Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz, who is more used to being on the attack, has been put on the defensive over questions surrounding his son, a black Hummer and a controversial Sabah businessman.
4/11/2012: DATUK Seri Nazri Aziz is quite the fearless type. The Minister in the Prime Minister's Department has taken on big personalities like Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and survived.
He gives as good as he gets and it is quite ironic that he may have met his match in Rafizi Ramli, someone much more junior and who is not even an MP. But Rafizi is a shrewd strategist in PKR and Nazri seems to have walked into a trap set by the younger man.
It all began over what most people thought was an old story about a timber trader from Sabah called Michael Chia whom a website claimed was apprehended in Hong Kong several years ago with RM40mil in his possession.
PKR, which tried to link the incident to Sabah Chief Minister Datuk Musa Aman, had submitted questions about it in the June session of Parliament and again in the current Budget session.
Nazri answered on behalf of the Government and, on the second occasion about two weeks ago, the minister told Parliament that the Attorney-General's Chambers had not found any elements of corruption in the allegations.
That was probably the moment he stepped into the trap. On Thursday, Rafizi staged a press conference in Parliament that included a video screening and display of blown-up photographs alleging ties between Nazri's son and Chia.
The alleged ties basically revolved around a black Hummer which is reportedly registered in Chia's name and which, according to Rafizi, had been spotted being driven by the bodyguard and driver of Nazri's son Nedim.
It was a daring case of putting two and two together and claiming that it adds up to a perfect 10. But Rafizi has been on a roll even though he is answering charges in court for contravening banking laws. He knows politics is about perception and once the perception sticks, the facts that come later may not change people's mind.
A politician's son using a vehicle belonging to a businessman would not have raised eyebrows under most ordinary circumstances. But Nazri had, only a couple of weeks ago cleared Chia's name, denying that the Sabah businessman was connected to Musa or that Chia was being investigated by Hong Kong and Swiss authorities.
Nazri is the Law Minister and he knows where the lines are drawn. He should have excused himself from answering the query in Parliament. That way, Rafizi would not have the satisfaction of saying that “the one who clears Chia turns out to be the one whose family receives benefits”.
He has denied a conflict of interest and slammed his accuser as a “publicity seeker”. His defence is that the luxury vehicle is something between his son and Chia.
“If he (Chia) wants to give my son a Hummer or Ferrari, that is his business. It is not like he is giving it to me,” he had said.
Still, it does look like Nazri is in a tight corner. He has to come up with a more substantial explanation or else public opinion will not be sympathetic to him. As it is, people are asking: what else, besides the car?
Nazri's supporters, on the other hand, have slammed Rafizi for turning a blind eye to the things happening in his own backyard, pointing to the fact that Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim and other Pakatan leaders are “happily flying around in a private jet” made available by a businessman supporter.
Pictures of Anwar and his entourage riding in the private jet were posted on Twitter by PKR Batu MP Tian Chua.
“You think the businessman is doing it out of charity?” said an aide of Nazri.
Nazri has three adult children of whom Nedim is the youngest. Nedim has a sister and brother who are twins. His sister is a lawyer and his brother is in the fashion industry.
But Nedim has been the one making news and for all the wrong reasons. He was allegedly at the scene of an incident that resulted in a death. Just recently, he was cleared of wrongdoing in another incident involving his bodyguard and a security personnel.
Nedim, who has a gorgeous-looking wife and a toddler son, is the subject of much discussion on the Internet. He is the spitting image of Nazri and the father-and-son pair even sport identical close-cropped hairstyles and have a taste for expensive cigars.
The other irony to this incident is that just months ago, Nazri had been vocal in pressuring Datuk Seri Shahrizat Jalil to resign following her family's role in the NFCorp scandal. The shoe is now on the other foot and Nazri is the one under pressure and Rafizi has suggested that he take a “holiday” from the Cabinet.
It is too early to say whether Nazri's career is going to be run down by a Hummer but even before this, there was talk within Umno that this was to be his last term. He is one of the more approachable and popular MPs in Parliament among reporters and even with the opposition bench but he has become a bit of a loose cannon the last few years and his off-the-cuff remarks have embarrassed the Government on a number of occasions.
There is also a cautionary tale to this episode. Quite a bit of the sleuthing done by Rafizi's team was via social media. They had been following Nedim and his wife's activities via Twitter and that was how they tracked the couple to their ultra-luxurious condo address where they snapped pictures of the Hummer.
The trail to the Hummer and private jet was thanks to Twitter.
Incidentally, the Hummer number plate WNX9776 has a rather unfortunate ring to it. According to the numbers-crazy Chinese, it apparently sounds like “play brings down luck”.
By Joceline Tan