US acts on 1MDB fraud, Thailand represses revolt remembrance and memes making waves in Myanmar

By: Will Feuer - Posted on: June 16, 2017 | Southeast Asia

Southeast Asia Globe’s daily rundown of the region’s top stories – 16 June 2017

A caricature of Malaysian Prime Minister, Najib Abdul Razak is placed inside a mock jail during a 1MDB protest in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 27 August 2016. Photo: EPA/Ahmad Yusni

The Region Today – 16 June 2017

US reclaims more assets tied up in Malaysia’s 1MDB scandal

US authorities made moves to repossess $540 million in assets as they continue recovering stolen funds from Malaysia’s multi-billion dollar 1MDB fund created in 2009, according to the US Justice Department.

As of now, US officials claim roughly $4.5 billion was stolen from the fund by wealthy Malaysian business elites with powerful political connections and used to prop up lavish lifestyles.

A US civil lawsuit in July revealed that $100 million had been siphoned from the fund and invested in the production of the hollywood film The Wolf of Wall Street. In October, the oscar-winning actor Leonardo DiCaprio, who played the lead in that film, confirmed that he had been cooperating with police since that link emerged.

Most notably, the fraud has exposed Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, who stands accused of personally profiting from the fraud. [Channel News Asia]

Related reading from Southeast Asia Globe: ‘Why should we be afraid?’ 1MDB scandal awakens fighting spirit in Malaysian students

Thai authorities ban commemoration of 1932 revolt ending monarchy

Thai police have announced that they will prevent members of the public from celebrating the anniversary of the 1932 revolt that ended the rule of the authoritarian Thai monarchy, and will keep a close eye on the Royal Plaza.

The announcement comes just three months after a decades-old plaque commemorating the revolt on 24 June was removed in secret and replaced with one lauding the monarchy.

“It’s nonsense. You cannot make people forget. How long do you think you can remain in power?” said pro-democracy activist Kittithat Sumalnop. “If they can’t go on June 24, they will visit on June 25. The more you try to make them forget, the more it generates [memorabilia] such as T-shirts and keychains.” [Khao Sod English]

Related reading from Southeast Asia Globe: Thailand’s junta is trying to sell ‘dictatorship as democracy’

Duterte’s health no cause for concern, says presidential spokesperson

As the Philippines military continues a bloody battle in Marawi City, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte is avoiding the spotlight, having not made a public appearance since 11 June.

Duterte is taking time to rejuvenate from a hectic schedule that has led to lack of sleep, according to Presidential spokesperson Ernesto Abella, who assured the public the political firebrand was largely in good health.

Meanwhile, authorities in Malaysia have arrested three Indonesians and a Malaysian for allegedly preparing to travel to Marawi, amid growing fears the Philippines is becoming an attractive base for radicalised groups. [CNN Philippines / The Star Online]

Related reading from Southeast Asia Globe: The two faces of President Duterte

Singapore’s Geylang Serai Bazaar trials cashless payments

Getting on board with the global migration towards cashless payments, some stalls at Singapore’s Geylang Serai Ramadan Bazaar are beginning to use Singapore-based EZi Wallet’s digital payment platform. The app allows customers to pay by scanning a unique QR code generated by the merchant.

“Many merchants are increasingly aware that to capture the spending of mobile-savvy customers, going with mobile payment is a must. Introducing it into pasar malams is a good start to spread digital payment to the masses,” said EZi Wallet founder Ian Lee. [Today Online]

Related reading from Southeast Asia Globe: In Singapore, fintech boom is missing the ‘tech’

Myanmar’s youth turn to memes as outlet for criticism

In a country that does not suffer dissent lightly, Myanmar’s youth are creating its own space for new thoughts and criticisms in the form of snarky and sarcastic ‘memes.’

In the past few years, groups such as Burmese Uncensored Memes-i and Global Uncensored Memes-9 have attracted tens of thousands of followers.

“Meme groups are following the same route as carnivals, where anything considered unacceptable in a society is exposed,” said T Tant, a Burmese writer. [Coconuts Yangon]