Posts Tagged ‘scandal’

Financier Jho Low to Help in Malaysia’s Probe Into 1MDB

June 7, 2018

Malaysian financier Low Taek Jho said he will help in an investigation linked to scandal-hit state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) after the anti-graft agency summoned him on Thursday (June 7) for questioning.

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Mr Low, better known as Jho Low, has instructed his lawyers to make contact with the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) after he was made aware they were seeking him for assistance, his representative said in an e-mailed statement. He has been described as the “best witness” to provide information on alleged crimes at 1MDB.

Mr Low, who previously said he did consulting work for 1MDB, is portrayed by some global investigators as a central figure behind some of the schemes involving missing funds at the state investment company. He has denied wrongdoing.

United States prosecutors had painted Mr Low as a bon vivant and a central figure who set up shell companies and arranged the transfers of tens of millions of dollars to pay Malaysian government officials, while Singapore investigators have called him a “key person of interest”.

Malaysian investigators are focusing on a former 1MDB unit known as SRC International as they renew their investigations.

The summon for Mr Low comes after the MACC recorded statements from former premier Datuk Seri Najib Razak and his wife Rosmah Mansor in relation to SRC.

It is also looking for Mr Nik Faisal Ariff Kamil, the former managing director of the unit.

Media reports have placed Mr Low in various places around the world including Thailand, Hong Kong and Australia, while it is unclear where Mr Nik Faisal is.

Tun Daim Zainuddin, who was appointed by Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad to help oversee Malaysia’s renewed 1MDB probe, said that he “roughly” knows where Mr Low is and has called for him to return.

The MACC is calling members of the public with knowledge of their whereabouts to contact it.

Malaysia has enough evidence on Mr Low’s crimes, Home Affairs Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin said in a speech to employees at the ministry on Thursday.

“While I’m not saying we should preempt the rule of law, in cases where it is clear and apparent, and where those involved have been named, we should take stern and quick action,” he said.

Bloomberg

https://www.straitstimes.com/asia/se-asia/jho-low-via-spokesperson-says-will-contact-malaysian-authorities-to-help-in-1mdb-probe

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Malaysia sees China link to huge financial scandal

June 6, 2018

Malaysia’s ousted leader has denied wrongdoing over a $2.4 billion China-backed pipeline deal after the new government said the project was “highly suspicious” and linked it to a massive financial scandal.

© pool/AFP | Former Malaysian leader Najib Razak insisted in a statement late Tuesday there was no wrongdoing in the pipeline project, saying he and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang witnessed the signing of memoranda of understanding for the deal in Beijing in 2017

A company owned by Malaysia’s finance ministry signed the 9.4-billion ringgit deal in 2016 for a Chinese state-owned company to build a gas pipeline and an oil pipeline.

Najib Razak — toppled in elections last month — was prime minister at the time, and battling allegations billions of dollars were looted from sovereign wealth fund 1MDB.

The pipeline deal was one of a series of big-ticket, Beijing-backed projects signed during Najib’s leadership, fuelling suspicions China was helping the scandal-mired leader pay off debts racked up by the stricken fund.

Malaysia’s Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng said Tuesday that 8.25 billion ringgit had already been drawn down by the Chinese company building the pipelines.

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Malaysia’s Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng

This amounted to almost 88 percent of the project value — yet only 13 percent of the work had been completed, he said in a statement.

Lim said he had instructed officials to file a report about the “highly suspicious transactions” with anti-corruption authorities and noted that the company behind the deal had links to a scandal-mired, former subsidiary of 1MDB.

“We have documents to prove… it’s all part of the 1MDB scam,” the minister was cited as saying in The Star newspaper.

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State-owned Export-Import Bank of China provided 85 percent of the funding for the project with the rest required to be raised by issuing sukuk, or Islamic bonds, Lim said.

Najib insisted in a statement late Tuesday there was no wrongdoing in the project, saying he and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang witnessed the signing of memoranda of understanding for the deal in Beijing in 2017.

The toppled leader, who has been questioned twice by graft investigators since losing power, said he was “confident” that all necessary “procedures and laws have been complied with” in the deal.

He said “great care” should be taken “when making such serious politically-motivated public allegations involving foreign state-owned companies as it may have a negative effect on foreign relations and international trade”.

Public disgust over allegations of corruption linked to Najib and his cronies was a major factor in his surprise election loss last month to an alliance headed by Mahathir Mohamad.

