It’s got all the elements of a blockbuster Hollywood thriller. A huge amount of missing money. A prime minister and his wife. An intrepid team of politicians and reporters out to find the truth. And a young, playboy businessman with a fondness for cavorting with celebrities on yachts. For the past few years, the 1MDB (1Malaysia Development Berhad) financial scandal has captured the imagination of Malaysians. The scandal contributed to the fall of a government and changed local history forever, and will continue to have major repercussions as time goes on.
The full story of 1MDB, from its beginnings to its cover-up, is painstakingly detailed in 1MDB: The Scandal That Brought Down A Government, a book written by veteran journalist and analyst P. Gunasegaram.
The book, released at the end of last month by the Strategic Information and Research Development Centre (an imprint of independent local publisher Gerakbudaya), is reportedly the first to be published anywhere on 1MDB.
“It contains all the information you need to understand 1MDB at this point in time,” says Gunasegaram, 66.
“The book puts together many things to give you a better idea of what has been going on. It also covers things that have been under-reported by the press, such as the issue of bond mispricing.
“It also touches on the 1MDB cover-up, the attempts to fill up the holes. Although a lot of the information has been in the public domain, it has not received much attention from the media, although it should.”
According to him, the 300-page book delves into the backstory behind the scandal in detail, explaining how about RM40bil came to be lost through 1MDB, through pilfering of borrowed funds through mispriced bonds, overpaying advisers, and the setting up of sham companies and illegal transfers.
The book also contains a section featuring reports previously published by business news portal KiniBiz on the matter (Guna-segaram founded the portal in 2013 and was its editor until it shut down in February 2016).
“At the end of the day, 1MDB represents unprecedented levels of domestic corruption for Malaysia. There was widespread international complicity, as large amounts of funds were transferred across international borders with complete impunity,” one of the book’s chapters reads.
This book, Gunasegaram says, directly identifies those involved in the scandal, and marks several financial institutions and centres as among those that conspired to launder billions in stolen money.
“One thing that strikes me in this is the audacity of these people. There is no way they could have got away with a crime like this. If you steal 30 billion, you will get caught, there’s no way you can hide that,” the author says, obviously still fired up about the book.
Gunasegaram has worked as an analyst and columnist for more than 30 years. He has been a business and sociopolitical commentator since 1978, and has worked as managing editor and group executive editor at many local major publications, including The Star, The Edge, Malaysian Business and Business Times.
In 2013, he set up KiniBiz, a business news portal launched as a joint venture with local news website Malaysiakini. Gunasegaram and his KiniBiz team were the first anywhere in the world to write a detailed investigative piece on 1MDB, in March 2013.
Putting the book together from all the information available was a challenge, the author says, but being aware of the issues since their genesis helped a lot.
“The book is a record of something terrible that happened to a country. And how the country was saved, in the nick of time, by the election.
“My own belief is that 1MDB was more responsible for toppling the previous government than any other matter, including GST (the goods and services tax),” Guna-segaram says.
“This was outright robbery, on a scale on which the world had never seen before.”
Gunasegaram says he hopes the book will serve as a caution to readers about the misuses of power.
“Greed and power can cause an immense amount of damage to the country. We need to remember that we have to have checks and balances so these things will never happen in Malaysia again.
“That’s means not putting too much prerogative on one person, even if he is the prime minister,” Gunasegaram says.