KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia’s attorney-general cleared Prime Minister Najib Razak of any criminal offences or corruption yesterday, closing investigations into a murky multi-million-dollar funding scandal that his opponents had hoped would bring him down. Najib was buffeted last year by allegations of graft and mismanagement at the debt-laden state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) and by a revelation that about $681 million was deposited into his personal bank account. But Attorney-General Mohamed Apandi Ali said the transfer was a gift from Saudi Arabia’s royal family, adding that no further action needed to be taken on the matter.
Najib, who denied any wrongdoing and said he did not take any money for personal gain, welcomed the attorney general’s statement. “The findings followed a thorough investigation by the relevant institutions, and he has confirmed what I have maintained all along: that no crime was committed,” Najib said in a statement. Opposition party leaders denounced the finding, saying the appointment of the attorney-general by the prime minister in the midst of the crisis suggested a conflict of interest. But analysts said it was a victory for Najib that would allow him to focus on winning the next election in 2018.
“The AG’s statement today pretty much allows the government to move on … As far as things are legally concerned, the prime minister is in the clear,” said Ibrahim Suffian, director of independent opinion polling firm Merdeka Center. Although there were still a lot of people who would still be skeptical and critical of the government, he said. Apandi told a news conference no criminal offence had been committed by Najib in relation to three investigations submitted by Malaysia’s anti-graft agency. “I am satisfied with the findings that the funds were not a form of graft or bribery,” he said. “There was no reason given as to why the donation was made to PM Najib, that is between him and the Saudi family,” he said.
The involvement of the Saudi royal family is an unexpected twist in the saga over the funds transfer and the troubles of 1MDB, whose advisory board Najib chairs. The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) had earlier said only that the funds were a political donation from an unidentified Middle Eastern benefactor. Apandi said $620 million was returned to the donor in August 2013, about five months after the transfer, because it had not been utilized. He did not clarify what happened to the remaining $61 million that was not returned or explain why it had taken so long for news of the return of the funds to be released.
‘Unite and move on’
Najib, the son of a former prime minister, enjoys the backing of most of the powerful division chiefs in the ruling United Malays National Organization (UMNO) party. Even his fiercest internal critics, such as influential former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, accept that he cannot be unseated. Najib, who needs to build support ahead of the 2018 election, after scraping to only a narrow victory in the last polls, said the scandal had been “an unnecessary distraction”. “Now that the matter has been comprehensively put to rest, it is time for us to unite and move on,” Najib said.
The scandal has shaken investors in Southeast Asia’s third-biggest economy and rocked confidence in the coalition led by UMNO, which has held power since independence in 1957. The ringgit slumped by more than 20 percent in 2015 and has continued its slide this year, weighed down by global oil prices and political uncertainty. “The attorney-general is satisfied with the findings, but it remains to be seen whether the public is satisfied and will put the 1MDB scandal to rest,” said Hak Bin Chua, ASEAN economist at Bank of America Merrill Lynch.
After the scandal broke in mid-2015, then attorney-general Abdul Gani Patail – who had led investigations of 1MDB – was replaced by Apandi, a former judge with strong ties to UMNO. “The attorney-general should not have been involved in the decision affecting the PM because he was appointed by the PM,” said Lim Kit Siang, parliamentary leader of the opposition Democratic Action Party. Two of the anti-corruption commission papers that Apandi reviewed related to SRC International, a former 1MDB subsidiary that is being investigated for an alleged misappropriation of funds. 1MDB is under investigation by law enforcement agencies in Switzerland, Hong Kong and the United States, media and other sources have said.- Reuters
MAIMANA: The Afghan Taliban said on Wednesday they were searching for a man who cut off his wife's nose, condemning the attack as “un-Islamic”, after online images of the young woman sparked widespread outrage.
Mohammad Khan has been on the run since he attacked his wife Reza Gul, 20, with a pocket knife on Sunday, severely disfiguring her face.
The couple lived in restive Ghormach district in the northwestern province of Faryab, which is largely under Taliban control. Khan is believed to have fled to an area near the border with Turkmenistan, local residents told AFP.
“We are searching for the husband and want to find out what made him take such action,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told AFP, rejecting local media reports that Khan had joined the militant group.
Local Taliban official Noor Mohammad branded the attack as “un-Islamic”. He said the group, which deprived women of many of their basic rights during their five-year rule, was “outraged by this incident”.
“We are trying to find the husband,” Noor Mohammad added, without elaborating on what the militant group, known for their brutal justice, would do to Khan if they found him.