AFP

German interior minister wants to reform refugee office after scandal widens

May 28, 2018

As the scandal at the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees widens with fresh allegations of impropriety, Interior Minister Horst Seehofer wants to push forward with his “master plan” to reform the asylum system.

    
German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer (Imago/J. Schicke)

German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer has said that the scandal over public workers allegedly having accepted bribes and improperly approving more than a thousand asylum applications at the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) in Bremen represents an opportunity for large-scale reform.

“The Bremen case confirms to me that we need to change the whole asylum organization in Germany,” Seehofer told German broadcaster ZDF on Sunday.

Read more: Opinion: German refugee agency scandal – Keep calm and investigate

Seehofer, a strong proponent of curbing migration, had already floated changes to migration processing even prior to the BAMF scandal. The conservative minister has proposed the creation of so-called “anchor centers,” a plan that would place all refugees in specific centers upon arrival for processing.

The proposal has been rejected by NGOs and is unpopular with the Social Democrats (SPD), who share governing powers with Seehofer’s Christian Social Union (CSU) in Angela Merkel’s grand coalition.

But Seehofer has doubled down on his proposal. He explained to ZDF that in light of the Bremen scandal, the anchor centers are even more necessary, as they would make asylum procedures speedier and safer.

The interior minister said his “master plan” was ready and that it would be made public in the next two weeks.

Read more: A deeper look at Germany’s new Interior and Heimat Ministry

Allegations at second BAMF office

Following the Bremen scandal, practices at another BAMF office have also come into question. Internal documents show that an employee blew the whistle months ago on irregular practices in a BAMF office in Bingen, a town in Rhineland-Palatinate, near the city of Mainz.

At the Bingen center, refugees from certain countries had been granted approvals at markedly higher rates than those from other countries.

The complaint cites one example, between January and October 2017, where 97 percent of applications from Iran received an approval, while 90 percent of applications from Afghanistan were approved for some form of right to stay. But nationwide rates of approvals for refugees from these two countries were at 50 percent and 44 percent, respectively.

Read more: German asylum scandal — What is the Interior Ministry hiding?

While it has yet to be proven if the irregular situation in Bingen can be attributed to a statistical anomaly, documents from Bingen also show that some BAMF employees might have lacked the proper training to make asylum application decisions.

Seehofer and the head of BAMF, Jutta Cordt, are expected to appear on Tuesday at a hearing in Germany’s parliament, where they will face questions from a committee that has been tasked with investigating the BAMF scandal in Bremen.

jcg/cmk (dpa, Reuters)

http://www.dw.com/en/german-interior-minister-wants-to-reform-refugee-office/a-43955032

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Malaysia: Almost $30 Million In Cash Seized from Properties of Former PM Najib Razak

May 25, 2018

Malaysian police said Friday they found cash amounting to almost $30 million in a raid on a luxury apartment as they probed corruption allegations swirling around ousted leader Najib Razak.

The money was seized along with 284 boxes containing designer handbags, as well as watches and jewellery from a condominium in Kuala Lumpur, which was raided along with Najib’s home and other sites last week.

Najib’s coalition was thrown out of power for the first time in over six decades in the May 9 poll, defeated by a reformist alliance headed by his former mentor Mahathir Mohamad.

Public disgust at allegations of corruption swirling around Najib was a major factor for the loss, with the ex-leader, his family and cronies accused of looting billions of dollars from sovereign wealth fund 1MDB.

There has been much speculation about what the seized goods consisted of and their value after five trucks were reportedly brought in to help move the vast stash.

© AFP | Malaysian police said Friday they found cash amounting to almost $30 million in a raid on a luxury apartment as they probed corruption allegations swirling around ousted leader Najib Razak

Giving an update, the police’s head of commercial crime Amar Singh said: “From the money found, there were 26 currencies, the total amount as of yesterday is 114 million (ringgit) ($28.6 million).”

The money was found in 35 bags while another 37 bags contained watches and jewellery, he told a press conference. The value of other items will be calculated later, he said.

The seizure of the luxury goods added to public scorn of Najib’s wife Rosmah Mansor, long reviled by Malaysians for her perceived haughty demeanour and reported vast collection of designer bags, clothing and jewellery.

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Her love of overseas shopping trips, as middle class Malaysians struggle with rising living costs, added to a sense of spreading, deeply-entrenched rot in the country’s long-ruling elite.

