Over the month, two former heads of government have continued to find themselves in trouble with their respective countries’ justice systems.
On Aug. 8, agents of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) executed a search warrant at former US President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida. The warrant was served in connection with an investigation into Mr. Trump’s handling of classified documents that may have been illegally brought into the former president’s private residence. Sources familiar with the investigation said a few days later that the documents may have included some classified “top secret,” and definitely 184 classified documents that may have put US national security at risk, and possibly some classified nuclear weapons documents. The mishandling of the documents could also lead to charges of obstruction of justice.
Halfway around the world, one of Malaysia’s former prime ministers, Dato Sri Haji Mohammad Najib bin Tun Haji Abdul Razak or simply Najib, returned to a Malaysian court on Thursday, Aug. 25, for a second corruption trial, this time over the plunder of the 1MDB state funds (1MDB stands for 1Malaysia Development Berhad, a sovereign wealth fund). Newspaper reports in 2016 alleged that Najib siphoned about $700 million in 1MDB funds into his personal bank account. That report led to other equally damaging revelations. Najib established 1MDB shortly after he assumed office in 2009.
Najib, 69, served as Malaysia’s 6th prime minister from 2009 to 2018. Mahathir Mohammad, who was Prime Minister for 22 years, backed up Najib, his protégé, in 2013 when the latter’s stay as prime minister was in grave danger. Mahathir, however, turned against Najib when documented reports of corruption at 1MDB started surfacing. Mahathir believes that Najib, who is facing about 42 charges, will eventually receive a royal pardon. King Al-Sultan Abdullah has not publicly commented on a petition by Najib partisans for a royal pardon.
Najib was imprisoned last week to start serving a 12-year jail term after he was found to have illegally received $10 million from a unit of 1MDB. He arrived in court for the trial of the second corruption charge that began in 2019. He arrived in court without handcuffs.
Trump’s strategy continues to be to manipulate huge sectors of media and a great number of gullible members of the Grand Old Party who believe that the 2020 presidential elections were stolen from Trump. Surveys show that these Republican rank-and-file favor Trump as the party’s presidential candidate for 2024 in a return bout with President Joe Biden, if the latter decides to run for reelection.
A master showman, Trump showed his disdain for rules, and even the US constitution itself, when he appeared to back the assault on the US capitol on Jan. 6, 2022 to prevent the proclamation of Biden as the winner of the 2020 presidential elections. Trump believes that all issues can be solved by proper PR, good and imaginative messaging, fake news, and pure bombast and braggadocio. It does not matter that a legal issue is just that, a legal issue. For him, a legal issue can be solved by PR and constant repetition of lies and half-truths.
At this point, Judge Bruce Reinhart approved the warrant ordered the unsealing of the FBI affidavit which had prompted the issuance of the search warrant for Mar-a-Lago. Reinhart is also overseeing the criminal investigation of Trump.
The US Department of Justice complied with the order by making public a redacted document, with many portions blacked out to protect sources, informants, and even US intelligence agents or spies working overseas gathering information about adversaries of the US and its allies. Writer Hugo Lovell reports that, “in an earlier two-page ruling, the judge (Reinhart) said the Justice department’s (then) proposed redactions were narrowly tailored to keep secret grand jury material, the identities of uncharged individuals and sources and methods used in the criminal investigation — and the remainder could be made public.” Lovell says that the partial release of the affidavit is a major juncture in the developing investigation, being led by the Justice department’s national security division.
In what observers state is a flanking move designed to create division within the Justice department and intelligence agencies, Trump has filed a motion to have a different Florida court appoint a so-called special master or arbiter to determine what seized materials can be used as evidence against him and to force the Justice department to provide a more detailed list of what the FBI retrieved from those 16 boxes brought by Trump to his private residence. Preliminary reports indicate that the judge where the motion was submitted is favorably considering the appointment of such an arbiter. The judge was appointed by Trump in 2020.
The move is further proof that Trump and his legal team will take advantage of all the rules available in a democratic setting when they are to Trump’s personal advantage and to be contemptuous of those same rules and laws when they do not suit his agenda. The tactic is typical of fascists who come into power using democratic institutions, only to dismantle those same institutions when they seize power.
For those who can still remember, the FBI execution of the search warrant in 2022 is in stark contrast to the execution by the Philippines’ National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) of a search warrant on the home of former Ambassador to the United Nations and then incumbent 1971 Constitutional Convention (ConCon) delegate, Eduardo T. Quintero.
Quintero had delivered a privilege speech during a ConCon session to denounce a bribery attempt to influence the amendment of the 1935 Constitution. The successful amendment would have allowed, the Philippines to shift from a presidential to a parliamentary form of government, among other things. Events happened in rapid succession, culminating in an NBI search team recovering more than P370,000 from an unlocked drawer in Quintero’s home. The implication was that Quintero was bribed to do the expose.
In 1988, the Supreme Court ruled that the NBI raid on Quintero’s home was orchestrated “from beginning to end” to destroy Quintero. Quintero died in exile in San Francisco, California, in 1984. He was quietly allowed to leave Leyte, his home province, in 1977, for the US. Quintero’s name is inscribed in the Wall of Remembrance of the Bantayog ng mga Bayani in Quezon City, together with thousands of other martyrs.
Back to Trump. In the meantime, duly constituted authorities want and need to protect America’s security and those countries whose security depend on the stability of the international order. These could now be in jeopardy because of one man’s greed.
Philip Ella Juico’s areas of interest include the protection and promotion of democracy, free markets, sustainable development, social responsibility and sports as a tool for social development. He obtained his doctorate in business at De La Salle University. Dr. Juico served as secretary of Agrarian Reform during the Corazon C. Aquino administration.