The authors of Billion Dollar Whale claim to be the people who “broke the story on 1MDB”. In their book they also claim, according to reports, that insiders in the 1MDB investigation approached them with documents on Najib’s bank account (having allegedly been impressed by the WSJ’s reporting).
Yet, they acknowledge “Sarawak Report also received the documents”.
In case that leaves readers a bit confused, here is the full story of what transpired, as provided in the previously published book “The Sarawak Report“:
From Chapter 23 – Bombshell Story:
Soon after I got back from Geneva Din had told me that the proof for the story he had mentioned that Najib had accepted a payment of $680 million into his bank account, from a bank owned by Aabar, would be in his possession shortly. “There are bank transfer statements and charts that show the task force investigators have established that the accounts belonged to Najib,” he told me “It is yours to run.”
“I think I should bring in a bigger player to join with me. We cannot afford to let a story as big as this go out on a small platform like mine,” I responded “especially the way they are attacking me. This should be an international story.” “OK, up to you,” he said.
“There are a number of possibilities, but I can tell you now the documents on their own will simply not be enough if I am going to get third party journalists to convince their news editors and lawyers to run the story. They will demand corroboration.”
Din wasn’t sure he could help. His sources (whose identity I knew) wouldn’t want to come into the open. “Forget the big paper then. You run it. All the investigators in Malaysia know this information now. Najib cannot deny. We just need it out there.”
“This is huge. It is international dynamite. It needs a major platform,” I insisted. “Otherwise they will say it is just more lies from me. Isn’t one of our sources in the UK at present?”
“Yes. But, they will not speak to you.”
“All they need to do is meet a representative of the paper to assure them that the documents I will show them are genuine. The journalists can research the source and verify their reliability. Then they will have a solid story.”
Din saw my point. He said he would try.
The following morning, a Sunday, I was chatting with Kay Tat, who had also come to London on a visit, in a breakfast bar, when I took the call from Din. “They will do it. We can arrange a meeting on Tuesday, then you come on to me and get the documents, which I will have.”
It was a massive breakthrough and a huge story within my grasp. I wondered whether to broach the story with the Wall Street Journal.
Their Far East desk, especially their Hong Kong correspondent Tom Wright, had shown more interest in the 1MDB story than other papers, keeping in regular touch with me and reporting on the questions facing the fund. It was a big hitting US paper that Najib Razak could not ignore or convincingly dismiss.
On the other hand they had completely avoided the story around PetroSaudi and had declined to cover Xavier’s arrest, leaving me to fight that battle on my own. This despite the fact I had given Wright the top hundred files from Xavier’s data weeks ago and had even put him in touch with contacts like Din himself to try to encourage further coverage. It hadn’t worked. Wright told me he was looking for a new angle on 1MDB since in his mind PetroSaudi was ‘already done’. That wasn’t much use to Xavier.
After a little pondering, I decided the merits outweighed the negatives and emailed Wright from the breakfast bar under the subject heading “1MDB/ Najib”: “…I have some entirely new information that I cannot bring out on my own. It is inflammatory material, but I can bring impeccable sourcing, which might best be done through one of your colleagues in London start of the week. Call me if you are interested.”
Within minutes Wright was on the line. I gave him the lowdown on the $680 million payment and the name of the person who could verify the information to whom I could introduce one of his London colleagues, if he wanted, in two days’ time. Wright was immediately interested. He said would pass it by his editor and in a short while he was back with an affirmative.
So it was that on a sunny Tuesday morning I picked up one of the Wall Street Journal’s London-based correspondents on a street corner in my car. Simon Clarke turned out to be an enthusiastic journalist with an active interest in many of the issues I was writing about and we soon had a rapport going. He even knew about my blog, owing to a palm oil story he had been investigating. We didn’t have to go far to reach the location in Central London where we had arranged to meet the source.
We parked round the corner from the agreed meeting point. “Aren’t you coming in too?” Simon asked, when I indicated I would wait at a nearby coffee shop. “No. There may be other Malaysians about, Special Branch in particular. I would be recognised and upset the source by my presence.”
I had discussed with Simon how he would recognise, approach and get satisfactory corroboration from the source. “You have to ask them if they can answer for the documents you are about to be shown [by Din]. If they say yes, then you know the material I am about to show you can be trusted”.
I had only just settled with my laptop barely open before Simon was back. Far too soon, I anxiously thought, as flushed in his suit in the summer heat, he burst through the door and made a beeline towards me in my corner at the back. Had everything gone wrong?
“Blimey. It’s like living in a movie, is your life like this all the time?” he challenged me as he came up.
“Did it work?”
“Absolutely. Like clockwork. Actually, we had quite a talk.”
“They said if they or any of their family get killed I should let it be known that all the relevant information is already with people in a safe place away from Malaysia and there are instructions to publish everything! That is what they told me. It was surreal!”
“Put yourself in their shoes,” I replied. “Did they verify the documents you are about to be shown?”
“Absolutely,” he confirmed.
So, with stage one sorted, we got back into my little car, looking over our shoulders as we did, and headed out of London. As we drove, I filled Simon in on the background to the story. He made a good listener. Eventually we reached the entrance of a huge former stately home, which was where the person who had been entrusted with the documents had left them for Din. As we were waved past the guarded gatehouse I had to admit to myself that, yes, it did feel a bit like being in a movie.
The house, owned by a contact of Din, was set in cedared lawns. We were shown to an enormous, silent boardroom to wait. Not for long. Din soon appeared clutching a sheaf of papers and we sat down to consider what could only be described as hugely explosive documents from the Malaysian Joint Task Force investigations into 1MDB.
