KUCHING, July 16 — In a stunning disclosure, former journalist Lester Melanyi admitted today that he had been paid to expose Sarawak Report (SR) and its founder as frauds who forged documents on the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) scandal although he maintained that the allegations were true.
Lester had emerged in a video recording recently accusing the London-based website and its British chief, Clare Rewcastle Brown, of conspiring with Malaysia’s opposition lawmakers to publish forged documents on 1MDB.
The former editor of Sarawak Tribune said he was aware of the accusations lobbed against him since his story and the video spread on the Internet.
“Yes, some of the comments are true. I am not ashamed to say that I have received money from certain people,” Lester told Malay Mail Online in an exclusive interview here.
He declined to reveal the amount he had received and its source.
Lester however stuck to his earlier claim that Rewcastle Brown and SR had both falsified their stories on the 1MDB controversy.
He confirmed too that the email revealed by Barisan Nasional strategic communications director Datuk Abdul Rahman Dahlan was correspondence from Rewcastle Brown.
In the email dated March 1, 2015, the SR founder purportedly wrote: “Thanks! Yes it was quite a job! … Sitting up night after night cleverly forging all those documents!!!!”
However, Lester was unable to produce a copy of the email when asked by Malay Mail Online, saying he had difficulties trying to access his email account since this morning.
“I think someone has blocked or hacked my email,” he said.
Lester clarified that he is not a former editor with SR as some news outlets have reported but was the Sarawak representative for the website and its sister company, Radio Free Sarawak, both of which he said were supervised by Rewcastle Brown.
“I started working with Sarawak Report as well as for Radio Free Sarawak for one year and three months. I did not have any official letter to appoint me as the representative, but it was based on a mutual understanding.
“I stopped working for Sarawak Report last year because I felt that Sarawak Report had deviated from its original aim, from highlighting issues on environment to now politics,” he said.
He also said that in the course of working for SR, he had contributed to a few stories on Sarawak, particularly on the former chief minister Tun Abdul Taib Mahmud who is now the state governor.
“I also went to Registrar of Companies to get copies of certificates of registration of companies,” he said.
Lester said he decided to end his ties with SR after Rewcastle Brown approached him for help on a 1MDB story.
“Sometime in January this year, Clare called and told me of a mission against Najib… she said it was about some financial scandal involving 1MDB and Najib and to help Anwar in his court case,” he said, the last referring to former Opposition Leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim who is now serving time in jail after being convicted for sodomy in February. SR, together with US-based daily Wall Street Journal had directly linked cash transfers from state-owned 1MDB to personal bank accounts allegedly owned by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak earlier this month.
“My job was to provide information from this side. She said she needed a lot of information, but she told me certain information would be created or manufactured,” Lester said, adding that Rewcastle Brown had explained that it involved making sure the information would “tally with the story on 1MDB and Najib”.
He also disclosed that he had read SR’s 1MDB story before it was eventually published on July 2 under the headline “Sensational findings! – Prime Minister Najib Razak’s Personal Accounts Linked To 1MDB money Trail”.
He said he was asked to verify certain information or to make alterations where necessary before the story was published on SR’s website.
“I made no changes or alteration to the story. My comment was ‘that is it’. I was shocked to read the story, which I felt was unbelievable,” he said.
“I asked her, was this a scam? She replied, it was an 'honest scam',” he said.
However, the 49-year-old said he wanted no part of that.
“Honest scam or not, I did not give her the information she asked me to gather because I did not want to be part of it and I pity that man,” he said, referring to Najib.
“Moreover, I do not like Anwar so why should I help Clare in what she called honest scam?” he asked.
Lester said the whole story on 1MDB scandal was “bullshit” and “not true all”.
“It was a story meant to save someone in his court case,” he said, referring to Anwar.
Lester said he had tried to alert some Barisan Nasional politicians to SR’s attempt to tar their leader, including Bintulu MP and Sarawak Progressive Democratic Party (SPDP) president Datuk Seri Tiong King Sing in February and BN secretary-general Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor two or three months later.
“Tiong, I think because of his English language problem, took no action. As for Tengku Adnan, I think he did not believe me,” he said.
However, he related that he started receiving calls from Kuala Lumpur last month asking him to recount what he had told Tengku Adnan.
He said he was also asked to go to Kuala Lumpur four times and was “treated more like a VVIP, escorted by four men everywhere I went” as those who had shown interest in his story tried to get to the bottom of things.
“This guy came to see me in Kuching twice and I gave him a copy of the email which was sent by Clare to me,” Lester said, naming a man who identified himself as Ramesh Rao Krishnan Naidu, introduced to him by another former Sarawak Tribune editor, Hasnah Abdul Rahman.
“Ramesh said he’s a special officer to Najib and said Najib sent him to see me,” Lester recounted of his first time meeting the person he had been speaking to on the phone face to face in June.
However, sources from the Prime Minister’s Office confirmed with Malay Mail Online when contacted today that there is no special officer by the name of Ramesh Rao Krishnan Naidu.
Lester said he also did not believe that the equivalent of RM2.6 billion was channelled into Najib’s personal bank account, as alleged by SR and US-based Wall Street Journal on cash outflows from 1MDB.
“It is very stupid of him to do that,” he said.
A special task force is currently investigating claims reported in US business paper the Wall Street Journal that US$700 million (RM2.6 billion) from state-owned 1MDB was channelled to Najib ‘s personal bank accounts.