business terms so, you know, that was certainly the case before the election and so far not much change in attitude.”
NIKITA MALIK: “Ok, yes, gentleman in the front.”
AUDIENCE MEMBER 2: “Hi, my name is Max (inaudible), I’m the head of (inaudible) based here in London. I have two quick questions, the first is what is the (inaudible) of any efforts around odious debt challenges and this case has brought up a lot of interest amongst legal scholars here in the UK who want to establish odious debt principle to allow countries to write off debt clearly taken out by corrupt regimes but from what I understand there’s some issues with the Malaysian government actually supporting that so I was wondering if you can expand on anything on that, and then secondly building on (inaudible) question previously, it made me think. One of the things this case truly has brought up to me and that I thought about it and you just mentioned is, you know, if the Malaysians do it there it’s clearly an issue but if the Qatari’s do it over the river and it’s not an issue because it’s effectively a monarchy and then this, you know, (inaudible) in this day and age where democracy is under question, under assault in so many places. What does this story, especially the (inaudible) you tell us, what does this tell us and is there any way we can use this as a basis for, sort of, a larger way of tackling this problem. I don’t think this is sustainable that we say that on that side of the river the Malaysian’s are ding, they’re a democracy it’s bad, on this side of the river the Qatari’s are a monarchy it’s good, so I was just wondering your opinion on that where you think things may develop.”
CLARE REWCASTLE BROWN: “Well I think the Americans have, you know, shown us a way in a number of these respects actually. If money found to have been criminally obtained, you know, it’s not good enough to just, you know, I suppose your saying they’re not moving against that sort of money but I think they ought to but I mean Malaysia was not a democracy really and it was false at that time to say it was a democracy. Somehow, somehow, you know, the false democracy was sufficiently weak that when everyone decided that they had to vote against Najib, you know, you turn the balance but I think the areas we should be looking and where we can really change things and we’re not doing enough now is the offshore system as it works and I think we have to address that, I think we have to open up and make it transparent and we have to start refusing to accept huge sums of money that have been channeled through the offshore system and, you know, unattributed companies that own large chunks of London and New York, it’s just not on and the argument that I hear put forward to justify the offshore system are utterly lame compared to the tradeoff which is, you know, that vast sums of our global wealth are disappearing into areas where there is no jurisdiction over it and I think over half our global wealth is going into these hidden, you know, pulls of dirty money and we don’t want these sorts of people obtaining power through wealth over our societies, over our decision makes. You know, what has struck me and made it interesting to me personally, you know, it’s a wonderful Malaysia focus story and I’m Malaysia focus but I’m also British and if this is a global story that affects all of us, you know, and our negligence in this matter has caused great misery to people in parts of the world affected but also endangering us and this money is coming in, it’s going into think tanks and influencing and the wrong sorts of people are going to get power so we need to deal with that and, you know, I think more and more people are agreeing with that, and the other message is the role of a free media and as a journalist, you know, I’ve come under enormous attack from Malaysian backed concerns, threats in Malaysia, threats here, massive cyber-attacks, massive fake news and you shouldn’t go like this but perhaps the thing that has affected me worse has been our libel system, our legal system which is one of the reasons why, you know, because I cared about this enough and I thought this was going to the issue I was going to stick my neck out on it and I did stick my neck out, no other major newspaper stuck their neck out on this story for months purely because, you know, of the legions of London lawyers who landed on them and that should not, we need our free press. My goodness, Malaysia needed my free press to tell them what had happened in order to get the right judgement at the election and we need our free press and I think that’s a lesson across all of us, we have to do more to make it easier for public interest stories such as this to be covered by small people like me and by big newspapers who feared to write about Goldman Sachs, they feared to write about 1MDB for months, pretty much until the FBI announced their investigation and really that shouldn’t be so.”
NIKITA MALIK: “Yes, maybe in the front”
AUDIENCE MEMBER 3: “Hi, my name is (inaudible), I’m an analyst at (inaudible). Thank you very much, it was a really interesting presentation, so many sides to it, I know that you couldn’t cover everything but one thing you perhaps didn’t mention was the reports that emerged recently that China offered to bail out 1MDB in exchange for infrastructure projects, I was wondering if you could provide a bit more insight on that.”
