Clare Rewcastle Brown, Investigative journalist and founder of The Sarawak Report
STATUS: Concluded – Libel case filed in London in 2017, settled in Rewcastle Brown’s favour in 2019. Rewcastle Brown continues to receive legal challenges in the UK and Malaysia related to her reporting on the 1MDB scandal.
Clare Rewcastle Brown, a UK journalist, has been subject to significant legal challenges, while investigating one of the world’s largest financial corruption scandals in Malaysia, known as 1MDB. From 2017-19, Rewcastle Brown was pursued through the London libel courts by the President of Malaysia’s PAS Islamic Party, Abdul Hadi Awang, before the case was withdrawn and a settlement was made in her favour prior to coming to trial.
Hadi Awang was represented by lawyers at the London-based law firm Carter-Ruck, who according to Rewcastle Brown: “constructed an argument that [she] had implied without saying it that the money had gone directly to the personal use of the actual President of the PAS, who was not named in the article and had only been referred to once before on my platform by a separate writer some months previously. Rewcastle Brown had been subject to several legal threats prior to this, but noted in this case: “Those wishing to pursue legal action against me in 2017 were advised, according to someone involved in the conversations, that for an outlay of no more than £200,000 I could be forced to issue the sort of retraction that could be spun into a total discrediting of myself and my wider reporting on corruption in Malaysia.
By the time the case settled in 2019, the fallout from 1MDB had resulted in bringing down the previous Malaysian government, as well as the arrest (and later conviction) of the former Malaysian Prime Minister, Najib Razak. The believed mastermind of the scandal, businessman Jho Low, is currently on the run from justice in Malaysia, Singapore and the US. Writing about the case in 2020 for FPC, Clare Rewcastle Brown noted that “the PAS President justified his climb-down to the local media acknowledging his lawsuit had been politically motivated from the start and that since it had now served his party’s purpose in the elections he had decided to withdraw. What more damning indictment could there be of a self-admitted SLAPP suit?” Rewcastle Brown has also been subject to legal cases in Malaysia, which led to a warrant being issued for her arrest in September 2021.
Rewcastle Brown has continued to receive well over a dozen legal threats from London law firms representing Malaysian clients and clients linked to 1MDB, such as Al Wazzan who sent Recastle Brown legal threats through the London law firm Taylor Wessing (TW) in 2021. Al Wazzan is an investment advisor, on bail in Kuwait accused of brokering a deal believed to be linked to 1MDB. Rewcastle Brown believes that Al Wazzan’s objective may have been to have any reference to him or his involvement in the 1MDB scandal removed entirely from the English language media, even though his name is universally known and associated with the scandal in Kuwait as a result of Arabic-language media coverage. Rewcastle Brown received three legal letters from Taylor Wessing on behalf of Al Wazzan in relation to five articles she published on her site Sarawak Report. The letters requested the removal of all reference and information, with Taylor Wessing also urging her to “never publish the allegations, or any similar allegations, or any of our client’s private and confidential information again in the future”. They stated that the investigation into Al Wazzan and his release on bail is a “private matter” and insisted that Al Wazzan would still be able to take legal action in the English courts, even though he is currently not permitted to leave Kuwait under his bail conditions. In the letters, the lawyers also said that English language publications (third parties) had already removed reference to Al Wazzan in their coverage in response to similar threats.
After Index on Censorship and ARTICLE 19 submitted a Council of Europe alert on these legal threats, no further communication was received from TW and once the writ had expired, Rewcastle Brown decided to write an article about this experience, which indicated that public exposure of these tactics does have a positive impact to push back against SLAPPs.
Rewcastle Brown has also described in detail the multitude of tactics adopted by UK law firms to attempt to get her to retract her published investigations; “Indeed, from the moment it was launched the  case was used as a relentless propaganda tool against me…leaking privileged information and alleging that judgements had already been arrived at against me.” She has described the psychological toll of being “under surveillance, been computer hacked, stalked, intimidated, sued and made the subject of numerous attempts at entrapment designs to compromise my reputation for integrity” as heavy. Unfortunately, accompanying forms of harassment, alongside legal threats, are a hallmark of SLAPPs cases.
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