Report: Najib enlisted services of Trump-linked PR firms to boost image

Datuk Seri Najib Razak is pictured leaving the Putrajaya High Court March 21, 2019. — Picture by Miera Zulyana
Datuk Seri Najib Razak is pictured leaving the Putrajaya High Court March 21, 2019. — Picture by Miera Zulyana

KUALA LUMPUR, March 21 — Former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak purportedly enlisted the services of US firms linked to the Trump administration last year to boost his image amid the ongoing 1MDB scandal, according to a report by a Washington DC outfit.

According to the Centre for Responsive Politics (CRP), the firms Najib had enlisted included one run by former US attorney general John Ashcroft and another newer firm known for its close ties to the Trump administration.

“Razak’s foreign agent on record at the firm is Mark Corallo, the former spokesperson for President Trump’s private legal team in the Russia investigation.

“Although Ashcroft Law Firm submitted FARA disclosures detailing activities for the former Malaysian prime minister through the six-month period spanning the second half of 2018, the firm has yet to report receiving any funding, citing an ‘interruption in work and any payment requirements’,” CRP said in a report on its website.

Under the US Foreign Agents Registration Act (Fara), agents hired by foreign politicians need to register and make periodic disclosures of the activities, including money received from services.

In the report, CRP also said that another firm promoting Najib’s interests, the 45 Group, is reportedly being paid a six-figure sum by another firm that is registered in the British Virgin Islands but lists an address in Malaysia.

The 45 Group, started by former Trump campaign aide Healy Baumgardner-Nardone, was hired to help Malaysia with “arranging meetings between US government officials and Malaysian officials and advocating on strengthening relations between the US and the Republic of Malaysia.”

Besides Najib, CRP also said that fugitive Low Taek Jho had also hired many firms in a bid to repair his image in light of his role in the 1MDB scandal, and that he has spent more than US$1.38 million (RM5.6 million) in campaigns so far.

“Helmed by two high-powered law firms, Kobre and Kim and Schillings International, the cost of Low’s legal defence and influence operation may be much higher factoring in legal fees exempt from FARA reporting requirements.

“The operation epitomises a new breed of litigation communications operatives who have played a behind-the-scenes role in helping burnish the image of wealthy individuals and corporations entangled in international legal battles — for a price,” CRP said, adding that it is currently unknown who is bankrolling the operation.

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