Malaysia's Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim
Malaysia's Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, shown here addressing a March 11, 2024 press conference in Germany, has called for private Malaysian companies to take 'necessary action' against Bloomberg news agency for a report about casino plans. (Reuters/Liesa Johannssen)

Malaysia’s prime minister calls for ‘action’ over Bloomberg casino report

Bangkok, April 29, 2024 – Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim should retract his call on local private companies to take action against Bloomberg news agency for a report on alleged plans to build a casino complex in a troubled real estate development, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Monday.

On Friday, April 26, Anwar referred to Bloomberg’s report as a “lie” and said those mentioned in the report “must take the necessary action,” without elaborating on the instruction, according to news reports.

The Bloomberg report, citing anonymous sources and published on April 25, said Anwar met top Berjaya Corporation and Genting Group executives to discuss the potential for a casino complex at the Forest City project in southern Johor state. The report said representatives of Malaysia’s king, Sultan Ibrahim Iskandar were also present.

Both companies have denied the meeting took place, according to news reports. On Friday, Berjaya Corporation filed a police report urging authorities to determine the identity of the unnamed sources quoted in the Bloomberg report, local reports said.

Berjaya said in a statement that the publication or republication of the Bloomberg article “was made with malicious intent, aimed to cause political upheaval, undermine the public trust and distort public perception” of Sultan Ibrahim and the prime minister, those reports said.

Penalties for criminal libel are imprisonment for up to two years and/or fines under Sections 499 and 500 of Malaysia’s penal code.    

“Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim and the companies mentioned in Bloomberg’s casino report should walk back their threats to the anonymous sources cited in the story and allow the news agency to report on issues of national import without fear of reprisal,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative. “Anwar’s government was elected on a reformist platform, but this type of intimidation of the press harkens back to Malaysia’s authoritarian past.”

CPJ could not confirm as of Monday if any of the Bloomberg reporters who contributed to the casino story had been summoned by police for questioning.

The Bloomberg report said any state support for a casino complex could cause a “backlash” in the Muslim-majority nation, where gambling is prohibited under Islamic law. Genting Group operates Malaysia’s only casino — for non-Muslims — in the nation’s central highland region.

The Prime Minister’s Office, Berjaya Corporation, and Genting Group did not immediately reply to CPJ’s emailed requests for comment.