Malaysian daily suspended over reports on deepening scandal

Malaysian daily suspended over reports on deepening scandal
PHOTO: Facebook/TheEdgeMalaysia

KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysian authorities have suspended publication of a business daily whose aggressive reporting on a financial scandal has rocked the government, a move the newspaper and media groups decried Friday as a grave breach of press freedom.

In a notice dated Thursday, the Home Ministry suspended the publishing permits of The Edge Media Group for three months, saying its reporting on the scandal swirling around state-owned company 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) threatened "public order".

The Edge has published a series of exposes over the past year detailing alleged fraud, mismanagement and misappropriation of funds surrounding 1MDB, which is closely linked to Prime Minister Najib Razak.

"This is nothing more than a move to shut us down in order to shut us up," the Edge group's CEO Ho Kay Tat said in a statement.

Earlier this week the government blocked the UK-based website Sarawak Report, which also has published extensive reports on the scandal.

Najib is under mounting pressure amid allegations that hundreds of millions of dollars in 1MDB funds were siphoned off in complex overseas transactions.

The Wall Street Journal reported this month Malaysian government investigators had discovered that nearly $700 million had moved through government agencies, banks and companies linked to 1MDB before ending up in Najib's personal accounts.

Najib and 1MDB officials have vehemently denied any wrongdoing.

The premier has dismissed the Wall Street Journal report as "political sabotage", while 1MDB has said it did not transfer any funds to the premier.

1MDB also is reeling under 11 billion dollars in debt, blamed largely on a drive to acquire power-industry assets.

Fears that it may collapse or require a massive bailout have contributed to a recent slide in the ringgit currency to 16-year lows.

The Home Ministry said The Edge's reports on 1MDB were "prejudicial or likely to be prejudicial to public order, security or likely to alarm public opinion or likely to be prejudicial to public and national interest."

But Ho said: "We don't see how exposing the scam to cheat the people of Malaysia of billions of ringgit can be construed as being detrimental to public and national interest."

Malaysia's Centre for Independent Journalism called the printing suspension "an extremely heavy-handed measure and a breach of freedom of expression and media freedom in particular."

The suspension, effective from July 27, applies to print outlets The Edge Financial Daily and The Edge Weekly, Ho said, adding that the company would fight the suspension in court.

The Edge's online platforms will be unaffected, he said.

Malaysia passed laws in the 1990s protecting the country's Internet from censorship, part of a pledge aimed at luring foreign high-tech investment.

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