The couple’s fall from grace has been swift and hard.

They have been barred from leaving the country and the ex-premier has been questioned by anti-graft investigators over claims 1MDB money ended up in his bank accounts, and looks likely to be charged.

Najib and the fund deny any wrongdoing.

AFP

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Malaysia’s finance ministry picks PwC to audit 1MDB

May 23, 2018

Malaysia’s newly appointed finance minister said on Wednesday that he has asked for PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) to appointed for a review and audit of scandal-hit state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).

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The choice of auditing firm was given by Lim Guan Eng in a statement issued after he met with some 1MDB directors and the fund’s president, Arul Kanda.

“The Directors of 1MDB confirmed that 1MDB was “insolvent” and was unable to repay its debts,” Lim said. He said he has asked the ministry’s legal advisers to review Arul’s position at 1MDB.

Reporting by Joseph Sipalan; writing by Praveen Menon; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore

Reuters

‘Cash is king’: The fall of Malaysia’s disgraced first couple

May 18, 2018

With his scandal-tainted career and her reputation as greedy and domineering, Malaysia’s disgraced former first couple look set to have their names etched in the country’s history books as synonyms for the corruption of power.

© AFP/File / by Dan Martin | Former prime minister Najib Razak (C) and his wife Rosmah Mansor were seen as out of touch with ordinary Malaysians

Seemingly secure just a week ago, Najib Razak and his wife Rosmah Mansor face a tightening noose as a new government that unexpectedly won elections last week ramps up investigations into allegations of graft and excess that have hung over the pair for years.

The fast-moving developments are a stunning comeuppance for a couple that have towered over Malaysia for a decade but ultimately were brought down by greed and hubris.

The bland patrician son of one of Malaysia’s founding fathers, Najib, now 64, had been groomed for the prime minister’s post from young.

He took over in 2009 but was widely viewed in Malaysia as being heavily influenced by Rosmah, who is two years his senior.

Najib headed the once-invincible ruling coalition that had held power for six decades, but the couple were never embraced by large numbers of ordinary Malaysians.

The UK-educated Najib was seen by many as an aloof elitist with little understanding of Malaysia’s common citizenry, a perception accentuated by frequent tone-deak gaffes and policies such as the 2015 introduction of a sales tax unpopular with the poor and now set to be eliminated.

Rosmah, meanwhile, has been a constant lightning rod for critics due to her imperious manner and elaborately coiffed mane of hair, which she once complained cost her 1,200 ringgit ($300) per house-call from stylists. Malaysia’s minimum monthly wage at the time was 900 ringgit.

That and similar episodes caused her to be reviled in a multi-cultural country where most of the population are modest-living Muslims.

– Handbag fetish –

Opponents would leak flight plans allegedly tracking Rosmah’s shopping jaunts aboard government planes to Rome, the US and Australia.

Her luxurious tastes included numerous reports of jewellery purchases costing tens of millions of dollars and a vast collection of designer handbags that has earned comparisons to the famed shoe collection of Imelda Marcos, wife of former Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

Rosmah’s bag fetish was back in the spotlight on Friday, with officials saying they had seized dozens of high-end Hermes and Louis Vuitton bags, cash, and jewels as part of an investigation into the alleged looting of state funds by Najib, his family and cronies.

Rosmah last month waved off criticism, saying, “In politics, we just have to go through it and smile, and that is the best medicine for them (critics).”

New Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has said that Najib told him in a private conversation in 2015 that “cash is king” in maintaining political support in Malaysia, a phrase that opponents have turned against Najib as a sign of his hubris and corruption.

Money and power seemed to work as a firewall against Najib through a scandal involving Malaysia’s 2002 purchase of French submarines while he was defence minister, a deal brokered by a close associate of his.

Allegations later emerged of huge kickbacks to Malaysian officials to secure the deal, and the scandal was punctuated by the murder of a Mongolian woman, Altantuya Shaariibuu, who was involved in the negotiations.

Her body was blown up near Kuala Lumpur using military-grade explosives.

Two officers in a special unit that guarded Malaysian ministers were convicted of the killing, but suspicion that Najib and Rosmah were involved has hovered for years, with Najib at one point being forced to deny he had an affair with the 28-year-old Altantuya.

– Final straw –

But the final straw was 1MDB.