The incident is yet another example of the endemic violence against women in Afghan society, despite reforms since the Taliban regime was ousted in a 2001 US-led invasion.
The Afghan government has vowed to protect women's rights but failed to prevented violent attacks.
In areas under Taliban control, the militant groups often act as arbitrators of justice, and they had previously intervened in Gul's case to stop the persistent domestic abuse.
Gul was married off five years ago as a teenager and was regularly beaten by her husband, forcing her to flee to her parents' home in a Taliban-controlled area, she previously told AFP.
While there, she said, the insurgents made her unemployed husband swear on the Koran that he would not hurt her again.
But soon after she returned to him, he sliced off her nose.
Gul is currently in hospital in Faryab along with her two-month-old daughter.
Provincial authorities in Faryab are making arrangements to send Gul to Turkey for reconstructive surgery, which is not available in Afghanistan.
“The Turkish officials have promised that they will help in sending her to Turkey for treatment,” Mohammad Marouf Samar, the province's acting health director, told AFP.
“We are trying to get her national identification card and passport so she can travel,” said Ahamad Javed Bedar, spokesman for the provincial governor.
RIYADH: Chinese President Xi Jinping and Saudi King Salman on Wednesday attended a ceremony to mark the opening of a joint-venture refinery, a symbol of Beijing's deepening involvement in the Middle East.
The event took place in the Saudi capital Riyadh on the second day of Xi's first visit to the region. He was to depart later in the day for Egypt and will also travel to Saudi Arabia's rival Iran.
The YASREF refinery, in Yanbu Industrial City on the Red Sea, is 62.5 per cent held by Saudi oil giant Aramco, while China Petroleum and Chemical Corp (Sinopec) holds the balance.
"YASREF represents both companies' focus on driving downstream growth," the refinery said in a statement.
Saudi Arabia is China's biggest global supplier of crude, and state-owned Saudi Aramco says expansion into refining and chemicals fits the kingdom's goal of economic diversification.
The policy has been given added urgency by a plunge in the kingdom's oil revenues.
YASREF is one of five joint-venture refineries in Saudi Arabia. Another four are overseas, including one in Fujian, China.
Salman in December said he had ordered economic reforms to diversify sources of income and reduce high dependence on oil.
Global crude prices have collapsed from above $100 a barrel in early 2014, trading below $28 on Wednesday.
To cope with a record budget deficit, the kingdom broke with its decades-old generous welfare system and raised fuel, electricity and other prices.
Government spending has also been cut, there is talk of a value-added tax in the tax-free nation, and state assets including Saudi Aramco could be privatised.
Trade between the Gulf nations and China, the world's second-largest economy, has been growing.
Two-way commerce between China and Saudi Arabia alone reached $69.1 billion in 2014, according to China's official Xinhua news agency.
Although China depends on the Middle East for its oil supplies, it has long taken a low-profile approach to the region's diplomatic and other disputes, only recently beginning to expand its role, especially in the Syrian crisis.
Before Xi's visit, a Chinese analyst said Beijing would do what it can to ease soaring tensions between Saudi Arabia and its rival Iran.
ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – Jan 15, 2016
The Abu Dhabi Police reiterated their unrelenting keenness and commitment to enhance communication with citizens via different communication channels and community councils. This approach embodies the directives of police leadership to further reinforce community participation to help achieve security and safety of society.
According to Abu Dhabi Police, this approach, based on communication with society, is a strategic methodology and a top priority in police work. It includes listening to and discussing the public’s suggestions in order to reach the optimal plans and programs to develop police work according to international best standards that guarantee providing the best services at the Comprehensive Police Stations.
These issues were tackled during the Al Bateen Council, a societal initiative organized by Abu Dhabi Police, represented by the Directorate General of Police Operations, and in coordination with the Department of Community Police and the Law Respect Culture Bureau at the General Secretariat of the Office of H.H Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior. The council discussed the “Role of Comprehensive Police Stations in enhancing social security and stability, and providing security services in areas of jurisdiction.”
The council was attended by Jaber Mohammed Ghanem Al Suwaidi, the General Director of the Crown Prince Court of Abu Dhabi; Major General Omair Muhammad Al Muhairi, Director General of Police Operations at Abu Dhabi Police; Colonel Ahmed Saif bin Zeitoun Al Muhairi, Director of the Capital Police Directorate; and a number of police officers and guests.
