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Malaysia’s Najib tones down the bling ahead of 1MDB graft trial | News




Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia – While he was prime minister, Najib Razak was often accused of being woefully out of touch with ordinary citizens’ lives.

But now, out of office and facing dozens of criminal charges in connection with an extraordinary multibillion-dollar scandal at Malaysia’s 1MDB state investment fund, the 65-year-old seems to be reinventing himself as a man of the people.

Gone are the Italian-cut suits with their carefully-coordinated ties and pocket handkerchiefs. His wife, Rosmah Mansor, in her tailor-made traditional silk outfits accessorised with diamond jewellery, is nowhere to be seen.

These days, Najib, rocking a hoodie and kicks, is hanging out with young bikers, riding pillion on the back of a moped.

Every moment is shared on his social media accounts and captioned with the slogan: Apa malu bossku? (What’s there to be ashamed about, boss?). There’s even a range of t-shirts. 

Najib’s new look comes as the prosecution prepares to lay out its case against Najib in the Kuala Lumpur High Court on Tuesday, the first time a Malaysian leader will be in the dock on criminal allegations, including money laundering, bribery and abuse of power.

The United States’ Department of Justice says that $4.5bn was siphoned from 1MDB to fund anything from luxury apartments to expensive jewellery – and even the Hollywood film, Wolf of Wall Street. Some of the money from the sovereign wealth fund, which Najib set up in 2009, is alleged to have ended up in the former prime minister’s personal bank account.

“It’s actually classic populism,” Meredith Weiss, an expert on politics in Southeast Asia at the University of Albany in New York who travels regularly to Malaysia, said of Najib’s public persona in the lead-up to the trial.

“It’s such a contrast from before the election. It’s an effort to make himself look cool. Before, it was really the images of grandeur; playing up the wealth.”

‘Ignorance and vendetta’

The scale of the corruption at 1MDB was one of the reasons for May 2018’s election shock, which propelled the opposition Pakatan Harapan into government – the first defeat for Najib’s party, the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) and its Barisan Nasional coalition in six decades.

Malaysia: Ex-PM Najib Razak given bail after pleading not guilty (2:34)

Malaysians watched agog last year as the police wheeled out shopping trolleys laden with designer handbags, bags of cash and expensive jewellery from properties linked to Najib and his family.

Investigators later revealed the haul was worth as much as $273m. It took 22 people, six counting machines and three days to count all the cash, which came in 26 different currencies.

Najib has denied any wrongdoing.

In an interview with Al Jazeera’s 101 East programme last year, he said he was not aware of what was going on at the fund even though, as the country’s prime minister, he chaired 1MDB’s board of advisers and, as its finance minister, was authorised to sign off on its major financial transactions.

In a song he released over social media in January – a re-working in Malay of The Manhattans soul classic ‘Kiss and Say Goodbye’ – he accused the government of spreading lies and wanting revenge.

“Najib’s defence and strategy will mainly be ignorance and vendetta,” said Asrul Hadi Abdullah Sani, a political analyst in Kuala Lumpur. “It will be very difficult for him to argue otherwise.”

Political career

Born in July 1953 in the sleepy, rural town of Kuala Lipis when Malaysia was still Malaya and a British colony, Najib was the first child of Abdul Razak Hussein, the man who would go on to become independent Malaysia’s second prime minister. His uncle would become the third.

Like many children of the country’s elite, then and now, he was sent overseas as a teenager, first attending Malvern College – one of Britain’s most expensive private schools – and later doing a degree in industrial economics at University of Nottingham.

But in 1976, Razak died and Najib was thrust into politics, taking his father’s old seat in Pekan, a small town hugging the banks of the Pahang River on Malaysia’s east coast.

Buoyed by his father’s reputation, Najib’s political rise was assured: the youngest member of the federal parliament soon became, at the state level, the youngest chief minister.

“He came into politics at a very young age – he did quite well as a chief minister even though he was the youngest [and] many people really liked him,” said Saifuddin Abdullah, who worked alongside Najib in UMNO and government before resigning from the party in 2015. 

