Political crocs and Clare Rewcastle

By giving us the opinions of the uneducated, journalism keeps us in touch with the ignorance of the community. 

– Oscar Wilde, Irish poet and playwright

As an old timer, I often remind myself about some of the exciting stories encountered over my last 50 years as a journalist.

To think of it, I first covered the joint Malaysian Armed Forces-Thai army operations codenamed Daoyai Musnah (Operation Big Star) in the early 1970s in southern Thailand.

In that week-long operation involving thousands of troops, I even had a chance to join an armored vehicle patrol searching for remnants of Chin Peng’s terrorists in the booby-trapped forests.

From the far north, I was later sent to Negeri Sembilan where I fine-tuned my skills as a crime reporter – in one raid, I helped to detain a leading member of the Butterfly Gang when I tackled him while he was fleeing from the scene.

In my younger days when I was a brash and tough rugby player, it was no big deal and there was nothing I wouldn’t do for a bit of excitement.

One of my favourite stories was when I posed as a hippie as I ventured into a military police army camp in Port Dickson to buy ganja – a well-known commodity with the soldiers.

Together with my New Straits Times stringer Frankie de Cruz, we broke a front page story in the Malay Mail on this brazen act and almost got in trouble with the law.

While Frankie became a full-time crime reporter and award-winning journalist cum editor emeritus of the Malay Mail, I was sent to Sarawak to test the state’s unchartered waters.

Instead, beneath the calm waters of the Batang Lupar river lurked another story – that of a man-eating crocodile nicknamed Bujang Senang or The Jolly Bachelor.

After that I wrote a 1986 award-winning article about Swiss environmentalist Bruno Manser on his mission to stop deforestation in Sarawak.

During my 13-year association with Manser, he established the world-famous BMF or Bruno Manser Fund which later played a key role in exposing corruption in Malaysia.

In fact, it was fellow journalist from BBC Clare Rewcastle Brown whose association with BMF led to her being the whistle blower responsible for bringing down the Umno government.

I first met Clare, the sister-in-law of then British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, while covering an orangutan convention in Kuching in 2005.

Between 2005 and 2012, we kept in touch while she established Sarawak Report and connected with BMF. Within a few years, Clare and I had a good working relationship.

Just before April 7, 2009 during a Sarawak state by-election was held at Batang Ai constituency, Clare contacted me saying she had been “invited” to cover the event.

Interestingly, leader of the Opposition coalition Pakatan Rakyat (PR), former deputy prime minister Datuk Anwar Ibrahim was also present.

It was at this by-election that Clare met Anwar and it appeared they had a special understanding on his approach and steps to take in order to topple the government and eventually rule Malaysia.

As Clare must have imagined, if Anwar became prime minister, he would not only stop logging in Sarawak but also corruption in Malaysia.

She was well aware that Anwar had an axe to grind with his former Umno friends who abandoned him when he was jailed on the flimsy charge of sodomy.

At the same time, Clare and Radio Sarawak’s Peter John Jaban started a London-based radio broadcast project now known as Radio Free Sarawak (RFS).

And with the help of BMF she started her second project called ‘Sarawak Report’.

A month after the Batang Ai by-election in 2009, Clare returned to Sarawak – this time it was to film deforestation and the sad story of a Penan blockade in Miri.

Before she left, a local paper frontpaged a story about foreigners being involved in a blockade which alleged that Clare had masterminded and coordinated the blockade.

Before she left for the UK, she was stopped by several Special Branch officers and interrogated. She called me and I put her onto a senior politician who sorted out her problems with the police.

Launching her own investigations after that, she learnt that there was widespread corruption from the highest level and below.

In 2015, the Malaysian police issued a warrant for her arrest after Sarawak Report alleged that USD700mil was transferred to the personal bank accounts of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak in Kuala Lumpur after the general elections in 2013.

Together with the Wall Street Journal, her exposé reported the “inside story” about Malaysian government investment fund, 1Malaysia Development Berhad set up in 2009.

From the last I heard, Clare has met with current Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and discussed some issues.

Currently, she is lying low now for obvious reasons.

But I bet it won’t be for long because her friend Anwar is waiting on the wings of his political ascendancy.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the New Sarawak Tribune.