A top Malaysian official has threatened a number of international media outlets with legal action for their coverage of the multi-billion dollar 1MDB scandal as the government moves closer towards officially outlawing so-called “fake news”
Deputy minister of communications and multimedia Jailani Johari accused major news outlets such as the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the Economist, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and MSNBC of peddling fake news in order to revive the 1MDB scandal, Asian Correspondent reported.
“We believe that these efforts are by certain quarters who have a political agenda and are trying to damage the prime minister’s good name,” the Straits Times reported Jailani as saying earlier this week.
In 2015 the Wall Street Journal ran a story suggesting Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak had embezzled nearly $700m from the 1MDB state fund into his own personal accounts. The state fund was established by Najib in 2009 to drive economic development in areas such as energy, tourism, real estate and agribusiness. The Public Accounts Committee of the Malaysian Parliament, which investigated the charges, cleared the prime minister of any wrongdoing.
The minister’s comments come after the seizure of a luxury yacht by Indonesian authorities last month as part of an ongoing probe by the US Department of Justice (DOJ) into the disappearance of $540 million in assets from the fund. The yacht was bought by Jho Low, a Malaysian businessman with suspected ties to Najib.
A total of $4.5 billion has been unlawfully taken from the 1MDB by high-ranking Malaysian officials according to civil lawsuits filed by the DOJ, Asian Correspondent reported.
Jailani’s statement comes amid increasingly strident rhetoric from many Southeast Asian leaders blaming so-called “fake news” – a term coined by US President Donald Trump during his 2016 election campaign to attack the legitimacy of the mainstream US media – for press coverage critical of their policies. In Malaysia, a bill is currently being drafted that if passed would punish the production or dissemination of fake news with fines of up to RM500,000 ($121,000) and a ten-year prison sentence.
Malaysia’s king Muhammad V has said that he supports the introduction of a law to deal with “the spread of fake news and lies on social media,” Reuters reported.
“Currently social media is very influential in forming the values and culture of a society,” he claimed during a traditional royal address at the opening of parliament.
The 1MDB is currently being investigated by at least six different countries on charges of money-laundering, including the US, Switzerland and Singapore, Asian Correspondent reported.
It is not yet clear if Jailani intends to follow up on his threats of legal action against the publications he mentioned.