“You can easily like him. He has very good PR, there’s no doubt about it,” added Saifuddin, who is now Malaysia’s foreign minister.

“This is someone who has been in politics since they were 23,” said Oh Ei Sun, a political analyst who worked with Najib when he first became prime minister. “So there is a sense of entitlement.”

Najib playing golf with then=US President Barack Obama in Hawaii in December 2014 [File: Hugh Gentry/Reuters]

After stints as education minister and defence minister, Najib became deputy prime minister in 2004. He took the top job five years later, vowing to build an economic and politically dynamic Malaysia, and double income per person to $15,000 by 2020.

The plan aimed to diversify the economy beyond natural resources into areas such as green energy and technology, and reduce subsidies. Politically, the focus was supposed to be on the removal of repressive laws that allowed for detention without trial and strengthening democracy.

For Saifuddin, it was the promise of transformation that caught his attention. “He seemed to be saying all the right things,” he told Al Jazeera.

Najib’s urbane manner made him popular on the international stage, and he and Rosmah made frequent foreign trips – rubbing shoulders with world leaders at the United Nations General Assembly, cosying up the tech titans such as China’s Jack Ma and playing golf with ex-US President Barack Obama.

Domestically, however, support for the long-ruling Barisan continued to sag. In the 2013 election, the coalition lost the popular vote for the first time, although the winner-takes-it-all voting system magnified by the disproportionate influence of its rural heartlands helped Barisan stay in office.

While the reform programme stalled, a goods-and-services tax further undermined support for Najib’s government – but he was about to be faced with an even more serious challenge to his authority.

Scandal-tainted fund

At its launch in 2009, 1MDB was touted as multi-billion dollar investment by a Saudi oil firm PetroSaudi and a remit to target new industries that would create jobs for Malaysians.

Later, there were multibillion dollar deals with the United Arab Emirates to develop the massive Tun Razak Exchange development in Kuala Lumpur, as well as bankroll oil and gas projects.

But suspicions about the fund’s investment strategy began to emerge, with critics pointing to ballooning debt and asking questions about the fate of funds raised from earlier bond issues.

There were questions too over Najib’s stepson, Riza Aziz, and how he had got together the money to make the Wolf of Wall Street, a 2013 tale of financial excess and debauchery with Hollywood superstar Leonardo di Caprio as the lead. Suspicions also focused on a young party-loving Malaysian financier who was often seen with Riza and whose name was in the film’s credits: Jho Low, whose whereabouts are currently unknown.

As the story gathered momentum, and pressure mounted, Najib launched an investigation. But then came the bombshell. The campaigning blog Sarawak Report and the Wall Street Journal reported that hundreds of millions of dollars had been deposited into Najib’s personal bank account shortly before the 2013 election. 

Najib denied ever receiving money “for personal gain”, saying it was a donation from a Saudi prince that was then returned. 

But on the defensive, the prime minister revealed there was a harder edge to his seemingly charming public image.

In July 2015, he stunned Malaysia by firing the attorney general who had been leading the 1MDB investigation and removing senior ministers who had questioned him over events at the fund.

The Edge, a local business publication that had reported extensively on 1MDB was suspended for three months, while access to Sarawak Report and other critical sources was blocked. Opposition politicians who had raised concerns about 1MDB found themselves prevented from leaving the country and critics found themselves facing charges under the sedition law Najib had earlier promised to repeal.

“His behaviour fits with that broad pattern where you consolidate power at the expense of the ruling elite,” said Lee Morgenbesser, an expert on authoritarian governments at Australia’s Griffith University. “Then he had this corruption scandal that left him little room for manoeuvre.”

For Oh, the political analyst, Najib could often seem “cold and detached,” but he was also a “good listener” who was comfortable with figures and charts.

He recalls Najib chatting with Christine Lagarde, the current head of the International Monetary Fund who was then finance minister in France. “They were throwing economic terms at each other, comparing notes,” he said. “I thought his is someone who knows his portfolio.”

