One might, in reading what I’ve shared so far, assume that the ex-pat community in Malaysia in the 1980s, commercial and intelligence service, were all Anwar obsessives; or at least, that those of us who contributed to the “I” Files were. This is hardly so. I, for example, was busy falling in love with my Malaysian secretary, working up the courage to ask her out, marrying her, and then beginning a family with her. In between, I worked hundreds of matters, the overwhelming majority of which had nothing or little to do with Anwar, and almost all of which revolved around ending the Soviets’ murderous regime once and for all.
Aside from Anwar’s continued ideological war on the Chinese and Christians – he had banned the singing of Christmas carols at shopping malls and public places, and rearranged the school holidays so Christmas did not fall during the long vacation period – his day-to-day doings did not significantly register for most of us.
Most of us had similar stories. The thing about Anwar Ibrahim, you must see, is that he was very different from almost everyone but Mahathir, in that he rapidly began to occupy the centre stage, and not long after he ascended to the post of Education Minister, one could not run any sort of intelligence operation in KL without running into him, his subordinates, his influence, or his financial connections.
We of course from time to time made him our focus, but usually, he simply appeared again and again on our radar. It was especially in his financial connections that he kept intruding into our daily lives, because as one soon discovered, Anwar had his fingers everywhere, directly or indirectly. There were already the Saudi ties, of course, and the House of Saud is composed of terribly shrewd investors; they choose their assets carefully, and they always take the long position.
But one did not then ascend the Umno ranks without money, and more than a few ringgits at that. Whatever his other faults, Anwar has always been a keen student of power, and he understood early the need to develop not only his own funding, but an array of financial backers who would help him rise in the ranks.
His financial empire – which has held him in good stead for decades, through good times and bad – began with the Saudis, but continued with his marriage. It continues to this day, and is how he is able to control his party’s internal elections, and how he always seems to end up in the very best hotels when he travels.
It is here that I must beg your indulgence, dear reader. To understand Anwar’s financial empire – how he built it and how he maintains it – will require that we step outside of the chronological narrative I have largely favoured to date. Nevertheless, it is a story worth telling, especially in light of Anwar’s decisions in the 1990s and after his release from prison to style himself one of the common men of Malaysia – at least in his dealings with ordinary Malaysians and Western reporters.
My understanding of the matter began as I was hunting the Communists’’ last vestiges, not long before the coup that overthrew Gorbachev and ended with the complete dissolution of the Soviet Union.