It had taken immense determination and courage to release this material, driven by a desire to do what was right in the face of evident moves to clamp down on the investigations by the prime minister, who had clearly decided matters had gone far enough. On no condition should the actual documents be published, we were told, as it would jeopardise the source. However, we could quote all the details.
It was a busy place. Staff came in to offer us coffee and telephones rang as Simon and I perused the material that laid bare the corruption of Malaysia’s man in charge. The Joint Task Force reports were revelatory, but probably the most damning papers of all were the copies of the bank transfer notes, because these could be confirmed through the US dollar clearing system. Both the major transfers of March 2013, that Din had told me about on the telephone, had gone from Falcon via Standard Chartered, to be cleared by Wells Fargo, New York, into an AmBank personal account of Najib in KL.
If these documents were false it would be easy for Najib to call on the US authorities to debunk them as forgeries. On the other hand, if he made no such call, it would constitute an admission of their authenticity. The sheaf of papers also included the Singapore reports relating to Jho’s BSI accounts which I had already written about, and, almost tangentially, some extraordinary documents relating to Rosmah Mansor: a bank account that was receiving bags of cash (literally) on a regular basis, brought in by one of her aides – the account had received RM2 million ($531,000) in cash payments over just the previous two months.
Driving out of the Brideshead-like mansion (photocopies in hand), we headed back to town. It all felt rather surreal. I was in a hurry, because I was running late for my second son’s school leaving ceremony. I dropped Simon at the station and rushed home to scrub up before dashing to join my family……..
………….. The shocking information provoked unease even high up in the ranks of Najib’s own party. His two most senior Cabinet members, Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin and Vice President Shafie Apdal, publicly urged the PM “to take legal action against WSJ, if the report is untrue” – advice that must have felt less than friendly to the PM given the impossibility of his doing so. Such sentiments spread and were echoed by, for example, a spokesman from the BN constituent Chinese party MCA, whose youth wing issued a demand, “now that the WSJ article has gone viral”, for 1MDB to “clear the air” by providing details of all its deals and transactions.
But there was another chorus developing, led by BN, which was that the Wall Street Journal must now also show some ‘proof’. The paper said it had seen documents relating to the transfers of $681 million into Najib’s account – and I had put very detailed information on Sarawak Report – but the taunt became that we needed to show the actual documents to be believed. This was, of course, a false demand; moreover, both the Wall Street Journal and I had pledged not to publish the actual documents to protect the source.
Still in Spain, I picked up a call from Din. Wright had contacted him to say they should aim to talk directly – now he could be in touch with the ‘big boys’ there was apparently no need to keep me in the loop. “Well,” I asked, “are you going to cut me out from now on then?”
“No, I deal with people whom I have learnt to trust,” he replied.
A day later he was back on the line. “They say the pressure is immense for them to prove their information and they want to publish the documents – they want me to get them the green light,” he told me.
“We can’t. We promised not. It will compromise our source. They can do what I did and lay out all the information, just not in the form of the actual documents, which are too sensitive.”
Later he was back again. “They are being very persistent. I wonder if I should suggest they can show the bank transfer documents?”
Meanwhile, no one from the Wall Street JournaI had contacted me about this at all. I felt betrayed that they were deliberately cutting me, their key intermediary on the story, out completely. I had also noted that a promised credit for Sarawak Report had been dropped from their copy!
“I think you are right,” I replied. “Tell them they can publish those. But they must not publish other documents that might help identify our sources.” Din agreed and said so to the Wall Street Journal. However, the next day he rang to warn me that the paper had uploaded all the documents, including highly sensitive internal Task Force material. It was a horrifying breach of promise, done without a single attempt to consult me, the person who had given them the story and introduced them to one of my most valuable sources. By that night the Asia desk boss of the Wall Street Journal was strutting through the TV studios explaining his policy on the documents and standing up for his brave investigative journalists, all heroes of the hour, etc.
Inevitably, arrests and interrogations followed as a witch-hunt got underway to find the source of the leak. Needless to say the source broke off relations. I was devastated at the loss of such a valuable contact, but far more for having put them at such risk.
I got back to London and raged at Simon Clarke. It wasn’t his fault, but he needed to pass on the message to his colleagues that they had broken the cardinal rule by exposing the source (and treated me abominably in the process): “The source has erupted with Din and is no longer speaking to him or me. We have materially endangered someone who believes themselves to be in fear of their life and broken a fundamental promise. No one called me during any of this – the only reason I knew each and every step your colleagues made behind my back was because they were arrogant enough to think someone I have worked with for a long time would trust them over me. Now you have burnt a top source on the 1MDB scandal and worse you have endangered their very position and their life. Arrests are being made as we speak on this very bloody leak and you have published all the information they need to throw at those people.”
I also took him to task over another story, about Sarawak, based on my tip-offs about plantation abuse of migrants in the state, without once crediting Sarawak Report. “Clare, you don’t own the Malaysia story!” Simon threw back.
Later in the year, the Wall Street Journal team were finalists for the Pulitzer Prize and won the Asian Journalism Award for that very story about Najib’s accounts. Although over the ensuing months they continued to pick up on just about every story I broke on 1MDB, they never once mentioned the existence of Sarawak Report in their copious coverage. On the upside, at least a major paper was now invested in covering this huge scandal, which could only be for the good and it was a huge bonus in pushing investigations forward and gaining world attention.”