THE queues of eager people looped out of the store and around the floor of the city centre shopping mall. So many people showed up, in fact, that some were turned away due to sheer numbers.
It was Malaysians standing side by side, clutching closely their newest purchase made just minutes earlier.
This was no concert or rally, it was just a book launch; a book launch unlike any Malaysia has seen in a long, long time.
Those fans diligently queueing said they’d never seen anything quite like it before.
This one was different for many reasons, and not just because of the hordes of fans.
This one meant something a little more to the country of 30 million.
This one detailed the biggest financial scandal in history. The book tells the story of how one 27-year-old upstart and a, at best absent and at worst corrupt-to-the-hilt, prime minister managed to pull off a bare-faced heist of a scale that beggars belief.
And it all happened right here, in Malaysia.
This was the story of 1 Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) and the men (and woman) who made it happen.
What is now global news has dominated Malaysian headlines for years, as citizens slowly uncovered, and attempted to come to terms with, a scandal bigger than anyone could have imagined.
While 1MDB is now synonymous with corruption and abuse of power for much of the world, Malaysians have a far more personal reaction as they saw their leader swim in diamonds as the common man battled with increased cost of living and newly imposed taxes.
Co-author of the Billion Dollar Whale, Tom Wright of the Wall Street Journal, was at the launch, refusing to leave until all copies had been signed. He had the countenance of a man who understood what this meant to the people who had come out to see him – an unwavering smile and unabated willingness to chat to those in line.
When approached, his publicist said they hadn’t anticipated such big crowds to come out for a book opening. Wright himself told the crowd his publisher had rarely seen a book sell this well overseas.
All of them underestimated what this book – the research, the work that went into it, the persistence and the outcomes – meant to the people of Kuala Lumpur.
“He essentially helped expose the biggest financial scandal of our time,” said SJ Zapa, who had arrived to the signing hours earlier only to find the books were already sold out. “One that paved way for what we thought to be the impossible – the fall of Barisan Nasional.”
Zapa was referring to the federal coalition that ruled Malaysia with an iron fist for six decades before its ouster in the recent May 9 polls.
There was applause as Wright entered the Q&A session. There were jeers when former-prime minister Najib Razak and his wife Rosmah – both implicated in the scandal – were discussed. It was an impassioned crowd.
Wright appreciated the special moment in Malaysian history, acknowledging that the book would not have been published in the country if not for the change in government. The book he and co-author Bradley Hope had written was “interacting with something else that’s going on in Malaysia.”
“There’s a moment happening here,” he said.
To bring the book here to Malaysia was simply “amazing,” Wright told us.
Until the May election, they never thought they would be able to sell copies in the country that had fought so hard to stop it from happening. As Wright said, they anticipated selling books in Singapore airport with the hope they would make their way into Malaysian hands.
But through people power, the fed-up electorate of Malaysia made it possible when they implemented a change of government at the ballot box in May.
The uncovering of the 1MDB scandal undoubtedly played some part in that happening. And Malaysians are grateful for it.
This “amazing thing” that still stretches the boundaries of belief has been brought back to where it all started.
We recommend that you get your copy now, but they’re like gold dust here in Kuala Lumpur – a city that clearly wants to understand what went wrong, and how to make sure it never happens again.