I have mentioned before that by the time of Anwar’s bizarre escapade in “escaping” to the Turkish Embassy in 2008, my family and I had become significantly more mobile. My business concerns had replaced my government service, and I had expanded into four continents, and my wife, though always in love with her home, wanted to bring the children on travel as they grew.
So it was that by the time the investigation into Anwar’s financial dealings as Deputy Prime Minister were complete, and the teams had turned to the rearrangement of those finances in the wake of his downfall, we had already secured a flat in Chelsea and a nice little house in Poughkeepsie for the transactions and travel that would occupy much of the next many years. The rise of mobiles, the internet, and most especially poor Research In Motion, meant that I could, and did, run my Asia portfolio from anywhere.
I mention this to provide context for what will be a more piecemeal narrative in this chapter than is my usual custom. Whilst I was quite busy with family and business, I found myself providentially close to a number of events on the periphery, even as my colleagues and subordinates back in Malaysia slowly added to our treasure-trove of information.
Thus it was that 2000 through 2004 were much quieter times than they had been – unless one knew where to look.
American law on its NGOs requires that they not be mere stalking-horses for their owners and principals. One cannot set up, for example, ‘The Institute for Funding Anwar Ibrahim’s Children’s Educations and His Own Political Ambitions’. Except that this is precisely what happened with the International Institute of Islamic Thought.
Oh, IIIT indisputably maintained its solemn mission of attempting to poison Muslims and non- Muslims with Wahhabi doctrine under the guise of interfaith harmony. Yet when the board unceremoniously elected to fund Nurul Izzah Anwar’s education – an act that should have immediately brought down the wrath of the Internal Revenue Service and federal and state authorities – nothing happened other than a polite letter-exchange between the IRS and the IIIT.
And when IIIT funded public relations firms – Janus Merritt Strategies, Edelman, a host of others – to advance the Free Anwar campaign in the States, even less was said, despite the firms’ duly identifying the IIIT and its principals as their funders.
This was not due to the insidious cabal of neo-conservatives who would later come to dominate Washington’s foreign policy – they will be important in the next chapter – but rather to the bureaucrats who had come to dominate their respective agencies, who had been wined, dined, traveled, and feted by Anwar’s network of organisations and allies through the years. Without action by the everyday civil servants, the most impassioned desires of the elected leadership were nothing.
One place Anwar had been singularly ineffective in mobilising support was the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which is rather like America’s national police force. So it was that in the wake of the September 11 attacks, the FBI intensified its prolonged investigation into the IIIT, ultimately culminating in a 2003 raid and the seizure of papers demonstrating links to global terrorist organisations.
This amusing episode came as I endured a week of unpleasant meetings with some fellows who had flown out from Los Angeles to discuss business and who, having been born too late and too American, did not understand the value of a good drink whilst discussing business. I was therefore amused to watch Anwar’s entire American operation, formal and informal, swing into operation to cover this unexpected calamity.
Although the IIIT raid had at its centre the story of several figures closely allied with international terror networks, and though it was happening in the Washington Post’s neighbourhood, there was nothing requiring the Post – long one of Anwar’s greatest American institutional admirers – to discuss Anwar; and so it did not. The other major dailies followed suit, and the matter never made the television news. The United States Attorney – essentially a sub- Attorney General – charged with prosecuting the case suddenly found that resources and support for the case had disappeared.
Simultaneously, the lobbying effort for which IIIT had paid renewed its intensity as the Administration and Congress were treated to the somewhat bizarre assertion that Malaysia’s government had tricked them into investigating Anwar Ibrahim. Years of muddying Mahathir’s already-tarnished name paid off, and the investigation came under intense fire internally.
Naturally, the entire affair died a quiet death. Charges were dropped and resources directed elsewhere. I of course acquired copies of the relevant search warrant and other documents – I rather suspect the relevant agents are still fuming over being so completely blocked.
The event is not only remarkable for what it said about Anwar’s influence in the American media and sub-Cabinet levels of American government, but also for the chain of events it inaugurated – but that is getting ahead of myself.
Intelligence services have, as a rule, been singularly unimpressed with Anwar’s charades over time. In this, they differed from the diplomatic corps of their respective countries, who are generally composed of easily-impressed, but influential or wealthy morons; and career civil servants whose dislike of their own nations is only exceeded by their dislike of the influential or wealthy morons.
So it was that as Anwar’s imprisonment continued and his cronies and networks separately activated their contacts in embassies and foreign services across the world, one could see a near-constant barrage of aggrieved statements about Anwar’s status, his perceived slights, his party’s fortunes, and so on, from appointed ministers through world leaders.
