UK, 11 February, 2023: UK journalist Clare Rewcastle Brown, 64, has been accused by Malaysia of seeking “political revenge” following her reporting on the multibillion-dollar 1MDB scandal. She is currently appealing a surprise conviction for criminal defamation of a Malaysian royal. The local magistrates’ court sentenced her to two years in prison in a single-day hearing.

The 1MDB scandal involved the theft of $4.5 billion (£3.9 billion) from the Malaysian sovereign fund founded by former Prime Minister Najib Razak, making it one of the world’s largest kleptocracy cases. The scandal implicated Hollywood celebrities, led to the downfall of Goldman Sachs bankers, and resulted in the first criminal charges against the prestigious Wall Street firm. While Najib was jailed in 2022, he still faces additional charges and denies any wrongdoing.

Clare Rewcastle Brown believes she is being targeted for her work on the 1MDB scandal. She contends that the recent conviction is politically motivated and an act of revenge for her public interest journalism. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has condemned the decision, describing it as “outrageous” and a threat to press freedom in Malaysia.

The case revolves around Ms. Rewcastle Brown’s book, “The Sarawak Report – The Inside Story of the 1MDB Expose,” where she was accused of criminally defaming Malaysia’s former Queen Nur Zahirah. Ms. Rewcastle Brown claims she was not notified in advance and was not given the opportunity to defend herself in court. Her legal team has requested a higher court to set aside the ruling on violations of the criminal procedure code.

The outgoing 13th king of Malaysia, Tuanku Mizan Zainal Abidin, and Queen Nur Zahirah are central figures in the defamation cases. The Sultanah has filed two cases against Ms. Rewcastle Brown, alleging she insinuated involvement in corrupt practices linked to 1MDB. The first civil case was initially dismissed but overturned on appeal, while the second case in the local magistrates’ court resulted in a conviction.

Despite acknowledging a misidentification error in the book, which was corrected in 2018 along with an apology, Ms. Rewcastle Brown’s legal team argues that it does not constitute defamation or criminal libel.

Najib Razak, the central figure in the 1MDB scandal, recently had his 12-year prison sentence halved by Malaysia’s pardons board. Some speculate a link between Najib’s reduced sentence and Ms. Rewcastle Brown’s defamation conviction.

The journalist fears that the court ruling may impact her ability to travel freely. Malaysian law enforcement officials have previously sought Interpol Red Notices for her arrest, related to her 1MDB reporting. Ms. Rewcastle Brown seeks support from the UK government and non-governmental organizations such as the CPJ and Index on Censorship.

Born in Sarawak, Ms. Rewcastle Brown, along with her legal team, hopes to challenge the court’s decision and continue her advocacy for journalists’ rights to bring information in the public interest to a wider audience.