Is Mr. Low innocent of the charges brought against him by the U.S. Department of Justice?

The U.S. Department of Justice has specifically stated that the charges filed against Mr. Low in federal court are just allegations, and that Mr. Low is “presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.”

Moreover, the indictment notes that Mr. Low held no formal position at 1MDB, nor was he ever employed by Goldman Sachs, or the Governments of Malaysia or Abu Dhabi. The bond offerings detailed in the indictment were undertaken openly and lawfully between experienced, well-regulated financial institutions and government entities.  

Mr. Low maintains his innocence of these charges, many of which simply repeat allegations from a civil suit in California that have never been proven. Mr. Low asks that the public keep an open mind regarding this case until all of the evidence comes to light, which he believes will vindicate him.

Have any of the allegations against Mr. Low raised in the U.S. Government’s civil filings ever been proven?

None of the allegations in the civil proceedings in the U.S. have ever been proven before a U.S. court. After filing its claims in federal court, the Department of Justice then sought and was granted a stay of the proceedings – over the opposing parties’ objections – before any party could file evidence or the Court could consider any allegations.

Can Mahathir’s coalition be trusted to follow the rule of law or respect the independence of Malaysian courts? Is a fair hearing in Malaysia possible with respect to Mr. Low, or anyone else purportedly connected to 1MDB or the Malaysian opposition?

The short answer is no.

Since his election, Prime Minister Mahathir has tried to reinvent his public image following the abuses of power and usurpation of the rule of law he was responsible for during his previous administration.

The reality is that Mahathir and the coalition government have simply continued their old ways. Mahathir has shown that his only objectives are political: he has frozen bank accounts of rival political parties, arrested members of the opposition party, and conducted a public trial-by-media of Mr. Low, where guilt is proclaimed before any evidence is presented.

Mahathir’s coalition government has already started to remove judges that it does not favour. In May 2018 Mahathir formed a “Council of Eminent Persons” (CEP), a group of unelected loyalists who wield unparalleled and unregulated power, undermining the rest of the Malaysian coalition government and elected officials. Mahathir said that the CEP would be in position for only his first 100 days in office; that deadline has come and gone, and there is no sign of it being disbanded or  its power being curbed.

It is increasingly clear that there is no jurisdiction where the issues in this case can be subject to a fair hearing, thanks to a global media circus fueled by politically motivated parties whose aim is to convict Mr. Low in the public arena. We set out some detail below:

Curbing judicial independence and purging political opponents / allies:

Mahathir has been internationally condemned in the past for suppressing the judiciary, and for settling political scores by the mass removal of opponents.

  • In the past, Mahathir jailed opposition leaders such as Lim Kit Siang and Anwar Ibrahim,[1] and fixed the appointment of judges.[2] From these and other actions, the Australian Bar Association stated that, under Mahathir, the Malaysian judicial system “failed to act independently from the executive arm of government.”[3]

  • Now, with Mahathir’s return to power, the independence of the current judiciary is already in question –for example, in  June 2018 Mahathir’s Council of Eminent Persons forced changes to senior ranks of the judiciary.[4]

  • Human Rights Watch described Mahathir’s actions towards his political rival Anwar Ibrahim as “a political vendetta”.[10]

    Mahathir has routinely used state bodies to target the current Malaysian opposition party, UNMO. The acting president of UMNO, Ahmad Zahid Hamidi (“Mr. Zahid”) has openly expressed fears about politically-driven investigations: “There is no guarantee that anyone who wins the posts of UMNO president, deputy president, Supreme Council members[,] and vice-presidents will not be investigated by the MACC.”[5] Mr. Zahid reported that the Home Minister, Muhyiddin Yassin, might also order the deregistration of UMNO.[6] 

  • Mr. Zahid has continued to express concerns over the fate of UMNO, stating that Mahathir’s efforts seemed to be part of “efforts to paralyse” the opposition party and that   “threats and political abuse by any government in a democratic country is not the way to govern.”[7]

On July 13, 2018, UMNO stated that the Mahathir administration is disproportionately focusing on the 1MDB investigation, and that Najib will end up suffering the same fate as Anwar did in 1998. UMNO announced that “people are not so comfortable with the government because of the excessive focus on [1MDB],” investigations which are not producing initiatives to reduce the people’s burden. With respect to Najib’s future, UMNO predicted: “Just like Anwar in 1998, they will ensure Najib is found guilty and thrown in jail. This is the priority of the Pakatan Harapan government in practicing revenge politics.”[8]

Ultimately, such fears were realised when, on June 28, MACC froze UMNO’s bank accounts, and on October 18, MACC arrested Mr. Zahid.

Suppression of the media:

  • Mahathir was allegedly involved in the suppression of the Asian Wall Street Journal, when it published allegations of corruption involving his finance minister Daim Zainuddin.

  • He was named as one of the “Ten Worst Enemies of the Press” in 1999 by the New York-based committee to Protect Journalists.[9]

  • Given this track record, the international media has been skeptical of Mahathir’s most recent promises for a free press. 

Civil liberties groups should monitor Mahathir’s activities to see if he repeats his previous actions, and should hold him accountable if he does so.

Given these considerable, repeated abuses, there is no doubt that the Malaysian government under Prime Minister Mahathir will continue to undermine due process and deny fair hearings to any individual or group it deems to be part of the political opposition, including Mr. Low.  As such, Mr. Low would not be able to have a fair and impartial hearing in Malaysia.

[1] Barry Wain, “Malaysian Maverick: Mahathir Mohamad in Turbulent Times” Pg.136

[2] Barry Wain, “Malaysian Maverick: Mahathir Mohamad in Turbulent Times” Pg.330

[3] Barry Wain, “Malaysian Maverick: Mahathir Mohamad in Turbulent Times” Pg.299

[4] https://www.freemalaysiatoday.com/category/nation/2018/06/13/ramkarpal-wrong-is-wrong-even-if-mahathir-defends-daim/

[5] https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/asia/umno-bank-accounts-frozen-by-anti-corruption-agency-report-10479924

[6] https://www.nst.com.my/news/exclusive/2018/06/385360/exclusive-900-accounts-linked-1mdb-frozen

[7] https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/asia/umno-bank-accounts-frozen-by-anti-corruption-agency-report-10479924

[8] https://www.malaymail.com/s/1651962/umno-its-1998-all-over-again-and-najib-will-suffer-anwars-fate

[9] Barry Wain, “Malaysian Maverick: Mahathir Mohamad in Turbulent Times” Pg.324

[10] Barry Wain, “Malaysian Maverick: Mahathir Mohamad in Turbulent Times” Pg.300