UN warns of surging meth use across Asia, despite Covid-19 – dpa international

KUALA LUMPUR — The market for synthetic drugs, including methamphetamine, continues to grow in Asia despite the coronavirus crisis, a UN report said. “While the world has shifted its attention to the Covid-19 pandemic, all indications are that production and trafficking of synthetic drugs and chemicals continue at record levels in the region,” said Jeremy Douglas of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). The findings, according to a new report by the agency, that relies on “data from 2019 and in some cases up to the first quarter of 2020,” are something of a surprise. “It is hard to imagine that organized crime have again managed to expand the drug market, but they have,” said Douglas, the agency’s Bangkok-based representative for Southeast Asia and the Pacific. Police in Bangkok arrested three men on Thursday while confiscating over a million meth pills, while recent weeks have seen Myanmar’s military and police in Hong Kong seizing drugs and manufacturing equipment in separate raids.

US returns 300 million dollars linked to Malaysian corruption scandal – dpa international

DSC_0134.jpeg April 17, 2020 321 KB 600 by 420 pixels Edit Image Delete Permanently Alt Text Describe the purpose of the image(opens in a new tab). Leave empty if the image is purely decorative.Title DSC_0134 Caption Najib Razak, then Malaysian prime minister, at the 2015 summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations held in Kuala Lumpur in 2015 (Simon Roughneen) Description

KUALA LUMPUR — The United States has repatriated another 300 million dollars stolen from the corruption-stained Malaysian state development fund known as 1MDB, authorities said on Wednesday. In total, 620 million dollars has been returned to Malaysia, money the US Justice Department said was laundered through financial institutions in the United States, Switzerland, Singapore and Luxembourg. The money is part of 4.5 billion dollars that the department has described as “allegedly misappropriated by high-level officials of 1MDB and their associates.” Former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak, who was stopped by police from fleeing the country after losing 2018 elections, is embroiled in the scandal.

Malaysia’s Covid-19 cases top 3,000, over 4,100 lockdown arrests – dpa international

Staff at a supermarket check-out in Kuala Lumpur, one of the types of businesses open during Malaysia's lockdown (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — Malaysia’s Health Ministry reported 208 new coronavirus cases on Thursday evening, taking the country’s total to 3,116, the highest in South-East Asia. The ministry acknowledged that Thursday’s rebound marked a setback after numbers earlier this week dropped from the more than 200 new daily cases seen last week. “We cannot expect zero cases of Covid infection in this country,” said ministry Director-General Noor Hisham Abdullah, during a televised press conference. Fifty people have died in Malaysia after being infected with Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus.Though Hisham expressed disappointment at the jump in cases from Wednesday’s 142, he said that 122 people were discharged from hospital on Thursday. Thursday’s numbers took Malaysia’s total recoveries from Covid-19 to 767.

Southeast Asia’s “jaw-dropping” wildlife trade a concern as virus outbreak continues – dpa international

Frogs for sale in a Singapore wet market (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — Newly compiled statistics published by TRAFFIC, a wildlife trade monitoring network, show that more than 200 tons of African elephant ivory and almost a million pangolins have been trafficked through South-east Asia since the turn of the century. “Not a day goes by without a wildlife seizure taking place in South-east Asia, and all too often in volumes that are jaw-dropping,” said Kanitha Krishnasamy TRAFFIC’s Southeast Asia director. The trade in wildlife across Asia has come under increased scrutiny in recent weeks due to the deadly coronavirus outbreak, amid speculation that the virus – which has killed more than 2,000 people – originated in a central China wet market where wild animals were sold and eaten. “llegal wildlife trade will always provide opportunities for viruses to jump from wildlife to people,” TRAFFIC’s senior communications officer Elizabeth John said.