CLARE REWCASTLE BROWN: “Yes, absolutely because, you know, I really, it was one of those ‘oh my God’ moments and there were so many doing this story and, you know, one morning I woke up and there in my inbox was this document and it was after the American press conference and the document was one you just know it’s genuine but it was a judgement call, I’d never have got a editor in a newspaper to allow me to run it but it was so detailed, it was so tied to what you corroborate and after an hour or two I thought this is too big a story and said that’s the origin, the genesis of that story. I published this document which was basically the back agreement to a front agreement which was to get Chinese funding for a big railway project and what they had done was inflate this existing project proposal by 100% from about 30 billion to about 60 billion and actually I’m saying about but you know it was 30 to 60 and thy had all the figures written out including a manifest showing that all the 1MDB outstanding payments and when they’d be paid and who to and all the rest, it was astonishing and, you know, this was with a Chinese state company called CCCC, which is nice C4 that’s the main anti-corruption NGO that started in Malaysia and, you know, the low rate of interest, the whole deal was there, and it was a classic, you know, Najib had really put his country like a ripe plum into the economic sphere, influence sphere of China and it was a classic Chinese, you know, I mean China’s not the only superpower up to that but we all know this has been a major activity of China that has been causing a great deal of worry in that region and elsewhere. You know, putting countries financially in their debt and that’s what Najib had done and so I published that story, had a lot of coverage, they pushed back, said I was lying and forging as usual but very son he needed the money and very soon he went to China and out came the deal with all the public things like the doubling of the cost and the rate of interest and the fact wasn’t going to have to pay anything for 7 years and all of that, you know, it was all there and I published in advance and that now of course has been verified by the new government that has come in and had to sort of go through secret files and they’ve confirmed it was entirely true.”
NIKITA MALIK: “So we have 2 minutes left so I’ll take two more questions at once. Gentleman in the front here.”
AUDIENCE MEMBER 4: “(Inaudible) I was wondering if any benefits are coming through now going back to the beginning of the story with the people of Sarawak and the deforestation there.”
CLARE REWCASTLE BROWN: “Well, it’s unfinished business because as I said, you know, you had this particularly local state regime which is operated almost autonomously since independence in Sarawak and whilst the rest of the country went largely to the opposition, Sarawak is still firmly under the control of Taib and his family and they own the economy effectively, and they didn’t have a state election at that time so we’ve got another year and a half now until the state election in Sarawak and I very much hope that its tsunami will then get its opportunity to sweep those people away. I’m certainly getting right down to, I’m setting up a reforestation movement and we’ll make that into an NGO with like-minded people I’m going to be badgering to try and get understanding, global understanding in support for the massive reforestation of that desecrated area because as the head of Shell and Shell is the biggest oil company operating in that area of the world, as he head of Shell said massive reforestation is the only way in his considered scientific view that we can prevent a 1.5% increase in temperatures in the next 12 years so I’m going to try and push people like to put their money where their mouth is and assist countries like Malaysia to incentivise, to do some reforestation and bring the forest back for Sarawak’s natives.”
NIKITA MALIK: “Alright, the final question from the gentleman there.”
AUDIENCE MEMBER 5: “Mike Owen, gynecologist by trade but I’m interested in corruption and fraud. It’s commended on your tenacity in pursuing this story and no doubt you put yourself in the too difficult box with a number of individuals but what’s interesting is this story you tell, it must be known to other government agencies. What was the defining moment when suddenly the FBI and other organisations paid attention to what you were saying?”
CLARE REWCASTLE BROWN: “I think I was just damn lucky and I had a very good case. The Obama administration had set up under Eric Holder this new initiative called the Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Unit and when I had heard this initiative exist it was, you know, it was kind of like ‘hey’, you know, this is what we need and I’ve been approached by them which is why I found out about them, in fact relating to Taib who they’ been looking at and I think they’d been looking at problem, problem dictators the world over and so when I got this new very solid recent story backed up by all that information that I had obtained from Xavier, I contacted them and I think that that was the sort of case that they had been looking to and I think they spent a lot of time and not talking to me, obviously it’s a difficult relationship between journalists and investigators and I was aware of that so obviously I gave them what I had as a witness and walked away and hope they do something, which thankfully they did and I hope this would be the first of many but of course, you know, we have to keep faith that this is, you know, there was a political decision to set up this unit and I think we should keep up the pressure to get more of this anti-corruption going because it’s vital to all of us, and I think we should be doing more in the UK. We’ve seen one or more test cases, you know, it’s pretty limited given how much dirty money is flooding through this country.”
NIKITA MALIK: “Excellent, thank you so much. I’m sure there are more questions when there are books for sale outside, we can even catch you for more questions but please join me in applauding Clare for your time this evening.”
CLARE REWCASTLE BROWN: “Thanks all of you for coming.”