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In a move that many believe will backfire badly on Prime Minister Najib Razak, his government arrested PKR strategy director Rafizi Ramli for exposing financial details in alleged contravention of the Banking and Financial Institutions Act.
Rafizi, a member of the PKR party led by Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim, had in recent months exposed the RM250mil NFC corruption debacle that led to the husband of former Women's minister Shahrizat Jalil being charged for criminal breach of trust.
His red-hot revelations had the Umno-controlled media baying for his blood and calling on the police to arrest him for allegedly breaching banking confidentiality rules.
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However, Rafizi and other leaders suspect the arrest was more to do with the Ampang LRT deal in which a crony of Najib's was just awarded the billion-ringgit contract despite being the least qualified tender candidate in terms of experience and technical know-how.
"I am now arrested under the Banking and Financial Insitutions Act (Bafia) and will be taken to court right now," Rafizi said on Twitter.
"My 1st reaction at being arrested: Damn GeorgeKent. @NajibRazak must surely love his golf buddy to risk this public relations mess."
Also arrested was Johari Mohamad, a former bank staff. Both men were charged under Section 97(1) of the BAFIA and both pleaded not guilty.
The charge sheet stated that Rafizi had disclosed four customer account profiles detailing the balance summary for the National Feedlot Corporation Sdn Bhd (NFCorp), the National Meat and Livestock Sdn Bhd, Agroscience and Industries Sdn Bhd and NFCorp chairman Salleh Ismail, to two individuals identified as Yusuf Abdul Alim and Erle Martin Carvalho.
The trial is set to start on September 10. If found guilty, Rafizi could be fined a maximum of RM3 mil and jailed up to three years, which would destroy his chances of standing the next general election, widely expected to be held soon.
Corruption and the Scorpenes link
Rafizi had also accused Najib of using George Kent Bhd, a firm run by his close friend Tan Kay Hock, to obtain the Ampang LRT deal and at the same benefit Thales, a European conglomerate also participating in the tender and on allegedly preferential terms.
DCNS is the vendor of 2 Scorpene submarines ordered by Najib in a deal estimated to be worth at least RM7.3 bil and in which Najib is accused of accepting a bribe from DCNS to seal.
DCNS is now on trial in the French courts for allegedly paying illicit kickbacks to Malaysian officials including Najib worth at least RM570mil or 114mil euros.
Apart from Thales, Rafizi had also unraveled a chain of transactions and scenarios alleging how George Kent stood to benefit from being the middle-main in the deal. According to Rafizi, George Kent would farm out the contracts and earn commission from these. Thales would also be amongst the main beneficiaries.
The PKR leader had made his revelations even before George Kent was confirmed as the tender winner. Najib had denied his allegations but Rafizi then revealed the minutes of a meeting held by the Finance ministry's procurement unit. The minutes showed Najib - who is also Finance minister - had personally chaired the meeting that approved George Kent for the deal.
Shock at how the whistle blower is punished and not the wrongdoer
Meanwhile, civil society leaders and prominent citizens expressed shock at Najib's "desperate" move.
"The nation is watching! We stand by those brave enough to expose wrongdoing and condemn those who suppress the truth!" Ambiga Sreenevasan, the co-chairman of the Bersih movement for clean polls, said on Twitter.
"We knew it was coming but why the sudden rushed timing. Was it coincidental with the George Kent news? This is Ramadan, a fasting ad holy month to observe restrian and righteousness," PAS MP for Kuala Selangor Dzulkefly Ahmad told Malaysia Chronicle.
"But Umno seems so desperate it is committing blunder after blunder. We also note that such hypocritical action is coming from Najib who has been promising reforms and a clean government."