Four Corners journalists detained in Malaysia
An ABC Four Corners team has been arrested in Malaysia after trying to question embattled Prime Minister Najib Razak in Sarawak over a snowballing multi-billion corruption scandal now threatening to topple his government.
The arrest comes within days of both the US State Department and UN Human Rights Council separately expressing serious concern over a crackdown on media and free speech in Malaysia under Najib, who is now facing a growing movement to oust him from office.
Four Corners reporter Linton Besser and cameraman Levent Eroglu were arrested in Kuching, the capital of Sarawak state, late Saturday after they tried to put questions to Mr Najib as he campaigned with local politicians ahead of state elections there.
The Australian understands they were stopped by police as they tried to question the Prime Minister during a walk around but then arrested later that night under section 186 of Malaysia’s penal code for obstructing a public officer.
It is believed they were released early Sunday morning on police bail pending investigations and have not yet been charged but their passports have been seized and they are unable to leave the country.
The ABC yesterday confirmed the crew was detained in a brief statement which said: “An ABC Four Corners team was detained by Malaysian police last night while reporting on a local political issue. They have not been charged with any offence.”
The crew had been in Malaysia for several days researching a story on the multi-billion dollar corruption scandal involving Malaysia’s 1MDB state investment fund as well as the murder of a glamorous Mongolian translator, Altantuya Shaaribuu, whose death has been linked to the country’s highest office.
They flew into Kuching late Saturday from the capital Kuala Lumpur where they had earlier fronted a ruling-UMNO party sympathiser at a bizarre press conference called to allow a government critic, who has named Mr Najib and his wife Rosmah Mansor in a civil action related to the murder, to apologise to Malaysia’s first family.
The media stunt, an apparent attempt to distance Mr Najib and his wife from one of Malaysia’s most notorious crimes, backfired when Santamil Selvi, whose late husband first publicly linked Mr Najib to Ms Shaaribuu, stormed out of the press conference after reaffirming her husband’s claims were true.
The Saturday press conference was billed as a chance for Ms Selvi, wife of late private investigator P Balasubramaniam, to apologise to Ms Rosmah for allegations made against her in relation to the murder of Ms Shaaribuu, the former lover of close Najib confidante Abdul Razak Baginda.
Ms Selvi read a prepared statement apologising to Mr Najib and his family “for all the trouble and slander ... relating to my husband and the case of Altantuya”, but under questioning then said she stood by her husband’s claims.
Ms Selvi eventually ran out of the meeting after being quizzed over whether she had been offered a bribe to make the apology.
Just weeks earlier Sirul Azhar Umar, one of two elite Malaysian police commandos convicted and sentenced to death for Ms Shaaribuu’s murder, released video statements also specifically exonerating Mr Najib of any link to the 2006 murder.