Public disgust with reports that began to emerge four years ago detailing the plundering of the sovereign wealth fund snowballed into last week’s Mahathir-led electoral tsunami that now has Najib in police cross-hairs.

Billions of dollars are said to be missing in the scandal, nearly $700 million of which was deposited into Najib’s bank account alone.

US authorities say Najib’s entourage used hundreds of millions in diverted 1MDB funds to purchase high-end real estate in Beverly Hills, New York and London, a Monet painting for $35 million, a $5.5 million Van Gogh, a $35 million Bombardier jet and to finance the 2013 Hollywood film “The Wolf of Wall Street.”

A 2015 investigative report by the New York Times also alleged that millions of dollars were used to purchase jewellery for Rosmah.

Najib has steadfastly denied wrongdoing, while persecuting his accusers and shutting down media outlets that reported on the affair.

Having now lost the protections of power, Najib and Rosmah face a growing public groundswell to see them jailed.

As if sensing this, the once-defiant Najib tweeted after the election: “I apologise for any shortcomings and mistakes.”

But the couple’s fall triggers mixed feelings in political cartoonist Zulkiflee Anwar Ulhaque.

Zunar, as he is popularly known, has skewered the couple for years, particularly Rosmah’s huge hair and diamond lust, earning a sedition charge that he now expects to be dropped.

“I would love to see her arrested by the police. I think most Malaysians think like me,” he told AFP.

But he called Rosmah his “inspiration”.

“I’ll miss her if she is arrested because I won’t have material for my drawings.”

by Dan Martin
AFP
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Malaysia forms new “Committee on Institutional Reforms”

May 15, 2018

A five-member committee was formed on Tuesday (May 15) by the Council of Eminent Persons to look into institutional reforms in Malaysia.

The Council of Eminent Persons (The Council) was established on May 12 to advise the new Malaysian government on economic and financial matters.

Malaysians elected a new government on May 9, with the Pakatan Harapan dislodging the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition from power.

The Council said then that economic reforms “cannot bring the desired change” unless accompanied by institutional reforms.

The new committee consists of K C Vohrah, a retired judge of the Court of Appeal; Mah Weng Kwai, another retired judge of the Court of Appeal and commissioner of Malaysia’s Human Rights Commission;  Mohamed Arshad Raji, president of the National Patriots Association; Shad Saleem Faruqi, a law professor at University Malaya; and Ambiga Sreenevasan, president of the National Human Rights Society.

The five-member panel will submit its findings and recommendations to The Council, who will then present it to Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.

Source: Bernama/CNA/na
Read more at https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/asia/malaysia-forms-new-committee-to-look-into-institutional-reforms-10235306

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See also: Malaysiakini

The swift-acting Council of Elders has announced the formation of a Committee on Institutional Reforms in its efforts to aid the new government’s plan to implement economic and financial changes.

“Economic reforms on its own cannot bring about the desired change unless accompanied by institutional reforms…”

https://www.malaysiakini.com/news/424993

Malaysia: Former PM Najib Razak Not Allowed To Leave The County as 1MDB Issues Return

May 12, 2018

Former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, facing the prospect of his successor reopening a probe into a multi-billion dollar scandal at a state fund, has been banned from leaving the country. New leader Mahathir pledged in campaign to reopen 1MDB probe.

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Najib Razak. Photographer Brent Lewin-Bloomberg

Bloomberg

Najib earlier said he was planning to take a short break with his family until next week, during which he would consider his future after Wednesday’s shock election loss. He will respect an immigration department order not to leave the country, he said in a recent Twitter post. Media reports on Saturday morning had said Najib intended to fly with his wife to Indonesia.

Najib’s defeat raises the prospect of him also stepping down as head of the United Malays National Organisation, the party that leads the broader Barisan Nasional coalition. The victory by Mahathir Mohamad, 92, Najib’s former mentor turned rival, brought Barisan Nasional’s 61 year rule to an abrupt end.

“Any decision that I will make later, will only be to ensure UMNO and Barisan Nasional can return to strength and regain the people’s trust,” Najib said in a statement on Facebook.

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Read more: Malaysia’s 1MDB Spurs Voter Backlash, Global Probes: QuickTake

Earlier Saturday, Najib said he and his Barisan Nasional colleagues were committed to respecting the will of the people and facilitating a smooth transfer of power.

