Najib’s fascinating lawyer, Shafee Abdullah, fought hard to have media coverage of his client’s trial silenced by a gagging order. It seems he would have done better to have focused on gagging his client.
This weekend’s train crash interview with Mary Ann Jolly of Al Jazeera’s 101 East programme demonstrated how great the distance has become between the perception of the former prime minister and the reality of his situation.
He still believes that he the Emperor wears clothes and for that he ought probably blame his remaining paid courtiers, particularly those who encouraged him to go public with his delusions.
Plainly Najib reckoned he had got his story worked out and fancied giving it a whirl before the wider public in order to influence opinion and hopefully the outcome of his trial, in advance of the nitty gritty of actual cross-examination.
Undermining numerous of his previous explanations for the missing money from 1MDB and the gargantuan increase of cash in his own and family bank accounts, Najib for the first time in this interview conceeded that – sort of/maybe – some of the money which ended up in the ‘Mr’ AmBank account in KL, bought diamonds for Rosmah and movies and mansions for Riza, might indeed have come from the public fund.
But, he hadn’t realised this, he explained, until maybe about that very second, and so he told his interviewer he could hardly himself be held to blame. Whoever was responsible ought to face the full consequences, on the other hand, no mercy. The authorities must investigate he announced grimly.
Yet, when he was the authority he plainly didn’t investigate it was pointed out – he shut the whole enquiry down, said nothing had gone wrong, that no money was missing and that all the money in his account was legitimate. What were baffled Malaysians to think?
Najib reckoned he could explain. He had thought (wrongly, he now seemed prepared to admit) that all this money was coming to him from royals in the Middle East, whose culture of handing out buckets of money to foreign leaders is apparently well known.
So, the money that arrived to the tune of over one billion into his personal bank account came from the dead King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and the money to buy Rosie’s $37 million pink diamond and pay for Riza’s movies and the mansions came from Sheikh Mansour in Abu Dhabi (he knows Mansour is in a tricky position over the IPIC ‘guarantees’ and the antics of his former right hand boy Khadem al-Qubaisi and so will probably keep quiet). Explanation over.
Really? But surely, if Najib had the slightest good manners and had bothered to thank these guys he would have found out that it didn’t, wouldn’t he?
Najib’s big piece of evidence on which his entire network of excuses hangs, is the black and white payment that came into his account from the Saudi Foreign Ministry of some US$90 million. Under normal circumstances the discovery of this mighty odd and suspicious private payment from a foreign power would alone have be enough to incriminate and finish his career.
However, Najib’s starting point is that it was perfectly fine for him to be secretly bribed for purposes unknown by a foreign government… he claims it was to help BN win elections, which he says his government made sure was perfectly legal (whereas it is illegal for foreign NGOs to publicly assist opposition folk).
So, with the bribe ruled acceptable in his own estimation, Najib told Mary Ann Jolly that when further cash, worth over than ten times that already staggering amount, came tumbling into his personal account, he simply assumed that nice old King Abdullah had been instructing his Foreign Ministery to pour in more dosh.
Did the Finance Minister ring up to check? Did this ex-public schoolboy with polished manners take the opportunity of his next meeting (there were at least a couple) with the King to thank him personally? Apparently neither.
So, although Najib appeared to be admitting to Mary Ann Jolly that he now realises the game is up on the actual origin of the money (last month he was still adamant it was from the letter writing ‘royal Saudi donor’ whose signature proved false) his new claim is that it was actually a mistaken assumption or possibly he was deliberately misled.
As far as changing excuses go this is in the category of ‘the dog ate my homework Miss”, but Najib seemed to think he was being convincing. His face wore an expression of what he clearly thought signified wide eyed innocence.
So, could this ‘mistake’ or possible deception all be down to the chubby pink elephant in the room, Jho Low, the interviewer inevitably enquired?
Najib hadn’t a clue and he was starting to look cornered. Ms Jolly would have to go and ask Jho in China, since Najib has not spoken to him in a long time, he said. At this point the interviewer naturally wanted to know a bit more about what he exactly meant by ‘long time’ and what Jho Low actually told him about that money all that long time ago… but to no avail.
By this time the former prime minister and proclaimed entirely innocent man was heading out of the room declaring ‘No more questions, this is too much!”.
Malaysians could only come to one conclusion as they watched their former prime minister’s receding back, which is that Najib must plead guilty now and spare himself and his country further disastrous public humiliation.
After all, compared to the questioning and the demands for detail this man in going to face during trial, the reporter from Al Jazeerah had only just got started.
And the prisoner does not get to storm out of the dock.