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Ex-Umno man schools Anwar on difference between MAHB share deal and shares trade in open market

Publish date: Sun, 23 Jun 2024, 08:46 PM

Former Umno information chief Isham Jalil has countered Anwar Ibrahim's arguments in defence of the decision to bring in a company owned by US investment giant BlackRock into a consortium to manage the country's airports, saying it is not the same as shares bought on the open market.

Anwar had argued that BlackRock already has a presence in Malaysia through stakes in various companies, including in the opposition-controlled states of Kelantan and Terengganu.

Isham said that BlackRock's shares in these companies, as well as the government bonds, were bought entirely on the stock market, which is open to all interested buyers.

"BlackRock's stake in the shares and bonds of these companies is minuscule, only about 1% to 3%.

"They don't need to apply for permission or negotiate with us to buy shares and bonds in an open market like this, nor can they be prevented from doing so," said Isham, who served in the Economic Planning Unit during the Najib Razak administration.

According to Isham, the sale of shares in Malaysia Airports Holdings (MAHB) involves a strategic company owned by the government and the public.

Under the recently announced plan, BlackRock's Global Infrastructure Partners (GIP) will take a 30% stake in a consortium to manage MAHB, alongside the government's investment arm Khazanah Nasional and the Employees Provident Fund (EPF), both entities under the jurisdiction of the finance ministry led by Anwar.

It sparked protests due to BlackRock's well-documented role in strengthening the Israeli economy and its extensive investments in the US arms industry.

Critics also argued that there is no justification to involve a foreign partner in MAHB when the company is already profitable and made a net profit of over half a billion ringgit last year.

Isham described GIP's stake in MAHB as "large and significant".

"This sale is not in the open market but through negotiations to make MAHB a private company that is no longer listed on the stock exchange," he added.

Isham said that the sale of MAHB's shares to GIP was "the choice and decision of the government", despite the company making profits of several hundred million ringgit.

On Friday, Anwar defended the decision to sell MAHB shares to GIP, saying the government could not cut ties with companies that have relations with Israel, adding that such a move would also "affect the country's economy".

Anwar said negotiations with GIP had taken place before the company was acquired by BlackRock.

Anwar, who is also finance minister, accused critics of the deal of exploiting the Palestinian conflict: "The companies BlackRock is involved in are in Kelantan, Selangor, Sarawak, all over the country and in the stock market."

The response came a day after former Umno Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin said that Anwar and the government would be complicit in Israel's atrocities if they did not call off the deal with GIP.

Isham rejected Anwar's argument that the negotiations with GIP were conducted before the company was bought by BlackRock.

"Anwar, now that we know that GIP has been bought by BlackRock, we have the option of cancelling the deal with GIP because of this development"

Isham said it was hypocritical to say that the economy would be harmed if Malaysia cut ties with companies accused of supporting Israel.

"If we are against genocide, we should not accept money from parties that support genocide. That's the only thing that matters. Any other reason to justify themselves only shows hypocrisy and a weak personality without principles."

BlackRock also invests in Lockheed Martin, holding a 7.4% stake in the defence contractor, which is also accused of "complicity in genocide" for its role in arming the Israeli military.

Anwar's defence of BlackRock's GIP is similar to the stance he took in early May when pro-Palestinian groups protested against the participation of defence companies with close ties to the Israeli military at a defence exhibition in Kuala Lumpur.

Anwar had said at the time that this was not a problem as long as the companies were not registered in Israel.

Critics said Anwar's stance raised the question of whether Malaysia would tolerate non-Israeli companies even if they aided Israel.

US-based defence firm Lockheed Martin, for example, states on its website that it is "proud of the significant role it has fulfilled in the security of the state of Israel".

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