Najib and his wife, Rosmah Mansor, arriving in the Philippines for an ASEAN summit in November 2017 [File: Erik De Castro/Reuters]

Najib insists that when it came to 1MDB, he was not aware of what was going on.

In October 2018, he told Al Jazeera’s 101 East that he was proud of what he had done as prime minister and would be vindicated.

“There was progress in country,” Najib said of his years in power. “There was more wealth in the country when I left, so I’m proud of the record that I achieved at prime minister.”

Najib faces nearly 40 counts; Rosmah around 20. Former allies are also due in court on corruption charges.

With appeals, the cases could take years to grind their way through the courts, keeping Najib in the spotlight even without his regular social media updates.

But history is likely to prove a more demanding judge than the bikers in their “bossku” shirts.

“Najib’s legacy will be the historic loss of Barisan Nasional,” Asrul Hadi said. “He cannot escape that no matter what he says on social media platforms. Unfortunately for Tun Abdul Razak Hussein, the name Razak will be associated with Najib and 1MDB for generations to come.”


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Tiger-Cats claim victory against the Argos to maintain home record on Labour Day




The Hamilton Tiger-Cats were at their devastating best against the Toronto Argonauts when the two locked horns on Labour Day at the Tim Hortons Field.

Just like with previous Labour Day fixtures, the Ticats produced a stellar performance with Dane Evans throwing two touchdown passes while Frankie Williams scored on a 67-yard punt return as they claimed a 32-19 victory on Monday. With this vital win, the Ticats extended their Labour Day home record to 7-0.

For players and fans of the Tiger-Cats, games on Labour Day are a lot more special and losing is something the Ticats aren’t used to.

“We know the fans are going to be behind us, we know Toronto is going to be chippy, we know it’s going to be sunny; we know it’s going to be windy. Everything that happened (Monday) we prepared for. There is something extremely special about Tim Hortons Field on Labour Day . . . you can feel it in the air, I can’t put it into words,” said Evans.

After the COVID-19 induced hiatus, the CFL is back in full action and fans can now bet on their favourite teams and just like with online slots Canada, real money can be won. Hamilton (2-2) recorded its second straight win to move into a tie atop the CFL East Division standings with Montreal Alouettes (2-2). Also, the Ticats lead the overall Labour Day series with Toronto 36-13-1.

In the sun-drenched gathering of 15,000—the maximum allowed under Ontario government COVID-19 protocols—the fans loved every minute of this feisty game. After all, this was the Ticats first home game in 659 days, since their 36-16 East Division final win over Edmonton in November 2019.

The contest between the Ticats and Argos was certainly not bereft of emotions, typical of a Labour Day fixture, as it ended with an on-field melee. But the Argos often found themselves on the wrong end of the decisions with several penalty calls and most of the game’s explosive plays.

Hamilton quarterback Evans completed 21-of-29 passing for 248 yards and the two touchdowns while Toronto’s make-shift quarterback Arbuckle completed 18-of-32 attempts for 207 yards. Arbuckle also made a touchdown and two interceptions before eventually being substituted by McLeod Bethel-Thompson.

Bethel-Thompson made an eight-yard TD pass to wide receiver Eric Rogers late in the final quarter of the game.

“They got after us a bit . . . we didn’t block, or pass protect well,” said Ryan Dinwiddie, rookie head coach of the Argos in a post-match interview. “They just kicked our butts; we’ve got to come back and be a better team next week.”

The Labour Day contest was the first of four fixtures this year between Toronto and Hamilton. The two teams would face off again on Friday at BMO Field. Afterwards, the Tim Hortons Field will play host to the Argonauts again on Oct. 11 with the regular-season finale scheduled for Nov. 12 in Toronto.

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Roughriders looking to bounce back after Labor Day defeat




In what an unusual feeling for the Saskatchewan Roughriders, they would now need to dust themselves up after a 23-8 loss to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in what was a Labor Day Classic showdown in front of a full capacity crowd at Mosaic stadium.

