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Wednesday, June 29, 2016

'I AM NOT ANTI-CHINA' BUT NAJIB HAS GONE TOO FAR: MAHATHIR LAMBAST NAJIB'S 'STUPID' DEAL WITH BEIJING

'I AM NOT ANTI-CHINA' BUT NAJIB HAS GONE TOO FAR: MAHATHIR LAMBAST NAJIB'S 'STUPID' DEAL WITH BEIJING
Malaysia’s longest-serving premier, Dr Mahathir Mohamad, has taken aim at embattled prime Minister Najib Razak’s “stupid” energy deal with China, as he vows to continue to campaign against his one-time prodigy-turned political nemesis one year after he was linked to scandal-hit state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB)
The 90-year-old former leader has been openly hostile to Najib, who has battled allegations that billions were looted from state fund 1MDB in a vast campaign of fraud and embezzlement stretching from the Middle East to the Caymans.
In an exclusive interview with the South China Morning Post, Mahathir slammed Najib’s recent sale of state energy assets to the Chinese government.
“It is something that is wrong in terms of ... national policy,” Mahathir said
China General Nuclear Power Group (CGN) bought 1 Malaysia Development Berhad’s Edra Global Energy in March for US$2.3 billion, giving Beijing a major foothold in the energy sector.
Usually, foreign investors can only own up to 49 per cent of Malaysian power companies unless they are exempt by the government. According to a Moody’s Investors Service report, CGN was granted a waiver by Kuala Lumpur.
“Here are power plants belonging to Malaysians - and you buy it up and sell it to another nation. That is wrong,” Mahathir said.
“Our people have the money to run it. They were doing reasonably well. But you offer to buy [the power assets] at a higher price than the market. Then you offer to sell it at a lower price. It’s a bit stupid, isn’t it?”
Mahathir said he was not anti-China, but questioned the government’s logic with the deal.
“On the one hand there is some benefit,” he said.
“We want to be friendly with China, we have no quarrel with China. We need to be balanced. We need to know what is the consequence. There will always be the plus and the minus, pros and cons.”
Mahathir, who lead Malaysia for 22 years, has been calling for Najib to step down since problems with the state-owned company 1MDB began to surface last year. Najib was plunged into the crisis in July when it was revealed that US$681 million in transfers were made to his personal bank accounts in 2013. He says they were “personal donations” from the Saudi royal family.
“As far as I am concerned, 1MDB is verging on the criminal. I cannot possibly overlook that and say let’s go on,” Mahathir said.
IMDB is also under investigation for alleged money laundering and embezzlement in at least 6 countries including Switzerland, Luxembourg, US and Singapore.
Najib chaired the advisory board of 1MDB which racked up RM42 billion ringgit (US$9.6 billion) in debts in less than five years. It defaulted on interest payments for two bonds recently.
As part of the efforts to pay off its debts, 1MDB sold its power assets and a property development venture to Chinese companies, reducing its debt by RM40.4 billion ringgit (US$10 billion), according to Najib. He was replaced as 1MDB chairman with Mohd Irwan Serigar Abdullah in May, but denies any wrongdoing.
Mahathir said that while Malaysia practised openness in trade, the same could not be said for China.
“We are a very open [market]. While we have to be open and friendly, we have also to think about our own people’s needs,” Mahathir said.
“We can’t go to China and make a bid like that. They exercise some form of protection by making specs that you cannot conform to.”
As an example, he pointed out that mainland-made cars were being sold in the country.
“But we can’t go to China and export into China completely built-up cars. We cannot even manufacture cars there without a special licence … the licence is very difficult to get,” said Mahathir who spearheaded the country’s production of Malaysia’s Proton cars.
Najib this month won two by-elections by landslides - votes that were seen as referendums on his rule.
Mahathir had campaigned against Najib, accusing him of corruption due to his handling of the 1MDB fiasco.
While he was disappointed with Najib’s wins, he admitted 1MDB was a tough issue to sell to voters.
“1MDB it is very complicated. The farmers and the fishermen cannot even visualise one million ringgit, [let alone] 42 billion ringgit,” Mahathir said.
“They don’t feel the impact of 1MDB and the need for the government to pay off huge debts.”
Mahathir also conceded that despite his efforts, Najib could be re-elected in 2018: “There is that possibility of course.”
Najib has accused Mahathir of trying to oust him so that his son, Mukhriz Mahathir, who was until recently a member of the ruling United Malays National Organisation (Umno) party, could take over. On Friday, Umno expelled the younger Mahathir and former deputy prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin for “demonising” Najib’s leadership. Both were previously suspended from the party.
Mahathir, who left Umno in February this year, dismissed the claims of engineering a leadership takeover by his son, saying if he wanted his son in power, he would have done that when he was prime minister between 1981 and 2003.
“If in the first place, I wanted to do something for my son, there was a time when I was in the seat [of power], and I could have promoted him. I actually prevented him from going into politics,” he said.
“He went into politics on his own after I stepped down. For me to have this fantastic design, it’s an absurd suggestion.”
Najib’s office has also called on Mahathir to name his candidate to replace him to prove he harboured no such ambitions for his son.
“I don’t have anybody in mind really. If [Najib] goes away, Umno and the ruling coalition BN, will still be in power. They have to choose from within themselves,” Mahathir said. - http://www.scmp.com/

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