Former Malaysia prime minister kicked out of wife’s corruption trial – dpa international

Rosmah Mansor shortly after arriving at Kuala Lumpur High Court on Feb. 6 2020 for the second day of her corruption trial (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — Najib Razak, the former leader of South-East Asia’s third-biggest economy, was told by a judge on Thursday morning to leave the courtroom where wife Rosmah Mansor is on trial for corruption. Prosecution lawyers complained about Najib’s arrival at 68-year-old Rosmah’s second day of hearings at Kuala Lumpur High Court, saying that he is “a potential witness” in her trials. Judge Mohamad Zaini Mazlan then asked the former prime minister to leave. Mazlan cited “a risk of danger” and dismissed the defence team’s contention that Najib was being a “good husband” by supporting his wife in person. No complaint was raised by the defence when the former premier briefly joined Rosmah in court on Wednesday. Najib is facing multiple corruption charges in separate trials that started last year and is due back in court on Monday for his next hearing. 

Duterte can do no wrong – UCA News

Rodrigo Duterte speaking during an election rally at Rizal Park, Manila, May 7 2016 (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — While Philippine citizens disagree with the Duterte administration’s head-in-the-sand response to Chinese aggression in the disputed South China Sea, a substantial number still support his so-called drug war that has claimed thousands of lives. But there are serious public misgivings about the industrial-scale extrajudicial killings that could yet result in President Rodrigo Duterte being charged by international prosecutors. Last week several hundred protesters marked the third anniversary of a landmark international tribunal ruling in favor of the Philippines and against aspects of China’s expansive claims to the South China Sea. The same week survey by local polling outfit Social Weather Stations showed 87 percent backing for the proposition that the Philippines “should assert its right to the islands in the West Philippine Sea (the local name for the South China Sea) as stipulated in the 2016 decision of the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA). However President Duterte, who marked three years in office on June 30, has several times referred to an apparent threat by China to go to war should the Philippines assert its claims to the sea based on the court’s ruling, which China refused to recognize.

Malaysia’s new government fails to halt human trafficking – UCA News

KUALA LUMPUR — The United States has kept Malaysia on its watch list of countries that do not meet minimum efforts for the elimination of human trafficking. The 2019 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report, launched on June 20 by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, said Malaysia’s government had not demonstrated overall increasing efforts compared with the previous year. But the report noted that Malaysia’s year-old government led by Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad had initiated an official Royal Commission of Inquiry into the mass graves of human trafficking victims at Wang Kelian near the border with Thailand. “In general, the situation has not changed in any significant way,” said Dobby Chew of human rights group Suara Rakyat Malaysia.

Financier hunted over “looted” Malaysian state fund – The Times

JAKARTA – A businessman alleged to have aided Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak siphon millions from a state development fund has fled the country as an Interpol warrant was issued for his arrest. Mr Najib, who has pleaded not guilty to three counts of criminal breach of trust and one of abuse of power, is alleged to been involved in the laundering of millions from the state fund he established – 1MDB. Malaysian authorities said that Jho Low, a financier who US prosecutors claim was a central figure in the looting of the fund, had fled the country.

UN official fears for safety after Manila lists her as terrorist – Nikkei Asian Review

JAKARTA — Since 2016, thousands of people have been killed as part of a state-sanctioned campaign against illegal drugs that critics say is rife with extrajudicial killings and impunity for the perpetrators. Duterte won a landslide victory, partly thanks to his strident anti-drug rhetoric, and has long said the Philippines faces a narcotics trafficking and addiction crisis. But Victoria Tauli-Corpuz fears “parallels” between the name-and-shame, trigger-happy tenor of the war on drugs and the publicizing of the government’s list, which she worries could encourage would-be hitmen. “I have some protection as I am from the UN, but I and others need to improve security now,” she said.

Philippine Government and United Nations trade insults – The Daily Telegraph

JAKARTA – Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, a senior United Nations official based in the Philippines, is refusing to leave her homeland despite a legal petition by the government to designate her and about 600 others as terrorists. Tauli-Corpuz, appointed the U.N. special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples in 2014, said in a telephone interview that “of course I am concerned” about the government’s list, which was filed by the justice ministry in court in Manila on February 21, but was adamant that she would not flee overseas.