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HONG KONG — It began as a day at the races in Malaysia. But for a group of Australians who stripped down to briefs that featured Malaysia’s flag — including an aide to a cabinet minister, according to news reports — it ended in arrest.
The nine men, all in their 20s, were arrested on Sunday after celebrating an Australian driver’s victory at the Malaysian Grand Prix by shedding their clothes to reveal the flag-themed “budgie smugglers,” as Australians call tight swimwear, according to news reports. They were still in custody on Tuesday.
“We open our doors to tourists. We try to treat them as, you know, as well as we can, even sometimes better than our own people,” Malaysia’s deputy home minister, Nur Jazlan Mohamed, said at a news briefing on Tuesday in the Malaysian city of Putrajaya. “But when they come here with the intention to, you know, commit indecent acts to embarrass us, I think that’s not how visitors should respond to our good treatment, especially if there is a political motive behind it.”
Abdul Aziz Ali, an official with the police in Sepang — the city where the race was held, south of Kuala Lumpur, the capital — said the men would be investigated on suspicion of intentional insult with intent to provoke a breach of the peace, according to the state news agency, Bernama. The Malaysian penal code lists the maximum sentence for that offense as two years.
Mr. Abdul Aziz said they would also be investigated on suspicion of indecent behavior in a public place, according to the report. The Sepang Police Department did not respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.
Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said in a statement that it was providing consular assistance to “a group of Australians who were arrested in Malaysia” but was unable to confirm their names or what charges they faced.
The men had been celebrating a victory on Sunday by a fellow Australian, the Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo. After stripping to their briefs, they drank beer from their shoes — an apparent homage to a victory tradition, known as a “shoey,” that was invented by a professional Australian motorcycle driver and later copied by Mr. Ricciardo.
Australian news outlets reported that one of the men was Jack Walker, an adviser to Christopher Pyne. Mr. Pyne is Australia’s minister for defense industry, overseeing military contracts.
Mr. Pyne’s office would not confirm on Tuesday that his aide had been arrested, saying in a statement that the matter was being handled by the high commissioner, Australia’s top diplomat in Malaysia. “Until we have a clearer picture of the process at hand it would be unwise to comment further,” the statement said.
The Australian tourists were not the first Western visitors to anger the Malaysian authorities by showing a locally unacceptable amount of flesh.
Last year, for example, four trekkers were charged with obscenity after taking nude photographs on the country’s highest peak, Mount Kinabalu, which is considered sacred by some Malaysians. After pleading guilty, the trekkers — two from Canada, one from Britain and another from the Netherlands — were each fined about $1,300 and sentenced to three days in jail.
Datuk Razlan Razali, chief executive of the Sepang International Circuit, told The New Straits Times that the Australians “deserve to be locked up” for their stunt.
“This shows a huge lack of respect to us as Malaysians; this is stupid behavior from foreigners who have no sense of cultural sensitivity and respect,” Mr. Razlan was quoted as saying.
But Australian officials expressed hope that the men would be freed soon.
“I’m hoping the Malaysians will understand that I don’t think there’s any real malice in it,” Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce said on Tuesday. “Stupidity, obviously. Malice, no.”