Craig Dickenson, head coach of the Riders, witnessed his team with an unbeaten record get utterly dominated by a more superior team from Winnipeg. Now, he has got a lot of work on his hands getting his team back to winning ways as they visit the Banjo Bowl next.

“We’re going to see what we’re made of now…the jury’s out,” said Dickenson.

Dan Clark, who played centre for the Riders expressed his disappointment in losing what was “the biggest game of the year”.

 “If you lose every other game, you don’t want to lose that one. We’ve just got to take the next step,” said Clark in a report. “There are 12 steps to the Grey Cup left and it’s just about taking that next step and focusing on what Saturday will bring.”

With their first defeat to Winnipeg, the Riders (3-1) now rank second place in the CFL’s West Division, trailing the Bombers by one victory (4-1). However, the Riders will have the chance to even the season series during their trip to Winnipeg this Saturday. With the CFL heating up, fans can now enjoy online sports betting Canada as they look forward to their team’s victory.

The Rider’s offensive line will once again have a busy time dealing with the Blue Bombers’ defence.

Quarterback Cody Fajardo, who played one of the best games of his career two weeks earlier, had quite a stinker against the Bombers in the Labour Day Classic—which is the most anticipated game for Rider fans.

Fajardo had a 59 per cent completion percentage which wasn’t quite indicative of what the actual figure was considering he was at 50 per cent before going on a late drive in the final quarter with the Bombers already becoming laid back just to protect the win.

Fajardo also registered a personal worst when he threw three interceptions, but in all fairness, he was always swarmed by the Bomber’s defence.

While Fajardo has claimed responsibility for the loss and letting his teammates down, many would be curious to see how the team fares in their next game and with less than a week of preparation.

Dickenson is confident that his team would improve during their rematch in the 17th edition of the Banjo Bowl in Winnipeg. The only challenge now would be the loss of home advantage and dealing with the noisy home crowd, he added.

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Canadian report reveals spike in food-related litter during pandemic




TORONTO — Restaurants’ inability to offer their usual dine-in service during much of 2020 may explain why an unusually high amount of food-related litter was found across the country, a new report says.

The Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup (GCSC) is an annual program in which volunteers are encouraged to clean up green spaces and other natural areas.

Last year, single-use food and beverage containers made up 26.6 per cent of waste collected through the program – nearly twice as high a percentage as in 2019, before the pandemic.

“We suspect the change may be one of the many implications of COVID-19, including more people ordering restaurant takeaway and consuming more individually packaged foods,” GCSC spokesperson Julia Wakeling said in a press release.

While food- and beverage-related litter accounted for a greater percentage of waste uncovered by GCSC than in the past, it wasn’t the single largest category of items picked up through the program last year.

That dubious honour goes to cigarette butts and other smoking-related paraphernalia, which comprised nearly 29 per cent of all items collected. There were more than 83,000 cigarette butts among the 42,000 kilograms of waste found and clean up last year.

So-called “tiny trash” – little pieces of plastic and foam – also accounted for a sizeable share of the waste, making up 26.8 per cent of the total haul.

In addition to smoking-related items and tiny trash, the main pieces of litter removed by GCSC volunteers last year included nearly 22,000 food wrappers, more than 17,500 pieces of paper, more than 13,000 bottle caps and more than 10,000 beverage cans.

Discarded face masks and other forms of personal protective equipment were also detected and cleaned up, although not tallied in their own category.  PPE waste has been repeatedly cited as a concern by environmental advocates during the pandemic; a robin in Chilliwack, B.C. is the earliest known example of an animal that died due to coronavirus-related litter.

The GCSC is an annual program organized by Ocean Wise and the World Wildlife Fund Canada. Its operations were disrupted by the pandemic as well; only 15,000 volunteers took part in the program last year, versus 85,000 in 2019, due to delays and public health restrictions making large group clean-ups impossible.

Still, there was GCSC participation from every province and the Northwest Territories in 2020. Nearly half of the volunteers who took part were based in B.C., where the program began in 1994.

Data from past GCSC reports was used as part of the research backing Canada’s ban on certain single-use plastic items, which is scheduled to take effect by the end of 2021.

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