Malaysia paid corrupt lobbyist for Bush meeting - Mercedes-Benz Forum

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Malaysia paid corrupt lobbyist for Bush meeting

Malaysia paid corrupt lobbyist to set up Mahathir's meeting with Bush

February 16, 2006

WASHINGTON: When the Government of Malaysia sought to polish its tarnished image in the United States by arranging a meeting between President George Bush and its controversial prime minister in 2002, it did what many other well-heeled interests in Washington did: it called on the well-connected - but now disgraced - lobbyist Jack Abramoff for help.

It was a tall order. The then prime minister, Mahathir Mohamad, had been chastised by the Clinton administration for repeated anti-semitic statements and for jailing his political opponents. But it was important to the Malaysians, according to an Abramoff associate who attended meetings with the Malaysian ambassador and Abramoff.

Abramoff contacted the presidential adviser Karl Rove on at least four occasions to help arrange a meeting, according to an eyewitness to the activities.

Finally, this former associate said, Mr Rove's office called to tell Abramoff personally that the Malaysian leader would soon get a White House invitation. In May 2002, Dr Mahathir met Mr Bush in the Oval Office and his photograph with the President was beamed around the world. Abramoff received $US1.2 million ($1.6 million) from the Malaysian Government for his lobbying services in 2001 and 2002, according to an Abramoff associate. Documents obtained by Senate investigators appear to confirm at least $900,000 of that amount.

The Malaysia episode sheds new light on the practices of Abramoff, the man at the centre of a burgeoning corruption scandal, and suggests a closer tie than previously acknowledged between the lobbyist and the highest levels of the Bush White House.

Abramoff has pleaded guilty to improperly influencing members of Congress and their aides, offering foreign travel and other benefits and later seeking favours from some of them. He often routed lobbying fees through non-profit organisations to evade taxes or hide their sources.

The Malaysian payments were made to the American International Centre, a bogus "international think tank" that an Abramoff partner, Michael Scanlon, set up at a beach house.

Abramoff identified his client on lobbying disclosure forms as the centre and thus avoided having to register with the Justice Department as an agent of a foreign government.

On one occasion, Abramoff, an Orthodox Jew and avid supporter of Israel, was asked whether he was comfortable representing a country led by a man known for anti-Semitic comments.

He responded: "They pay their bills on time."

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