Is there honour among thieves? Nah!!

Here we go again! 

According to a report in the New York Times, Goldman Sachs, the US investment banker that helped birth a gigantic fraud at the 1Malaysia Development Fund (1MDB), is attempting to get US federal prosecutors to ease up on the bank’s role in the scandal. 

The report stated that lawyers for Goldman Sachs had asked US Deputy Attorney-General Jeffery Rosen to review demands by certain federal prosecutors that Goldman Sachs pay more than US$2bil (RM8.5bil) in fines and plead guilty to a charge.

The report said that the bank was also seeking to pay lower fines and to avoid a guilty plea altogether. It quoted sources as speaking on the condition of anonymity as the talks were currently ongoing.

“The request, which was made several weeks ago, is not unusual for a high-profile corporate investigation and often comes in the final stage of settlement talks,” said the paper. 

“But it has been a point of pride for Goldman that it has never had to admit guilt in a federal investigation, and the scandal has already been a black eye for the bank,” the report said.

That could be understating it considerably. For its part, Malaysia got a lot more than a black eye. 1MDB’s protagonists earned the dubious distinction of perpetrating the world’s biggest-ever fraud.

But “point of pride” and “never had to admit guilt”? Surely you jest, Goldman?

It’s not as if the investment bank had an unblemished reputation.

In 2009, for example, a Rolling Stone article by Matt Tiabbi unforgettably described Goldman Sachs as a “great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money”. 

So much for “point of principle.’ 

According to the US Justice Department, Goldman Sachs earned USD$600mil (RM2.56bil) in fees for raising US$6bil (RM25.6bil) for 1MDB.

Tim Leissner, the Goldman employee in Asia, had admitted that he and others at the investment firm  had conspired to circumvent the bank’s internal control to work with fugitive businessman Low Taek Jho – known as Felonious to friends and the police alike – to bribe Malaysian officials in order to secure the lucrative bond work for the bank.

A lot of water has flowed under the bridge since. 

A government has collapsed under the weight of 1MDB and its leader – Fearless to all and sundry – has been tried and is awaiting a verdict in July 

Felonious is still at large and he corpulently continues to cast a sizeable shadow over the Malaysian body politic. As is his wont, he prefers to cast that shadow as far away from Malaysia as possible. 

Fearless hasn’t changed much though. He continues to try and assert himself although it’s doubtful if he will ever be taken seriously again.  

He, however, does admit 1MDB might have been a mistake. 

He has since come to the revelation that Malaysia “had been cheated.” By Felonious! Peerless also claimed that “it was clear” that Goldman had also failed.

He had clearly been thinking the matter over the last two years and seemed to have all the answers. 

And like the Oracle of Delphi of bygone days, Fearless pronounced his Truth. It was actually everyone – “the investment bank, the lawyers and the auditors” – who had all let us, all of us, the whole country, down. 

Everyone but him. 

Yes, All People Are Equal But Some Are More Equal Than Others

I only found this out a few days ago and its blatant unfairness is positively chilling. 

If you are a Malaysian male and you marry a woman of a different nationality, your child is a Malaysian no matter where he or she is born. No questions asked. It is, apparently, a right. 

Unfortunately, the converse does not hold which is to say the children of Malaysian women born overseas do not qualify automatically as Malaysian citizens. They can apply but they should not hold their breath because, this is a privilege and not, apparently, a right. 

While the Federal Constitution guarantees citizenship to children bornoverseas to Malaysian fathers, it is silent on children born overseas to Malaysianmothers. Consequently, there are a significant number of Malaysian women married to foreigners who are unable to secure Malaysian citizenship for their overseas-born children. 

OK, I should disclose my interest here. Our only child, Raisa is married to an Austrian and lives in Vienna. I’d humbly plead that any child of hers be granted Malaysian citizenship as well.

I’d argue that it’s the child’s right and they can make up their minds when they’re 18. 

That would be the ideal situation. 

But – and there is always a “but” -there is a famous paradox that goes something like this: all things being equal, all things are never equal. And it was Lee Kuan Yew who once commented sourly about life “never being fair.” 

Even so, our Constitution does say something about “all people” being equal under the law. And while people in the West had to fight for the right of women to vote, Malaysians didn’t have to, getting that power from the word go: independence itself.  

