The haunting of dubious politicians

opinion July 06, 2018 01:00

By The Nation

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Former premiers Thaksin Shinawatra and Najib Razak have had a bad week due to criminal suspicions



The tale of two former prime ministers – one in Thailand, the other in Malaysia – caught in corruption and related crimes following their fall from power should serve as a fresh reminder for all politicians that, in a civil society, no one is above the law.

Thaksin Shinawatra, long estranged from his homeland as a fugitive from justice living in self-imposed exile, is the subject of a fresh arrest warrant. On top of all his other legal entanglements, he is now charged with failing to appear in court in a criminal case involving his alleged abuse of power in 

facilitating the state-owned Export-Import Bank’s Bt4-billion loan to Myanmar while he was premier in the early 2000s. The warrant, issued by the court earlier this week, is the fifth for Thaksin, who fled the country in 2008. He has previously been summonsed for alleged abuses of power in approving the conversion of a telecom concession into an excise tax to benefit his family’s telecom business, facilitating another multibillion-baht loan granted by state-owned Krung Thai Bank for a real estate group, and helping his former wife buy state-owned 

property.

The Supreme Court’s criminal division for holders of political office has been proceeding with all these cases against the ex-premier despite his failure to show up at hearings. The high court is empowered under the Constitution to conduct trials in absentia.

In Malaysia, meanwhile, recently ousted premier Najib Razak was arrested this week by anti-corruption authorities in Putrajaya, near Kuala Lumpur. The move comes less than two months after he lost the general election to another former premier, Mahathir Muhamad, who vowed in his campaign to hold Najib to account over massive corruption in the controversial 1MDB case. Shortly after Mahathir took over, Najib was barred from leaving the country as he was preparing to fly to Indonesia.

In the 1MDB case, Najib was alleged to have siphoned billions of ringgit from the state investment fund into his personal bank accounts. Mahathir pledged during the election campaign he would try to recoup as much as US$4.5 billion missing from 1MDB. Appearing in court on Wednesday, Najib pleaded not guilty to corruption and breach of trust – charges levelled by the new government. He was granted a bail, but had to surrender his passports. Najib denied any wrongdoing and said not all the charges were true. He is preparing to fight the cases in court. If the Malaysian high court finds Najib guilty, he could face a jail term of up to 20 years and substantial fines.

According to investigations conducted by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission and other authorities, the ex-premier – who was mentored by the elder Mahathir – committed wrongdoing, as evidenced by 1MDB’s irregular transactions worth a combined US$4.2 billion. Najib supervised the state-owned investment fund while he was serving as prime minister and finance minister.

In addition, the US Department of Justice earlier said money from 1MDB was used to buy luxury homes, artworks and stakes in Hollywood movies. Najib said in a video, “I accept that today is the day my family and I face the world’s tribulation.” Earlier, Malaysian police seized $273 million worth of luxury and other items in connection with Najib, including cash, Hermes handbags, Rolex watches, diamond necklace, and 200 designer sunglasses.

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