Malaysian corruption hangs over VPA negotiations

15 September 2015

Several events should serve as a salutary reminder for EU negotiators engaged in discussions with Malaysia since 2006 over a Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA). On 17 August 2015 the UK’s broadcasting regulator, Ofcom, found that international broadcasters, including BBC World, repeatedly broke its codes by screening programmes funded by the Malaysian government.

The 112-page report, the product of a four-year inquiry, uncovered how the Malaysian government paid a London-based production company called Fact Based Communications (FBC) £12 million over two years to promote Malaysia in factual and current affairs documentaries. The broadcasts included a programme highlighting the virtues of Malaysia’s palm oil industry. Viewers were not made aware of these blatant conflicts of interest.

Ofcom’s findings are one of several recent glaring examples of how far Malaysia’s government will go to suppress evidence of rampant corruption, human rights abuses and illegal deforestation in the country.

Also in August, Malaysia’s government issued an arrest warrant for Clare Rewcastle Brown, the editor of the Sarawak Report blog who first helped expose the hidden funding behind the documentaries. At the same time, it called for an international Red Notice alert for Rewcastle Brown’s arrest. However, this was swiftly rejected by Jurgen Stuck, Interpol’s secretary general. Malaysian authorities have blocked the Sarawak Report and two other news websites.

Meanwhile, the decision three weeks before of Malaysia’s anti-corruption commission (MACC) to effectively clear Prime Minister Najib Razak of pocketing $700 (US) million dollars has been greeted with scepticism. Najib subsequently pulled out of speaking at the international anti-corruption conference (IACC) in Putrajaya from September 2 - 4, rather than face questions about how millions of dollars ended up in his personal account.

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