Major General Al Muhairi emphasized the Abu Dhabi Police’s keenness and unrelenting efforts to enhance public awareness and understanding that security is a shared responsibility that is not limited to police authorities; and that community members are the key factor to ensure the success of security work. He also stressed the need to enhance efficient communication channels with community members, and noted that the Abu Dhabi Police are prepared to adopt any purposeful ideas and initiatives and to examine the possibility of implementing them, in order to enhance the quality and excellence of the provided services.
The council also discussed the risks and negative effects of begging on society, stressing that such an ill-behavior distorts the civilized image of the country, and exploits the sympathy and spirit of benevolence of the Emirati society. The council also tackled ways to combat this scourge, and the need for concerted efforts and for cooperation of all society segments with the awareness initiatives and campaigns organized by Abu Dhabi Police to combat begging.
Participants interacted with the topics tackled in the council and praised the role played by the Comprehensive Police Stations and the level of services provided to enhance social security and stability in Abu Dhabi. They also expressed appreciation for the positive and effective communication and the commitment to implement programs for the service of society.
Source: Abu Dhabi Police GHQ
HILLA, Iraq: Blasts rocked two Sunni mosques in central Iraq yesterday, amid fears of renewed sectarian strife following Saudi Arabia’s execution of a prominent Shiite cleric, police and medics said. As thousands demonstrated against the Gulf monarchy in Baghdad, Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi vowed to track down the attackers, whom he said were attempting to undermine national unity. After Saudi Arabia severed ties with Iran over the firebombing of its embassy and was followed by Bahrain and Sudan, the protesters demanded Baghdad break off relations with Riyadh.
A man was killed in one of the overnight attacks and a muezzin – the person appointed to recite the Muslim call to prayer – was gunned down in the same region south of Baghdad. In Hilla, about 80 km from the capital, a police captain said the Ammar bin Yasser mosque in Bakerli neighborhood was bombed after midnight. “After we heard the explosion, we went to its source and found that IEDs (improvised explosive devices) had been planted in the mosque,” he said. “Residents said a group of people with military uniforms carried out this operation,” he added.
A witness said he saw gunmen shoot dead a young man displaced from his home town of Ramadi who had been living in the mosque with his family. “The armed men killed one of the displaced who lives in the mosque” with his wife and two children, the resident said on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.A Hilla doctor confirmed the death. Ramadi is a Sunni city where Iraqi federal forces reclaimed the upper hand a week ago after months of battling the Islamic State group.
The Al-Fateh mosque in a village called Sinjar, just outside Hilla, was also destroyed overnight. A police captain said three or four men in military uniforms were involved in that bombing. “They took advantage of the cold weather, there was nobody outside,” he said. A medical source in Hilla said three people were wounded in the explosions.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the blasts, nor for the killing of the muezzin from a Sunni mosque in Iskandariyah, a town about 40 km south of Baghdad, who was also shot dead overnight, several sources said. A local councillor identified the slain muezzin of the Mohammed Abdullah Jabbouri mosque in Haswa as Taha Al-Juburi. “He was ambushed by unknown gunmen near his house,” a source in Iskandariyah police said. A doctor also confirmed his death.
Iskandariyah is part of a mixed Sunni-Shiite area south of Baghdad which was once dubbed “the triangle of death” and was badly affected by sectarian violence last decade. Pushing back IS in this region after the jihadists took over large parts of the country in 2014 was one of the priorities of the government and allied Shiite militias. That was achieved in a few months and IS has been largely eradicated from the area but violence – of a sectarian nature and crime-driven -has remained frequent.
The weekend execution in Saudi Arabia of prominent Shiite cleric Nimr Al-Nimr sparked outrage in Iraq. Shiite politicians and clerics unanimously condemned the execution but several religious figures in the Sunni minority also denounced it. “We ordered Babil operations command to hunt down the criminal gangs of Daesh (IS) and their likes who targeted mosques to sow sedition and undermine national unity,” Abadi said on Twitter.
Thousands of supporters of prominent Iraqi Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr demonstrated near the foreign ministry yesterday, demanding all ties with Saudi Arabia be broken off. The protesters threatened to storm the so-called “Green Zone” where the newly reopened Saudi embassy is located but they were held back by organizers and riot police. Iran has accused Saudi Arabia of using Nimr’s execution to stoke sectarian tensions in the region. Tehran has warned the Gulf monarchy it would pay a “high price” for the execution, which was one of 47 carried out on Saturday. The Saudi embassy in Tehran was firebombed by an angry mob, prompting Riyadh to respond by announcing it was breaking off diplomatic relations with Iran. – AFP
NEW DELHI: Delhi police say they have arrested a former Indian Air Force officer on charges of passing secrets to Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence (ISI).
