Malaysia Opens Criminal Investigation Regarding Johor Casino Report

Posted on: May 6, 2024, 01:48h. 

Last updated on: May 6, 2024, 02:49h.

Police in Malaysia have begun a probe into a media report spurred by Bloomberg suggesting that Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim met with two gaming industry billionaires to discuss a possible casino resort development in Johor’s Forest City.

Malaysia casino Forest City Johor Bloomberg
Bloomberg journalist Ram Anand and his attorney exit Malaysia’s Bukit Aman police headquarters in Kuala Lumpur on Monday, May 6, 2024. Ram is being probed by police for speculating about a casino resort development in Johor’s Forest City. (Image: Free Malaysia Today)

So-called “fake news” in the United States is the public’s ire in truth-seeking, but in Malaysia, false media reports could land one in prison.   

Last Friday, Royal Malaysia Police Inspector-General Razarudin Husain confirmed a criminal investigation into the Bloomberg story’s origins. On Monday, Bloomberg journalist Ram Anand, who co-authored the article, “Malaysia in Talks With Tycoons on Casino to Revive $100 Billion Forest City,” with two colleagues, was seen entering the Bukit Aman police headquarters in Kuala Lumpur around 8:30 a.m. local time.

Ram reportedly submitted a statement to police regarding the sources who provided the information for the article. The Bloomberg journalist was seen exiting the police station about two and a half hours later.

Anwar and the two named gaming tycoons in the Bloomberg report, Genting Group Chairman Lim Kok Thay and Berjaya Corporation Chairman Vincent Tan, have each denied that a casino project in Forest City is being weighed.

Criminal Probe 

After publicly denying the casino rumblings and telling local reporters that the Bloomberg story was “a lie” and “not true,” Anwar encouraged Lim and Tan to take legal action against the business media outlet. Berjaya Corporation reportedly followed through and filed a grievance with law enforcement under the country’s 1998 Communications and Multimedia Act, a subsection of the Malaysia Penal Code.

The report was lodged after it was alleged to contain false, unwarranted, and fake information,” Razarudin told Free Malaysia Today.

Following the casino report’s denials, Bloomberg ran a subsequent article from Singapore-based journalist Marcus Wright explaining the rebuttals from the Malaysian prime minister and two billionaires.

In the original article, Ram said his reporting stemmed from “people familiar with the matter.” Ram wrote that the discussions about a casino in Forest City, a $100 billion high-end mixed-use development that largely remains a ghost town, “were preliminary” and it was “unclear how seriously Anwar was” about the idea.

Genting owns and operates Malaysia’s lone casino, Resorts World Genting in the Pahang Highlands. The company also runs Resorts World Sentosa in Singapore near Forest City.

Berjaya is one of Malaysia’s largest conglomerates. Among its businesses is its lottery division which possesses Malaysia’s exclusive lottery rights.

Possible Penalties

Malaysia’s Communications and Multimedia Act was enacted by the Malaysian Parliament to provide for and regulate the converging communications and multimedia industries. The statute additionally provides consequences for violating the law.

While most journalists in Malaysia who are deemed to have published fake news in violation of the 1998 Act face only a small financial penalty, those who are asked to provide statements to law enforcement in response to a grievance being filed by a party written about face prison time if they don’t comply. Persons who knowingly give false statements to police about their reporting or sources face up to six months in prison.