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Monday, April 18, 2016

Where’s that RM14 billion, 1MDB?


QUESTION TIME Finally, after over three years of unrelenting, intensive reporting on the misdeeds of self-styled strategic development company 1Malaysia Development Bhd, there is admission from management that there could be fraud - after US$3.51 billion, or RM14 billion, has gone missing.
It also marks a very serious disagreement with some of its partners which are state-owned enterprises of Abu Dhabi, one of whom guaranteed a huge US$3.5 billion via two bonds while the other is the joint venture partner in the RM18 billion Tun Razak Exchange (TRX) financial services real estate project in Kuala Lumpur.
This missing RM14 billion is a massive development, representing an unravelling of the 1MDB empire built entirely on debt. It is a damning indictment of the management and shareholders who were very likely involved in a deliberate and considered effort to transfer a huge amount of money fraudulently out of 1MDB, money obtained through bonds.
It was bad enough that the reasons for this massive transfer of funds were rather tenuous and unreasonable, those who were supposed to have received that massive sum of RM14 billion deny that they were ever paid, an incredulous turn of events which confirms fraud.
1MDB CEO Arul Kanda Kandasamy, who has admitted that there could have been fraud, and who had worked for entities linked to those who now deny the payments, is more interested in a debate with MP Tony Pua rather than doing his job at 1MDB.
If he suspects fraud - and a massive one at that, definitely the biggest in the history of Malaysia and among the biggest in the world (we seem to have a predilection for records of the wrong sort) - he has a clear obligation to make a police report and as soon as possible.
He would have a lot more reports to make as we have pointed out here and would have his hands rather full investigating a myriad of ills at 1MDB, which should leave him with very little time for debate with politicians.
But given the way he has been acting in the face of obvious wrongs committed repeatedly by 1MDB, it will be reasonable to assume that Arul Kanda’s brief is to cover up as much as possible at 1MDB and merely structure an exit plan for 1MDB’s massive debts and dubious “investments” without arousing any suspicion of wrongdoing, what more investigating them.
Incredulous developments
Now a brief recap of these incredulous developments. In 2013, 1MDB finalised fund-raising of US$3.5 billion via two bond issues arranged by Goldman Sachs which were guaranteed by International Petroleum Investment Company or IPIC, 100 percent owned by the Abu Dhabi government. IPIC has a 95 percent-owned company called Aabar Investments PJS. Both companies are incorporated in Abu Dhabi. Aabar is 1MDB’s partner in the RM18 billion TRX project.
In return for guaranteeing the bond issues and as payment for extinguishing an option given to Aabar for the purchase of 1MDB’s energy assets, 1MDB paid US$3.51 billion (a massive RM14 billion at an exchange rate of RM4 per US dollar) to a company called Aabar Investments PJS Limited but incorporated in the British Virgin Islands (Aabar BVI).
In effect, 1MDB took loans of US$3.5 billion and promptly passed all of it ostensibly to Aabar and ultimately IPIC, a transaction which should have triggered alarm bells but for strange and suspicious reasons did not.
And worse, IPIC in a statement to the London Stock Exchange recently, shockingly said that both IPIC and Aabar confirmed that Aabar BVI is not part of the group and have not received payments from Aabar BVI or assumed any of its liabilities. Also, the statement said that IPIC understood that Aabar BVI has been wound up and dissolved since June 2015.
In effect, IPIC is saying it never received any of the US$3.51 billion that 1MDB said it had paid it. In other words, a huge sum of RM14 billion has completely gone missing and 1MDB can’t explain why the company into which 1MDB paid the amount no longer exists.
Here is part of 1MDB’s statement in reply to the one from IPIC: “1MDB company records show documentary evidence of the ownership of Aabar BVI and of each payment made, pursuant to various legal agreements that were negotiated with Khadem Al Qubaisi in his capacity as Managing Director of IPIC & Chairman of Aabar and/or with Mohamed Badawy Al Husseiny, in his capacity as CEO of Aabar. It is, therefore, a surprising claim that neither IPIC nor Aabar have knowledge of, nor have benefited from, payments made by 1MDB to Aabar BVI.”
Yes, surprising indeed is an understatement. What 1MDB failed to mention was that the two people mentioned are currently detained in Abu Dhabi and are being sought by the Office of the Attorney-General of Switzerland which is investigating the outflow of funds out of 1MDB, according to reports.
The Wall Street Journal has alleged that some of these funds may have found their way into Prime Minister Najib Razak’s accounts and may form part of the so-called RM4.2 billion in “donations”.
Careful now, Arul
Is Arul Kanda the man to handle 1MDB, find out what went wrong, bring those responsible to account and put things right? We made an assessment of this in January 2015 when he came aboard 1MDB. And we concluded not, because he is just too close to the people involved in the deals - which include the Abu Dhabi government.
He joined 1MDB directly from Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank (ADCB), where he was executive vice-president and head of investment banking. That’s a bank which is Abu Dhabi state owned, as is IPIC and Aabar both of whom have rather convoluted deals with 1MDB.
He has to watch it. He has obligations under the Companies Act which governs behaviour and obligations of directors of companies and their responsibilities to shareholders which in this case is ultimately the general public through the Minister of Finance Inc, a body wholly owned by the government.
If he does not report to the proper authorities suspected instances of fraud and other misappropriation, even if it was done before his time, he may become culpable as well. We have pointed out previously that the person most culpable is the prime minister, Najib Abdul Razak.
At a recent speech at an ‘Invest Malaysia’ conference in Kuala Lumpur, Najib glibly referred to the legacy of 1MDB which according to him will be things like TRX and Bandar Malaysia.
But the legacy that 1MDB will leave behind will not be that rosy one envisaged by Najib but a rather grim and sordid one - a tale of alleged corruption and abuse of power to siphon off and lose tens billions of ringgit belonging to the country heaping shame and ignominy upon its government.
It dwarfs the RM2 billion loss - then the largest banking loss ever in the world - at Bumiputra Malaysia Finance (BMF), when Bank Bumiputra, set up to help Malays, squandered that amount and went under helping a businessman speculate in Hong Kong property in the late 70s and early 80s.
Like BMF before it, 1MDB will put us on the record books for all the wrong reasons. And it will take us a helluva long time to recover from it when we actually get around to it. We have lost seven years already from the time 1MDB raised RM5 billion and gave away RM1 billion in loan mispricing in 2009.
Meantime, the losses at 1MDB will only continue to mount because no one is doing anything to stop the bleeding and recover amounts spent in highly dubious ventures.

P GUNASEGARAM thinks that this old Tamil adage, of which there are probably many similar ones in other languages, describes the situation at 1MDB rather well: “You can’t hide a whole pumpkin in the rice pot”. Contact him at t.p.guna@gmail.com. -Mkini

5 comments:

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