WASHINGTON — With President Barack Obama’s visit to Malaysia on Friday, members of the opposition party in the Southeast Asian country have been raising concerns regarding the president’s ties to major Democratic fundraiser Frank White, who lobbied the U.S. government on behalf of a scandal-plagued state fund.
Obama is expected to talk about trade and economic issues in Kuala Lumpur, but the state fund known as 1Malaysia Development Bhd., or 1MBD, has been the subject of national attention in Malaysia for months and opposition party members want to make it part of the discussion. The fund, which was set up in 2009 by Prime Minister Najib Razak, allegedly transferred $700 million to Najib's personal bank account after it missed payments to several banks, the Wall Street Journal reported in July.
White, who served as vice-chair for Obama’s 2012 campaign, registered as a foreign agent on behalf of the Government of Malaysia — specifically a solar project funded in part by 1MDB — in September 2013 and terminated the contract a year later in October 2014, according to records filed with the Department of Justice under the Foreign Agents Registration Act.
In October of 2013, White’s firm, DuSable Capital Management, LLC, received more than $500,000 from the Government of Malaysia for a joint-venture partnership on a solar project.
The Government of Malaysia was White's only foreign lobbying client. Disclosure reports state that White’s then-newly formed private equity firm would “encourage the U.S. government to provide non-financial support for a solar energy project whose investors include 1 Malaysian Development Berhad, the Government of Malaysia's development fund, and a private equity fund to which DuSable Capital Management, LLC is the investment adviser.”
White raised about $2.2 million for Obama's campaign in 2012, and as of April of this year, he and his wife had raised $100,000 or more for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's presidential bid.
Representatives from DuSable discussed the solar energy project with top White House aides including Alyssa Mastromonaco, then-deputy chief of staff and Gene Sperling, former director of the National Economic Council, based on the FARA disclosures.
Wong Chen, a member of the opposition party PKR, told BuzzFeed News in an email that the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement — which Wong Chen argues will allow the "ruling party to continue to implement race-based economic policies and cronyism in government contracts” — and Malaysia’s surprising upgrade from tier 3 to tier 2 on the U.S. trafficking report earlier this year raise "serious questions whether personal interests of the president are driving bizarre U.S. policies.”
Wong Chen has held press conferences in recent days pushing the connection between 1MDB, DuSable, and Obama.
Other opposition party leaders have also been vocal up the connection, according to local media. DAP parliamentary leader Lim Kit Siang has even brought up some reports that question whether White used money from the Malaysian government for campaign contributions.
In a press briefing Thursday, Ben Rhodes, White House national security adviser, pushed back on questions about Obama's relationship with Najib, who is under a number of investigations for corruption. Najib and Obama golfed together last year.
"Absolutely, I think the president will want to raise and will raise with Prime Minister Najib concerns that we have about the status of the political opposition in Malaysia, the imprisonment developments of that opposition or of a free media in civil society that are such important components of democracy," Rhodes said.
"I think he'll also want to hear and engage with young people and representatives of civil society as well, so that we're demonstrating that our engagement is not just with one figure, it's with the government and it's with the people of Malaysia."
White did not return requests for comment.
Tarini Parti is a politics reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC.
Contact Tarini Parti at email@example.com.
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