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Inside the Billion Dollar Whale Scandal: 2020 Shorenstein Journalism Award Recipient Tom Wright to Headline Award Panel Discussion
The $7 billion 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) scandal, one of the largest-ever financial frauds, exposed the depths of corruption in global markets. The story starts in Malaysia, but a raft of institutions from Goldman Sachs to Big Four auditors and Manhattan lawyers enabled the graft. Five years after the story came to light, almost no one has gone to jail. What’s in store for the main players, how can our justice system ensure history does not repeat itself, and how do political actors shape the trajectories of anticorruption efforts in Asia?
Tom Wright, winner of the 2020 Shorenstein Journalism Award, addresses these questions and more in his keynote address.
Wright is the coauthor of the New York Times bestseller Billion Dollar Whale, which unravels the story of one of the world's greatest financial scandals involving the multibillion-dollar looting of the Malaysian sovereign wealth fund 1MDB. Wright’s work sparked investigations by law enforcement and regulators in multiple countries and outrage in Malaysia, where the ruling coalition, after 61 years in power, suffered a landslide defeat in a shocking 2018 election.
The keynote will be followed by a guided interview with the award winner led by Meredith Weiss, Professor and Chair of Political Science at the Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy, University at Albany, SUNY.
The event will conclude with an audience Q&A session moderated by Donald K. Emmerson, Director of the Southeast Asia Program at the Walter H. Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center.
Follow us on Twitter and use the hashtag #SJA20 to join the conversation.
is an author, journalist, and speaker who over the past twenty-five years has lived and worked mainly in South and Southeast Asia. He is a Pulitzer finalist, a Loeb winner, and co-author of the New York Times
bestseller Billion Dollar Whale
, about the 1MDB scandal. A theme running through Tom’s work is the blight of corruption in Asia, abetted by Western companies and institutions. He started his career with Reuters in Indonesia in the 1990s at a time when Gen. Suharto’s military dictatorship was crumbling. During the Asian financial crisis of 1997-1998, Tom joined Dow Jones Newswires in Bangkok, later moving to the Wall Street Journal.
He has investigated corruption in Indian companies, the failure of the U.S. civilian aid program for Pakistan, and was one of the first journalists to arrive at the scene of the raid in which Navy SEALs killed Osama bin Laden. In 2013, Tom spearheaded the coverage of the Rana Plaza factory disaster in Bangladesh, which killed over 1,000 people, earning the Wall Street Journal a Sigma Delta Chi award from The Society of Professional Journalists. The series exposed how international garment manufacturers turned a blind eye to safety violations in order to reduce costs.
As Asia Economics Editor in Hong Kong, Tom managed a number of correspondents in the region, while continuing to report. In 2015, he began investigations into the 1MDB scandal, an almost unbelievable series of events in which bankers at Goldman Sachs helped a young Malaysian financier steal at least $4 billion from Malaysian state fund 1MDB, one of the largest financial frauds of all time. The three-year investigation showed the degree to which Western institutions, from Wall Street banks, law firms, auditors, and even Hollywood film companies, ignore malfeasance in the pursuit of profits.
Meredith Weiss is Professor and Chair of Political Science in the Rockefeller College of Public Affairs & Policy at the University at Albany, State University of New York. Her research addresses social mobilization and civil society, the politics of identity and development, parties and elections, institutional reform and (anti)corruption, and subnational governance in Southeast Asia, with particular focus on Malaysia and Singapore. She has conducted fieldwork in those two countries as well as Indonesia, the Philippines, and Timor-Leste, and has held visiting fellowships or professorships in Australia, Japan, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and the US.
Her books include Protest and Possibilities: Civil Society and Coalitions for Political Change in Malaysia (2006), Student Activism in Malaysia: Crucible, Mirror, Sideshow (2011), The Roots of Resilience: Political Machines and Grassroots Politics in Southeast Asia (2020), and eleven edited or co-edited volumes, most recently, The Political Logics of Anticorruption Efforts in Asia (2019) and Toward a New Malaysia? The 2018 Election and Its Aftermath (2020). Her articles appear in Asian Studies Review, Asian Survey, Critical Asian Studies, Democratization, Journal of Contemporary Asia, Journal of Democracy, Taiwan Journal of Democracy, and elsewhere.
Professor Weiss co-edits the Cambridge University Press Elements book series on Politics and Society in Southeast Asia and is an associate editor for Southeast Asia of the Association for Asian Studies’ (AAS) Journal of Asian Studies. She co-founded the Southeast Asian Politics related group of the American Political Science Association (APSA) and chairs the APSA’s Asia Workshops steering committee, is past chair of the AAS’s Southeast Asia Council, and is on the Southeast Asia Research Group (SEAREG) Council. She received her MA and PhD in Political Science from Yale University and a BA in Political Science, Policy Studies, and English from Rice University.
About the Shorenstein Journalism Award:
The Shorenstein Journalism Award, which carries a cash prize of US $10,000, recognizes outstanding journalists who have spent their careers helping audiences around the world understand the complexities of the Asia-Pacific region, defined broadly to include Northeast, Southeast, South, and Central Asia and Australasia. Award recipients are veteran journalists with a distinguished body of work. News organizations are also eligible for the award.
The award is sponsored and presented by the Walter H. Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center (Shorenstein APARC) at Stanford University. It honors the legacy of the Center’s benefactor, Mr. Walter H. Shorenstein, and his twin passions for promoting excellence in journalism and understanding of Asia. It also symbolizes the Center’s commitment to journalism that persistently and courageously seeks accuracy, deep reporting, and nuanced coverage in an age when attacks are regularly launched on the independent news media, on fact-based truth, and on those who tell it.
An annual tradition, the Shorenstein Journalism Award alternates between recipients whose work has mostly been conveyed through American news media and recipients whose work has mostly been conveyed through news media in one or more parts of the Asia-Pacific region. Included among the latter candidates are journalists who are from the region and work there, and who, in addition to their recognized excellence, may have helped defend and encourage free media in one or more countries in the region.
Learn more at https://aparc.fsi.stanford.edu/events/shorenstein-journalism-award.