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Pacific News Minute: Malaysia Enmeshed in Scandal as Obama Arrives for ASEAN Summit

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After Turkey and the Philippines, Malaysia is the final stop on President Obama's current tour - and after the G20 in Antalya and APEC in Manila, it's another major multilateral meeting.  This time, ASEAN: the Association of South East Asian Nations.  As the current chair - Malaysia hosts the meeting, but, as we hear from Neal Conan in the Pacific News Minutes, its president is enmeshed in scandal.

1MDB is the name of a sovereign development fund started and chaired by President Najib Razak. Earlier this year - the Wall Street Journal reported that 700-million dollars had somehow found its way from 1MDB to the President's personal bank accounts.  He's tried to explain away the money by claiming it was a loan from an unnamed royal family in the Persian Gulf - but he's yet to say how or when he proposes to pay it back, or why such a huge private loan would be appropriate.  Probes by the police, the justice ministry and an anti-corruption commission have been quashed, and an investigative newspaper was shut down.

With prospects for any Malaysian investigation dim - probes into questionable money transfers are underway in Hong Kong, Switzerland and in the United States.  The President's popularity is at an all-time low.  The country's currency - the ringgit has plummeted in value, and in an effort to bolster support among majority Malays, the ruling party backed a huge pro-government rally in September that exacerbated racial and religious tensions with minority Chinese.

In an essay for the Malaysian Insider this week - Bridget Welsh, a professor of Political Science at IPek University, concluded that so much scandal and innuendo circulates around President Najib that sponge-like… he absorbs them, reducing the shock and dampening the effects. "Najib has opted on division to stay in power," she wrote, "with little regard to how race, religious, class and other cleavages are tearing at the national fabric."

Over 36 years with National Public Radio, Neal Conan worked as a correspondent based in New York, Washington, and London; covered wars in the Middle East and Northern Ireland; Olympic Games in Lake Placid and Sarajevo; and a presidential impeachment. He served, at various times, as editor, producer, and executive producer of All Things Considered and may be best known as the long-time host of Talk of the Nation. Now a macadamia nut farmer on Hawaiʻi Island, his "Pacific News Minute" can be heard on HPR Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.
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