Malaysian authorities seek former prime minister’s British ‘PR guru’ in fraud probe
Malaysia’s anti-corruption body is hunting for a British PR consultant in connection with a multi-billion-dollar financial scandal that helped bring down the previous government.
The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) appealed on Thursday for the public’s help in locating Paul Stadlen, 39, who reportedly handled press operations for Najib Razak, the former prime minister.
Mr Najib is facing multiple charges of money-laundering and criminal breach of trust over the handling of the state-run 1Malaysia Development Berhad fund, which he created. If convicted, he could be jailed for decades.
Accusations of massive corruption at the 1MDB fund were a major factor behind the electoral earthquake in May that toppled his long-ruling coalition and ushered in a reformist alliance headed by his former mentor Mahathir Mohamad, 93.
The MACC suggested that Mr Stadlen could be a key witness in the high-profile case, reported the Malay Mail. “We are looking for him and we issued the statement this morning on our website,” Zuhaila Arip, a senior investigation officer told the paper.
The MACC did not respond to questions from The Telegraph, and Mr Stadlen could not be reached.
The consultant, who previously worked for an international public affairs firm in Kuala Lumpur before going independent, acted as a spokesman for Mr Najib until the day of the election on May 10. As news began to break of the shock results, Mr Stadlen no longer responded to media queries.
According to the MACC statement, the long-term resident’s last known Kuala Lumpur address was the luxurious Loft Sentral Condominium in the city centre which, according to property websites, is furnished with an outdoor jacuzzi and “sky gym.”
Mr Stadlen was a well-known figure in Malaysia’s political and media circles, where he was accused by investigative news website The Sarawak Report in 2015 of being a “lady’s man” who enjoyed cash and a lavish lifestyle.
Kuala Lumpur’s top nightspots held tables for him, Sarawak reported, quoting an anonymous source as saying: “He’s always out partying in bars, clubs getting dead drunk.” The report was accompanied by pictures of Mr Stadlen with scantily clad women in bunny outfits and having vodka poured down his throat by a friend.
More serious questions were asked by the parliament and press, including Sarawak, about Mr Stadlen’s exact role and who was paying his salary after he entered Mr Najib’s communications team.
Mr Stadlen’s history with the Malaysian government dates back to 2009, when he arrived to work on a government contract awarded to public relations firm Apco Worldwide, reported the Malaysian Star.
The company reportedly lost the contract after disquiet in the majority-Muslim country over its perceived links to Israel, but Mr Stadlen stayed on.
By 2015, he was said to be working directly for the prime minister’s office, prompting questions in the national parliament about whether taxpayers were footing a large bill for his services. The prime minister’s department was forced to deny that Mr Stadlen was being paid an allowance or salary by the government.
The queries surfaced around the time that Mr Stadlen was blamed for a statement in response to a New York Times enquiry about 1MDB and the prime minister’s trappings of wealth, in which it was claimed that he had “received inheritance.” Mr Najib’s siblings were said to have been incensed by the insinuation that their father had accumulated such wealth.
Mr Stadlen acted as a gatekeeper between the prime minister’s office and foreign journalists but was himself somewhat non-committal about the exact nature of his role when asked in April by The Telegraph and always refused to be quoted by name.
In an hour-long meeting at a chic restaurant on the 51st floor of a skyscraper he fiercely defended Mr Najib’s innocence in the 1MDB scandal, was effusive about his likeability and bullish about his election prospects.
Malaysia was now his home, he said in an unguarded personal moment, admitting that he had little desire to return to the UK.
Mr Stadlen played a key role in defending his boss from claims from US investigators that his associates stole and laundered £3.4bn from the 1MDB fund between 2009 to 2014. Allegations of money-laundering and graft in connection to the fund have been probed in at least six countries and widely reported in the media. Recent charges brought against Mr Najib concern millions of dollars that were allegedly transferred directly into his personal bank account.
Mr Stadlen’s written responses to questions about the scandal and other government policies could be rambling and cavalier.
He denounced Mr Mahathir as a “self-confessed dictator” and his Pakatan Harapan coalition – now in government – as a “motley group of political has-beens.” He accused the Western media of “one-sided attacks."
His WhatsApp media missives continued until the day before the election, when he sent out a report alleging the phones of the then ruling coalition were under “technical attack” from calls overseas that were spamming their communication lines.
By election day, as it started to become apparent that the Malaysian electorate had turned on the Najib regime, Mr Stadlen’s phone went silent.