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Malaysian lawyer embroiled in 1MDB saga and MYAirline probe alleges political persecution by PM Anwar

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia’s Rosli Dahlan, a high-profile lawyer who’s much sought-after among top national politicians including former premier Muhyiddin Yassin and business groups, is now facing some serious legal headaches of his own. 

Already at the centre of a high-profile probe by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) over his role as a key negotiator in the 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) settlement between the government and Goldman Sachs, Mr Rosli has allegedly become ensnared in a widening police probe into the collapse of low-budget carrier MYAirline.

Sources in the Malaysian police and lawyers close to the situation said Mr Rosli was among eight people detained by the police in recent days for questioning over the collapsed airline.

MYAirline is in turn tied to a scandal-ridden company called i-Serve Online Mall that was involved in soliciting deposits illegally from ordinary Malaysians and foreigners residing in the country.

The sources noted that the 62-year-old lawyer, a former Singapore national who is now a Malaysian citizen, was detained on Oct 26 evening, before a remand order was sought the following morning. He was released on Oct 28 after questioning.

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Mr Rosli, who together with his firm Rosli Dahlan Sarvana Partnership (RDS Partnership) are currently locked in a legal wrangle with the MACC over the 1MDB matter, declined comment for this article over his detention by the police in the MYAirline and i-Serve Online Mall probes.

But in an affidavit filed on Oct 26 in the Malaysian High Court to contest the demands for the 1MDB-related documents in the MACC investigation, Mr Rosli maintained that he was a victim of “political persecution” in the ongoing confrontation between Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim and former premier Mr Muhyiddin.

Mr Rosli claimed that PM Anwar had attacked the Muhyiddin government for the write-off of debts at state-owned plantation company Felda Holdings and the 1MDB recovery settlement with an “underlying theme” that the former premier and his “cronies had plundered the country’s assets”.

RDS Partnership is the law firm representing the opposition Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu), the political vehicle that Mr Muhyiddin heads, and Mr Rosli is the personal lawyer to the former premier, who is facing corruption and money laundering charges in court. 

During the Muhyiddin premiership, Mr Rosli played the role of legal trouble-shooter for the government and figured prominently in several dispute negotiations tied to 1MDB. 

“These political attacks have recently changed focus to target the firm (RDS Partnership) and I, as I was seen to be the lead advisor for the defence team of Muhyiddin and the main counsel for the civil cases by and against Muhyiddin and Bersatu,” he said in his affidavit.

Mr Anwar has publicly declared that the US$3.9 billion settlement reached by the previous Muhyiddin-led administration with Goldman Sachs in August 2020 was poorly negotiated. 

He has also signalled that  the government is determined to force the US banking giant to return to the negotiation table with the view of squeezing more money in the form of compensation for the central role played by the financial institution in arranging US$6.5 billion in 1MDB bonds that turned out to be elaborate schemes to embezzle funds.

Mr Rosli was involved in the negotiations with Goldman Sachs together with a Malaysian government team led by former finance minister Tengku Zarul Aziz, who is currently the Minister of International Trade in the Anwar government. 

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The MACC raids last month on RDS Partnership and another legal firm, Chetan Jetwani & Company, which had acted as counsel for Goldman Sachs, are part of a widening investigation by the agency into allegations of schemes among lawyers to conspire with the global investment bank to bring down the settlement figure related to 1MDB.

In his affidavit challenging the MACC’s demands, Mr Rosli claimed that “I have found this enforcement agency to be used as an instrument of oppression against political opponents” of the government.

Mr Rosli also recounted details of his wrangle with the MACC in 2007 when he was arrested on what he said were fabricated charges of corruption against him and publicly shamed over an investigation into a senior police officer he was representing at the time. 

“The matter was eventually settled when the then (MACC) chief commission Tan Sri Abu Kassim (Mohamed) came to my house and made a personal apology,” he said of the episode, which led to the agency making a public apology in open court.

The court hearing for the Goldman-Sachs-1MDB matter is scheduled for some time in the second week of this month. 

In the meantime, Mr Rosli is under scrutiny over a widening police probe into the recent collapse of MYAirline that also carries a potent political dimension. 

Shortly after MYAirline shuttered operations on Oct 12, Mr Muhyiddin made public remarks denying any involvement in the troubled budget carrier, claiming that certain individuals, whom he did not name, were attempting to tarnish his reputation. 

“The involvement of Rosli Dahlan Saravana Partnership (RDS) law firm as legal representatives for MYAirlines company shareholders cannot be attributed to me,” he said.

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