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MACC's zeroing in on high-profile corporate bailouts of Mahathir era

Publish date: Tue, 05 Mar 2024, 11:00 AM

KUALA LUMPUR: The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) has shifted focus of its widening anti-graft probe against high-profile individuals to several controversial bailouts of businessmen connected to two leaders around the 1997 financial crisis.

The MACC is revisiting several of the country's more spectacular corporate bailouts during the late 1990s and early 2000, according to a Channel News Asia report.

Government officials told CNA that top of the list includes the controversial RM836 million (US$176 million) takeover by Petroliam Nasional Bhd (Petronas) of the debt-laden shipping assets controlled by former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad's eldest son Mirzan Mahathir in March 1998.

Another is the RM1.79 billion bailout in early 2000 of businessman Tan Sri Tajudin Ramli, who at the time owned a controlling stake in troubled national carrier Malaysian Airline System.

The probe into the Petronas bailout of Konsortium Perkapalan Bhd, a shipping concern which was 51 per cent-owned by Mirzan, could pose problems for Dr Mahathir, the report said.

That's because Petronas reports directly to the prime minister, a position held by Dr Mahathir at the time.

Under Petronas' charter, all its acquisitions, proposed investments and also divestments must receive the approval of the prime minister and its board of directors.

Senior government officials involved in the ongoing probe told CNA that investigators from the MACC are trying to determine the role Dr Mahathir played, if any, in the transaction. 

They also noted that top officials from Petronas, including members of its board of directors, who served at the national oil corporation at the time will be interviewed in the coming days as part of the ongoing investigation.

Separately, the probe into the government takeover of MAS is connected to the MACC's ongoing investigations into the financial affairs of former finance minister Tun Daim Zainuddin, who was charged in court in late January for failing to comply with a notice from the agency to declare his assets.

The MACC investigators are reviewing the circumstances behind the government's decision to pay a huge premium for the 29 per cent equity interest Tajudin controlled in the troubled airline.

The deal was widely seen as a bailout of the businessman, who was struggling to restructure his personal debt load that was estimated at just above RM1 billion at the time. 

The review of the MAS bailout and the financial lifeline extended by Petronas to rescue Mirzan's shipping assets are not the only Dr. Mahathir-era deals on the MACC's radar, the report said.

The commission is also probing a separate corporate exercise involving the now-defunct Singapore-based trading platform called the Central Limit Order Book, or Clob, and the takeover of a large conglomerate called Multi-Purpose Holdings Bhd in the late 1990s. 

The probe into these two corporate workouts, which are said to be connected to Singapore businessman Akbar Khan, are directly linked to the investigation into Daim's affairs, MACC officials noted. 

MACC investigators told CNA that the ongoing graft probe, which involves the dialling back to the Mahathir-era bailouts, is presenting the agency with a number of hurdles, such as the sourcing of documents from more than 20 years ago and locating individuals who could assist in the investigations.

The MACC officials also acknowledged that the anti-graft body, which was formed in early 2009 to replace its predecessor, the Anti-Corruption Agency, lacks the personnel with the historical context over cases now under review because many have either retired or passed on. 

"Because of these problems, the agency is taking other approaches, such as to compel those under investigation to declare their assets," said a senior MACC official.

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