Indonesian magazine told to refer to embassy before publishing articles on PM’s wealth

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(May 8): An Indonesian magazine that published an article on Datuk Seri Najib Razak and his wife’s “luxurious lifestyle” two weeks ago has been told to refer to the Malaysian embassy before publishing such pieces, said a journalist with the publication.

Tempo journalist Natalia Santi said Malaysia’s ambassador to Indonesia, Datuk Zahrain Mohamed Hashim, told her this during a two-hour meeting on Wednesday over its article “Hidup Mewah Sang Perdana Menteri” (the luxurious life of the prime minister).

“He said that in future, if Tempo wants to publish an article based on hearsay, he asks us to clarify with him first,” Natalia told The Malaysian Insider when contacted.

“He said, ‘why you didn’t make (seek) clarification, that (article) is all (based on) hearsay’. He also mentioned that the family of Najib came from a rich family, that the grandfather is the richest family in Malaysia and that Najib has been in politics for a long time, and it’s not difficult for him to buy bags and expensive watches.”

The article in Tempo discussed at length the prime minister and Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor’s reported purchases, including her range of expensive Birkin handbags and jewellery.

Tempo also featured the Malaysian Crime Watch Task Force's (MyWatch) recent photographs of what it claimed to be the couple's luxury watches, with price tags ranging from RM79,200, to RM486,000.

It drew comparisons between the watches and Najib's salary of about RM350,000 per year.

It brought up Rosmah's heavily maligned remarks on her RM1,200 hairstyle, which led critics to accuse her of being out of touch with ordinary citizens struggling to make ends meet.

Tempo also narrowed in on Najib's stepson, Riza Aziz, who bought an apartment in New York worth RM110 million in 2012 and a house in Beverly Hills, California, worth US$17.5 million (RM64 million) in cash, as reported by the New York Times.

“He (Zahrain) said the article is kind of hearsay because we picked it up from other sources, and it is not based on fact. He wasn’t angry. He just wants to maintain a good relationship with the media,” said Natalia.

“His request (for Tempo to seek clarification first) is not new to me – I have been asked the same thing by many other ambassadors,” she said, adding that it was understandable and common in journalism.

She said that Zahrain told her that the media in Malaysia enjoyed freedom of expression and could criticise the government freely.

“He said this just to clarify information,” she added.

Natalia also praised Zahrain’s conduct in the meeting and said that he was a very good ambassador compared with his predecessors, whom she said were difficult to reach.

“He is very open, we can easily contact him. Sometimes we SMS him, and he calls us back, very quickly. This has never happened before with Malaysia’s past ambassadors.”

When contacted, Tempo Magazine editor-in-chief Arif Zulkifli said that they would adhere to Zahrain’s request to seek clarification with the embassy before publishing articles on Malaysia.

However, he declined to comment further as he did not attend the meeting, saying that he would speak to Natalia on the issue first.

“I was not at the meeting. Yes, we will follow (what he says), but I have to talk to Natalia first, because I don’t have any report from Natalia yet,” Arif told The Malaysian Insider.

Rosmah and Najib's luxurious ways have been highlighted in both local and international news in recent months, and was featured in a February article in the New York Times on the wealth of businessman Low Taek Jho.

The paper, furnishing invoices and other documents as proof of jewellery purchases for Rosmah, had asked the Prime Minister's Office for a response and received one that said: “Neither any money spent on travel, nor any jewellery purchases, nor the alleged contents of any safes are unusual for a person of the prime minister’s position, responsibilities and legacy family assets.”

This led to speculation about Najib and his family's wealth, and triggered a letter signed by Najib's four brothers – Datuk Johari, Datuk Nizam, Datuk Nazim, and Datuk Seri Nazir – taking issue with those who speculated about the inheritance left by their father, Malaysia's second prime minister Tun Abdul Razak Hussein.

The four Razak brothers said their father was known for his integrity and frugality, and denounced "anyone who taints his memory".

"We are extremely concerned that some recent news articles and postings have given rise to speculation as to the nature and extent of the inheritance that our late father, Tun Abdul Razak, had left behind.

"We wish to put on record that Tun Abdul Razak was a highly principled man, well-known to all who knew him for his frugality and utmost integrity and any statement or inference to the contrary would be totally false and misleading to his memory and to his service and sacrifices for the nation," said the statement issued on February 24.

The Razak brothers added that the "whole family" was united on this issue. – The Malaysian Insider