Police claimed on Tuesday that the man, accused of giving details of air force exercises to ISI, had fallen victim to a “honey trap”.
“Ranjith KK has accepted to have passed air force-related information pertaining to a recent air force exercise, movements of aircraft and deployment of various units in air force,” said Ravindra Yadav, Delhi police joint commissioner of crime, in a statement.
The arrest comes days after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi paid a surprise visit to his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif to try to ease troubled relations.
The two nuclear-armed countries frequently accuse each other of spying on military activities.
Police alleged that ISI used a woman to lure him into passing on top-secret information through mobile phone and the internet.
“As per the investigation so far, it has been assessed that (he) was befooled by the cross-border spies,” Yadav added.
An Islamic airline has taken off in Malaysia this week. The believers catching the ride on Rayani Air expect halal meals and greater sensitivity to their religious beliefs while being 30,000 feet above the ground.
Many religiously inclined in Malaysia believe that the two recent airline disasters involving Malaysia Airlines were, in fact, divine retribution. Hundreds lost their lives in Flight 370, which disappeared without trace, and in Flight 17 that was shot down over Ukraine. The two disasters are unrelated except that both involved Malaysia Airlines.
Here in Pakistan, religious leaders often remind those affected by natural disasters that their lack of religious zeal is what made them victims of divine wrath. Numerous religious leaders have accused the victims of floods and earthquakes for straying from the righteous path.
Such reasoning begs the question:
Why are victims of such disasters the poor and landless who end up squatting at the most undesirable parcels located on the top of fault lines or flood plains?
The passengers in the Malaysia Airlines flights were not destitute. They could afford to fly. We also have no reason to believe that they were any more or less sinners than the rest of the Malaysian society.
We can only be certain about this; it was an unfortunate turn of events for the Malaysian airline victims and their loved ones.
Accidents do happen and at a much higher frequency on ground than in air. The death toll in road accidents runs into millions globally. Such accidents claim the lives of old and young, and believers and sinners alike.
Should one therefore accept religiosity to have an impact on one's safety?
I often wonder how one's religious beliefs would influence one's driving behaviour.
Would religious zeal instill a greater respect for traffic rules, or would it contribute to a pseudo sense of infallibility, making one take risks that one would not have entertained otherwise.
The public display of religious beliefs often manifests in the driving culture in Pakistan. Public transport operators on ground and in air recite prayers at the start of each journey. Some drivers hang religious prayers printed on CDs from rearview mirrors in their cars. Prayers are also printed in decorative calligraphy on public vehicles.
A few years ago, an alliance of religious parties that governed Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, banned music and videos in local and intercity public transit. Intercity transit operators, such as Daewoo, would switch off music or videos as they entered KP to comply with the provincial government's dictates.
The empiricist in me would like to determine if the drivers' level of piety impacts his or her safety record. A natural experiment could allow one to test such hypothesis. One can explore whether traffic safety improved after the KP government banned music and videos in public transit vehicles. Or one can compare accident frequency of the vehicles hanging prayers against those without prayers.
Among other factors, the religiously-inspired fatalism is also a barrier to promoting road safety in Pakistan where many believe that all accidents are pre-ordained and that human brings cannot interfere with divine plans.
A study of fatalistic beliefs in Pakistan revealed that most respondents considered road crashes as fated.
If all accidents, deaths, and injuries are fated, does it absolve drunk drivers and those who overspeed?
Writing in the journal, Advanced Health Research in September 2012, Kayani, King, and Feiter studied how fatalism impacts attitudes regarding road safety in Pakistan?
They interviewed people from all walks of life. They asked a bus driver what role, if any, do humans have in road accidents.
He replied: "We try to avoid mistakes but final authority is with God. Nothing is under human control, everything is by God. You see me, I am talking with you, and even this is not under my control. I will talk to you as much as God wants. Look at this bus, how big it is. Only God is running it and controlling it. How can a human being control it?"
I find it odd though that the same people, who believe traffic deaths are pre-ordained and absolve the guilty of their culpability, are quick to blame the poor people who perish in earthquakes and floods.
It did not surprise the authors of this study that fatalist beliefs exist in Pakistan. They, in fact, exist in most societies. What surprised them was how widespread such beliefs are.
The authors noted that "fatalism in Pakistan is a central part of systems of meaning making, regardless of education and role".
Human error and mechanical failures are behind most accidents. Drivers' and commuters' prayers might help calm their nerves. However, improving traffic and airline safety requires strict adherence to (air) traffic rules and regulations. (MURTAZA HAIDER)