If one knew with whom to speak, one could also listen to intelligence services mocking them.
The CIA and MI-6 have outsized reputations, drawn from by-gone days of stealth in the honing atmosphere of the Cold War; but sadly, few modern intelligence services are quite so good as they, especially in dealing with human assets rather than electronic data. When asked their thoughts on Anwar’s imprisonment, they responded with the data: he was largely healthy, accorded adequate rest, nutrition, and exercise; and functionally running his political factions in-country and economic empire outside of it despite his confinement.
Australian intelligence, an under-appreciated service, found signal and human traffic showing increased Saudi pressure on Malaysian leaders as the momentum the Opposition had gained from Anwar’s imprisonment stalled in the usual round of bumbling by their leaders. Some data even suggested that the Saudis were organising large protests, under cover of which Anwar would be freed; this plan was only allegedly abandoned when Malaysian police accidentally uncovered it.
All of this data was duly sent up the chain, including the information that PAS had called for volunteers to fight with the Taliban against NATO – and that Anwar had backed their call – to no effect. Tony Blair and John Howard were preoccupied with other matters, and Paul Wolfowitz personally intercepted the salient communiques before they reached George Bush’s desk.
We shall return to Wolfowitz presently, but I include him to make a larger point: Anwar’s network transcended ideology. Whatever else may be said of Paul Wolfowitz, he is a man who takes the well-being of his country quite seriously. That he was willing to put this aside for a man convicted of public corruption, which conviction was upheld on appeal – I do not believe he cared about the sodomy – is a telling statement indeed.
The several intelligence agencies, thwarted, returned to data gathering … and making that data available to any who would listen. One of their principal targets was Petronas.
Petronas was a lifeline for Anwar during those days, not merely financially – though of course Anwar had the better part of a billion dollars to recover – but also through the network of connections to which Anwar’s aides and cronies had access that Petronas provided. It was through that network that IIIT’s resources were rapidly moved out of the United States, to Riyadh, Jeddah, and Istanbul as the FBI closed in. It was through that network that publications and seminars on Anwar’s imprisonment were held.
Without Petronas and its connections, the Myth of Anwar in the West would have slowly faded to a memory.
Those of us who realised how Petronas was leveraging its spot crude prices were able to make a tidy sum on secondary derivatives of its pricing, but we always wondered when Mahathir would put an end to it.
The answer was ‘never’. Mahathir was apparently oblivious to the spot-price disparity Petronas was running as well as the informal assistance Hassan Merican provided Anwar. From what we could gather, Abdullah Badawi was similarly unaware of the entire operation until some time not long before the twelfth general elections – and by then, the damage was done, and Badawi’s time remaining was measurable.
It thus fell on Najib Razak, after he had ascended to Prime Minister, to excise the tumour from Petronas – a move that was decried by the Opposition, who knew full well why it had been done, and led to serious consternation in those sectors of the business community who had no inside information into Petronas and its relationship with Anwar. Najib, ever scrupulous, said nothing.
However, in the long period between Anwar’s imprisonment and Najib’s ascension, Petronas and its network were a vital link in the chain of Anwar’s triumphant return – a chain that ran all the way to Putrajaya.
Anwar had not been quiet whilst in prison; far from it. Aside from his regular messages to his political faithful – abroad and at home – he spent a great deal of time not only working with Malaysia’s Opposition, but its Government as well.
So it was that by the time his appeal of his sodomy conviction was ripe, Mahathir had stepped down and allowed Badawi to take his place, seeing in Badawi a caretaker who would serve for an election or two and then gracefully make way for Najib and the other, younger men Mahathir had slated for leadership.
The battle that began almost immediately between Mahathir and Badawi is best left for another time, but it is with this backdrop that one must understand how Anwar almost managed an early release, and yet bungled the whole thing.
Through surrogates inside the Badawi Government, Anwar reached out to Badawi, with whom he had maintained a fairly close relationship while both were in Mahathir’s orbit, about a return to Umno. Eager to show his distance from Mahathir at home and abroad, Badawi was initially receptive to the possibility.
Talks continued for some time … until they reached the stage at which Anwar demanded a return to his position as Deputy Prime Minister. Badawi was still in Mahathir’s shadow, and he could not contemplate such a move. The so-called Fourth-Floor Boys, among Badawi’s closest advisors, also made sure Badawi did not continue talks with Anwar.
The talks died down … but the channel remained open.
It is against the backdrop of these events that the year 2004 plays out, and the dramatic events – in the public eye and outside of it – that year experienced are the subject of the next chapter.