“The best interests of Malaysia and its people will always be my first priority and I intend to continue serving them in whatever capacity I can.”

Mahathir, who was prime minister from 1981 to 2003 and defected to the opposition in order to stand as their candidate, repeatedly called Najib a “thief” on the campaign trail and pledged to reopen an investigation into state fund 1MDB.

The U.S. Department of Justice claims billions were siphoned from the fund, which was first set up in 2009 to support infrastructure in Malaysia. Najib faced allegations that some of the money ended up in his personal accounts before an election in 2013. He acknowledged around $700 million appeared in his accounts but said it was a donation from the Saudi royal family and most of it was later returned. He was cleared by the country’s attorney-general of wrongdoing.

If the law finds Najib has done something wrong he will need to face the consequences, Mahathir said Thursday at a briefing.

“We are not seeking revenge,” he said. “What we want to do is to restore the rule of law.

— With assistance by Anisah Shukry

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-05-12/ousted-malaysia-leader-plans-break-as-1mdb-tensions-resurface

Malaysia’s Election: Mahathir Probed Under Fake News Law for Sabotage Claim

May 3, 2018
Former premier said chartered plane to Langkawi was sabotaged — Malaysia holds elections May 9 with Mahathir to face Najib
Mahathir Mohamad Photographer: Sanjit Das/Bloomberg

Malaysian opposition leader Mahathir Mohamad is under investigation for a potential breach of a new fake news law, less than a week before an election that has him vying with Prime Minister Najib Razak for the crucial votes of ethnic Malays.

Mahathir, a former premier who was the country’s longest-serving leader, has not been charged. A probe is ongoing, Kuala Lumpur police chief Mazlan Lazim said on Thursday by phone, without elaborating. A spokesman in Mahathir’s office declined to comment.

The investigation follows a statement by Mahathir last Friday that a chartered plane due to take him to the northern island of Langkawi, where he is campaigning for a parliamentary seat, was tampered with so that it was unable to fly. The Civil Aviation Authority of Malaysia concluded there was no indication of sabotage and that the plane suffered an air leak from a wheel. He later traveled to Langkawi in time for the nomination deadline on Saturday.

Mahathir split from Najib’s coalition in 2016 amid a falling out with the premier over issues including the handling of a financial scandal at a state investment fund, and has since formed his own party within the opposition alliance. He’s seeking to unseat the United Malays National Organisation, a party that has held power since independence in 1957 with the support of ethnic Malay voters in the predominantly Muslim nation.

Mahathir might represent the opposition’s best chance yet, given his potential to draw Malays away from the UMNO-led Barisan Nasional coalition. Najib in turn has painted the opposition as a “motley collection of parties” that have little in common and would struggle to work together in office. Barisan Nasional lost the popular vote for the first time in the 2013 election while retaining a slim majority of seats.

In the lead up to the May 9 vote, Mahathir has seen a ban on the opposition coalition Pakatan Harapan using its own logo or his photos in campaign materials. His party faced a 30-day prohibition on campaigning for not providing the correct documents to authorities, though that has since been suspended by a court order.

The parliament passed a law against fake news in April with maximum punishments of six years in prison and a 500,000 ringgit ($127,000) fine for anyone who “maliciously” creates and distributes false information related to the country or its citizens. The law applies to anyone inside or outside Malaysia, regardless of nationality or citizenship.

Najib launched a website called TheRakyat, or “The People,” in January. The portal is aimed at battling the opposition coalition and fake news, which he said damaged UMNO’s campaign in 2013. During the launch he cited rumors of power outages at voting booths and the suggestion that some votes were therefore not counted in the previous ballot.

Asked in an interview last month if the law could be used to limit dissent, Najib said Malaysia’s social media is “freer than many countries.’’

“You can criticize the government, you can say we disagree with the government, you can say don’t vote for the government, and that’s alright,” he said. “I mean, I can accept it.”

Bloomberg

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-05-03/mahathir-probed-under-malaysia-fake-news-law-for-sabotage-claim

In darkest Borneo, answers to why Malaysia’s Najib will be elected again: cash payments

May 3, 2018

One answer to why Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak is heading for another victory in next week’s general election can be found in the remote village of Sawai, tucked between vast palm oil plantations and a river in northern Borneo.

