(ChannelNewsAsia)– The Malaysian government has never “contracted, employed or paid” Cambridge Analytica nor its parent company SCL Group, said the Prime Minister’s Office on Tuesday (Mar 20) in response to reports that the political consultancy firm had helped the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition win the 2013 general elections.
“Contrary to media reports, neither Cambridge Analytica nor its parent company SCL Group have ever – now or in the past – been contracted, employed or paid in any way by Barisan Nasional, the Prime Minister’s Office or any part of the Government of Malaysia,” it said in a statement.
Executives from UK firm Cambridge Analytica – which is accused of using private Facebook data to manipulate the US elections – were reportedly recorded saying that they had used “a web of shell companies to disguise their activities in elections in Mexico, Malaysia and Brazil, among various countries where they have worked to sway election outcomes”. This was according to a Reuters report.
The website of the firm’s division, CA Political, also stated that it “supported Barisan Nasional in Kedah state with a targeted messaging campaign highlighting their school improvements since 2008”.
This has implicated Mukhriz Mahathir, the son of former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, given that he was with BN Kedah and became the state’s chief minister in 2013 until he was sacked from the party. He later helped to form opposition party, Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM).
In its statement, the Prime Minister’s Office said: “The SCL Group country representative today confirmed to the government that Cambridge Analytica’s advice on the 2013 general election was provided personally to Mukhriz Mahathir, PPBM Deputy President.
“The SCL representative also confirmed that he reported directly to Mukhriz Mahathir, not BN or the government.”
The representative it referred to was Azrin Zizal, the director of SCL’s Southeast Asian division who was Mr Mukhriz’s former media officer.
Mr Mukhriz has denied having any knowledge of Cambridge Analytica, calling the PMO statement “misleading’.
“I categorically deny any contact with Cambridge Analytica at any time,” he told Channel NewsAsia.
“Azrin Zizal was employed by me as my media officer from 2009 to 2013 when I was the Deputy Minister of International Trade & Industry. He was not employed by me as a representative of a company such as SCL Group or Cambridge Analytica, and he was no longer my media officer when I became the Chief Minister of Kedah.
“Any claims otherwise is a misrepresentation of the facts intended to divert attention away from the possible use of illegal campaign tactics as admitted by Cambridge Analytica for BN,” Mr Mukhriz added.
Earlier on Tuesday, former deputy prime minister and BN election director Muhyiddin Yassin had denied having any knowledge of Cambridge Analytica’s hiring as well.
Dr Mahathir, who is the chairman of the opposition coalition which both Mr Mukhriz and Mr Muhyiddin are part of, has expressed concern about Cambridge Analytica’s “manipulative” tactics and the potential role it played in the polls.