Banned Thai opposition party accuses junta of helping in 1MDB cover-up

Pro-democracy supporters write messages opposing military rule a day after the Constitutional Court ruled to dissolve the progressive opposition Future Forward Party. (AFP)
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Updated 23 February 2020

Banned Thai opposition party accuses junta of helping in 1MDB cover-up

  • Future Forward Party, the third-largest party in parliament, was dissolved on Friday by Thailand’s Constitutional Court
  • ‘If we were in government, we would investigate’

BANGKOK: A banned Thai opposition party on Sunday accused the former military junta of helping cover up Malaysia’s multi-billion-dollar 1MDB scandal, urging Thais to demand the truth ahead of a censure debate against Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha.
The Future Forward Party, the third-largest party in parliament, was dissolved on Friday by Thailand’s Constitutional Court over a loan it took from its billionaire founder.
The dissolution was decried by democracy advocates as a way to weaken opposition to the government of Prayuth, who first came to power in a 2014 military coup and led a military junta until after elections last year that his pro-army party won.
Future Forward’s spokeswoman, Pannika Wanich, told reporters at a news conference on Sunday that the junta had worked with Malaysia’s former government to arrest a whistleblower in the 1MDB case in 2015 and had allowed financial criminals to operate in Thailand, risking the country’s international ties.
“The junta government yearned for international acceptance after the coup ... and formed a dark alliance with Malaysia,” Pannika said.
“The only person who can issue these orders is Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha,” Pannika said.
Pannika cited irregularities surrounding Thailand’s arrest and the subsequent confession of Xavier Justo, the Swiss national who was arrested in Thailand in 2015 the first whistleblower in the 1MDB affair.
The government also harbored Malaysian financier Low Taek Jho, known as Jho Low, allowing him to enter the country at least five times between October 2016 and May 2018, despite Low having an Interpol red notice from Singapore, she said.
Low has been charged in Malaysia and the United States over the alleged theft of $4.5 billion from 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), set up by former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak with the help of Low, to promote economic development.
At least six countries, including the United States, have launched money laundering, financial mismanagement and criminal probes into 1MDB dealings.
Low has denied any wrongdoing. His whereabouts are unknown.
Future Forward Party said it would have opened an investigation on corruption and money laundering related to the 1MDB case if it were in power.
“If we were in government, we would investigate. We want a government that is a responsible neighbor and acts with dignity,” Pannika said.
“Since we have been dissolved, we can’t, but the Thai public can demand the truth.”
A spokesman for the Malaysian prime minister’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.


Beating lockdown inertia: French city-dwellers keep fit on balconies

Updated 49 min 8 sec ago

Beating lockdown inertia: French city-dwellers keep fit on balconies

  • France has been under virtual lockdown since March 17
  • The outbreak has killed about 2,000 people in France and sickened 33,000 others, according to official numbers

NANTES, France: As dusk fell over Nantes in western France, dozens of residents of an apartment block came out onto their balconies for a half-hour fitness session to beat the inertia of life under lockdown while the coronavirus sweeps across the country.
Music pumped out as the group put itself through a routine of star jumps, squats and jogging on the spot. The workout caught on after Pierre Planchenaud began exercising alone. Before long, his neighbors wanted to join in.
“It meant everyone could relax after a day where you stay shut up indoors or in isolation,” said Planchenaud, who works in advertising. “It enables people to have a bit of freedom and take their minds off things.”
France has been under virtual lockdown since March 17 and on Friday Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said the unprecedented peacetime restrictions on public life would remain in place until at least April 15. The outbreak has killed about 2,000 people in France and sickened 33,000 others, according to official numbers.
Public gatherings are banned, schools and universities are closed and all non-essential businesses have shut down, with people allowed out of their homes only to buy groceries, carry out essential work, exercise or seek medical care.
Stress caused by fear of the disease is compounded by isolation, mental health experts say, and the French government has reported a marked increase in domestic violence during the lockdown.
“We started last night and we’re having a great time with the family. It’s cool,” said firefighter resident Guillaume Ricquier.
Planchenaud leads the workout from a central courtyard, with the makeshift class wrapping up just in time to join others nationwide clapping and cheering in support of the health care workers battling to save the lives of coronavirus sufferers.
“It brings a new energy,” said osteopath Laura Martinez. “We said last night it needs to keep going after the lockdown.”