So let’s not regress where this is concerned. It’s been fifty-six years since Malaysia was formed without bloodshed, in peace and relative harmony. And God knows we in Peninsular Malaysia, especially, have regressed in ways that Tunku Abdul Rahman could not have foreseen.

In many ways, we are a mess of contradictions guilty of no little hypocrisy. We refuse to grant citizenship to the overseas-born children of Malaysian women yet we do not see the absurdity of granting permanent residence to an Indian citizen accused of hate speech and money laundering in his own country. 

And we appear a to be a land of promise only before a general election. 

Remember the rule of law? 

How, in all good conscience, can we expect China to agree to extradite the fat felon back here to face justice when we refuse to honour India’s request that we do the same to that permanently-residing beardo? 

I once interviewed Dr Mahathir in 1987 just after his Ops Lallang crackdown and he justified it by saying that Malaysians could not handle too much democracy or something to that effect. “When I first began, I tried to be liberal and look what happened?” he asked. The implication: he’d had to clamp down or there would have been trouble. 

Fast forward 32 years later and we seem to have learnt nothing. 

Except there is a new weapon out there which is capable of great good and, just as equally, great mischief in the hands of opportunists bent on causing trouble. 

After May 9 last year, Malaysians were granted a precious gift – that of freedom of speech. May God give us the prudence never to exercise that in a hateful manner. 

And lest we forget, there are these Malaysian women who ache for their children to possess the citizenship they do. It is a small step for the Home Ministry but a gigantic leap homewards for the children. 

It’s The Smell, Stupid

Talk about a clash of civilisations! 

A recent tweet that went viral recalled an incident where a Malaysian housewife living in Paris and excited about receiving some belacan (shrimp paste) from home, decided to toast it prior to making a curry. 

Her French neighbour called the police. He thought there might be a dead body next door.

The French should understand all about weird food. I mean, take the neighbour in question. Only the other day, she cooked Pancakes for breakfast. 

OK, she was thrilled but you couldn’t say the same for her children. I mean, they were miserable and you couldn’t blame them.

Pancakes was their favourite rabbit.  

The French loved defenceless animals especially in a creamy mushroom sauce. Interesting statistic: the French eat 500 million snails every year.

And they like things like rabbit and all parts of the cow including the brain, the udders and the tongue. In fairness, it must be pointed out that French cuisine is considered one of the best in the world.  

More intriguingly, there is the French paradox. This was a famous 1980s observation that noted that the French people had a very low incidence of cardiovascular heart disease despite having a diet relatively high in butter and saturated fat. 

The observation still holds true although the advent of fast food may have begun ruining a much-envied national trait. 

But we were talking about strange smells. There are many things associated with smell. One wakes up and smells the coffee, for instance. And there are odours that you indelibly associate with freshness and all things nice. Like rain on parched earth, newly mowed grass, the sea: a childhood memory of a sudden scent of jasmine walking past the neighbour’s at night in Seremban. 

And then, of course, there is the odour of belacan.

There is no getting around it. It is grim and very stern.  What do you expect? It’s shrimp paste and as writer and humourist P J O’ Rourke once observed: “Fish is the only food that is considered spoiled once it smells like what it is.” 

And even O’ Rourke could not have known that belacan is made from small shrimp that is crushed and salted and left to dry for several weeks until it stinks to high heaven. 

Now you know the French neighbour was at least half right. 

It’s like durian. Like Limburger or Stilton cheese, it’s an acquired taste if ever there was one. 

While discussing the Paris incident on WhatsApp the other day, my friend Radzuan mentioned that some Malaysian students had to evacuate their apartment in Cumberland in a hurry after the Fire Brigade turned up just as they were about to have a feast of durian.

The neighbours thought there was a gas leak.  

Thankfully, my daughter has never liked durian so it isn’t a staple in my house for which I am devoutly grateful. Food writer Adam Sterling once famously described the fruit’s odour as “turpentine and onions garnished with a gym sock.” 

I agree. 

I confess that I am not quite Malaysian in my tastes. My wife is a Eurasian from Malacca and both she and my daughter love all food associated with belacan. 

As for me, I love mankind: it’s prawns I can’t stand.