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Women wash clothes along a river at Nanga Singat village in Sarawak, Malaysia April 24, 2018. REUTERS/A. Ananthalakshmi

Few of Sawai’s residents have heard of 1MDB, let alone the multi-billion-dollar scandal surrounding the state fund that has dogged the country’s prime minister since 2015 and fueled opposition to his bid for re-election on May 9.

But everyone here knows about the cash handouts, fishing and farming subsidies, crates of mineral water and life jackets for children who take river boats to school – and they know all that comes from Najib’s long-ruling coalition, Barisan Nasional (BN).

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Borneo

“We are 100 percent Barisan,” said villager Usup Sirai. “The government has done a lot for us. If we support other people, it would not have the same outcome as supporting the government.”

BN is facing its toughest election yet thanks to a challenge led by Malaysia’s former strongman, Mahathir Mohamad, a one-time mentor of Najib and now his fiercest critic.

But the chances of Najib losing are seen as slim, in large part because of villages like Sawai that faithfully vote for BN.

Sawai is part of the Igan parliamentary constituency, which BN won uncontested in 2008 and took again in 2013 with 87 percent of the votes.

A Malaysian flag is draped outside a house at Nanga Singat village in Sarawak, Malaysia April 24, 2018. REUTERS/A. Ananthalakshmi

OPPOSITION TAKES A BACK SEAT

It helps that votes in sparsely populated rural areas carry more clout than votes in cities, where popular disgust over corruption and the cost of living favor the opposition.

Igan, with just 19,592 voters, is the country’s smallest constituency in terms of electorate size. By contrast, Bangi, an urban constituency in Selangor state held by the opposition, is the biggest with 178,790 voters. Both elect one lawmaker.

Two-thirds of the constituencies in the Borneo states of Sabah and Sarawak are rural or semi-rural, which means they are important for BN to secure a parliamentary majority even if it loses the popular vote, as it did in the 2013 election. The two states together account for a quarter of all parliament seats.

Critics accuse Najib – as they did Mahathir before him – of gerrymandering to tilt elections in his favor, and point to a recent redrawing of electoral boundaries as further evidence.

The Election Commission insists it is independent and says its electoral map changes in March did not favor BN. The government says there was no political interference.

Eric See-To, deputy director of BN’s strategic communications, said opposition claims of “dirty election” tactics of patronage and gerrymandering in Borneo are part of an “ongoing script of theirs to win sympathy votes”.

He said the Malaysia Agreement of 1963, under which Sabah and Sarawak joined Malaya and Singapore to form Malaysia, stipulated that the two states get representation in parliament that reflects their size. Sabah and Sarawak account for about 60 percent of Malaysia’s land mass.

As a result, nine of Malaysia’s smallest 10 parliamentary constituencies in terms of electorate size are in Sarawak.

NAJIB? “WE LIKE HIM”

Baru Bian, an opposition leader in Sarawak, says he struggles to win voters over in rural areas, where sometimes he has to explain even the concept of elections.

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“To some of these old folks, they see the party as the government and the government as the party … (they) think if no BN then there will be no development in their areas.”

The development support is indeed impressive, running from prayer halls and river jetties to schools and solar panels.

Take Nanga Singat, an Igan village without electricity that is 90 minutes by boat from the nearest town. Its 500 residents, who mostly live in the same wooden longhouse, use purification tanks installed by BN to make river or rain water drinkable.

“If we vote for the opposition, maybe they will let the longhouse suffer. So we just follow and vote BN,” said Francis Kiah Pengarah, village headman for the past 40 years.

Villagers around him nodded and said they would take the headman’s advice on who to vote for. They were unaware that Mahathir was now leading the opposition, but dismissed the 92-year-old as too old.

Najib, on the other hand, is popular for introducing ‘BR1M’, a cash handout for the poor, and for launching a coastline highway that, when completed, will connect Sabah and Sarawak.

Residents in nearby Nanga Semah village said a local BN official recently gave each longhouse 1,500 ringgit ($380) for a harvest festival. In 2013, BN chartered a boat for villagers working in towns to return home to vote, and those who showed ink-marked fingers proving they had cast a ballot got 20 ringgit ($5), they said.

Asked which party she supported, a 66-year-old who gave her name only as Gata pointed to a framed photograph of Najib. “It’s because of that man, we got BR1M. We like him,” she said.

Reporting by A. Ananthalakshmi, additional reporting by Praveen Menon; Editing by John Chalmers and Raju Gopalakrishnan