Embassy Row: Malaysian Controversy

By James Morrison (From The Washington Times of December 11, 2008)

Malaysian political insiders are aghast over reports that a former ambassador to the United States is lobbying to regain his old position in Washington and hoping to win diplomatic approval quietly from the outgoing Bush administration to avoid scrutiny from the Obama White House.
Abdul Khalid Ghazzali, ambassador here from 1999 to 2006, left Washington under a cloud because of his connections to former lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who pleaded guilty to corruption charges a few months before Mr. Ghazzali returned to Malaysia and resigned from the foreign service.
The controversy erupted in the capital, Kuala Lumpur, after the Web blog, Malaysia Today, recently reported that Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi planned to reappoint Mr. Ghazzali. Members of Parliament later raised questions about the reports. A spokesman for the Malaysian Embassy in Washington said the government has made "no formal announcement" about a new ambassador.
Another blogger, Abu Muzamil Khan, claimed that the prime minister is trying to "sneak the appointment [through] during the [U.S.] presidential transition."
In a 2006 news conference, former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad admitted that Abramoff received $1.2 million to arrange a meeting between him and President Bush in 2002, but Mr. Mahathir insisted that none of the money came from the Malaysian government.
However, U.S. Senate investigators established links between Abramoff and the Malaysian Embassy while Mr. Ghazzali was ambassador. In a guilty plea, Abramoff admitted that the embassy paid money to a fake think tank, the American International Center, established by an associate of his in a Delaware beach house.
Mr. Khan, in an e-mail, added that political insiders are speculating that Mr. Ghazzali, who still claims close ties on Capitol Hill, is being sent back to Washington to "fend off the likely outcry that is expected as a new politically motivated show trial" begins against Anwar Ibrahim, a former deputy prime minister under Mr. Mahathir who later led a democracy opposition movement.
In Washington, Ambassador Rajmah Hussain replaced Mr. Ghazzali in 2006 but returned to Malaysia earlier this year.


LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Wrong on Malaysia

Malaysia's Reply (as published in The Washington Times of December 31, 2008)

The report "Malaysian Controversy" by James Morrison (Embassy Row, World, Dec. 11) contains misleading information that must be corrected.
First, Ambassador Khalid Ghazzali departed Washington on completion of his tenure in March 2006, and he did not resign from the Foreign Service. He assumed the post of ambassador at large at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Malaysia, upon his return from Washington. He did not leave Washington "under a cloud," as claimed by Mr. Morrison. Ambassador Ghazzali has an unblemished record of more than three decades of public service.
Second, the appointments of Malaysian ambassadors/high commissioners are made by His Majesty the King of Malaysia on the recommendation of the prime minister of Malaysia. It is also the prerogative of any government to appoint any individual who is deemed qualified to the post based on many criteria, including one's vast knowledge and experience in diplomacy and current affairs, diplomatic skills and good personal attributes.
Third, the visit of former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad to the United States and his meeting with President Bush in 2002 were arranged through diplomatic channels.
Fourth, the Senate report on Jack Abramoff did not conclude that the Malaysian Embassy in Washington was involved in any illegal activities. Neither has the embassy been found by any U.S. judicial authorities to have committed any wrongdoing during Ambassador Ghazzali's tenure in Washington.
The blogger quoted by Mr. Morrison condemned the Malaysian judicial system for "'a new politically motivated show trial of Anwar Ibrahim.'" The truth of the matter is that the ongoing trial is being conducted strictly in accordance with the law and in open court, accessible to local and foreign observers. Anwar Ibrahim's defense team is led by a senior member of the bar who is also a former president of the Malaysian Bar Council.

DATO' THAN TAI HING
Undersecretary
Department of Information and Public Diplomacy
Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Malaysia