Sunday, August 16, 2015

1MDB's Missing US$1.1 Billion Enigma


Arul Kanda must explain the mystery of the missing US$1.1 billion of “redeemed” Cayman Islands investment.

Under tremendous pressure from the Malaysian public back in December 2014, the 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) President Arul Kanda hastily announced via a media statement only 13 January 2015 that the balance of the US$1.103 billion has been “redeemed” but refused to disclose the nature of the proceeds and where the proceeds were deposited.

All Malaysians knew then was that despite an overdue RM2 billion debt 1MDB was to pay at the end of November 2014, 1MDB never brought the money back into Malaysia.

It was only in 7 February 2015 that Arul Kanda revealed to The Business Times of Singapore that the proceeds were “cash” held outside Malaysia. Arul Kanda clearly stated that while the funds amounting to US$1.103 billion would not be repatriated back to Malaysia, it would be kept in US dollars “as we have US$6.5 billion (RM23.06 billion) in bonds out there, in which interest payments come up to nearly US$400 million (RM1.4 billion) a year.”

The 1MDB President specifically said, “the cash is in our accounts and in US dollars. I can assure you (about that)... I have seen the statements.”

This alleged “cash” held outside Malaysia was confirmed by none other than the Prime Minister, Dato’ Seri Najib Razak himself in his parliamentary reply to me dated 10 March 2015:

"Baki dana pelaburan 1MDB yang telah diuruskan oleh Cayman Monetary Authority sebanyak US$1.103 bilion telah ditebus dalam bentuk wang tunai dan masih disimpan dalam mata wang US Dolar di BSI Bank Limited Singapore."

However, after a series of exposes by the Sarawak Report which pointed to an absence of actual “cash” in the BSI Bank account in Singapore, Dato’ Seri Najib Razak, who is also the Minister of Finance, was forced to correct his parliamentary response on 19 May 2015 which conceded that:

"…baki pelaburan yang telah ditebus oleh 1MDB adalah dalam bentuk aset di dalam mata wang US Dolar di sebuah bank di Singapura…"

This proved that the 1MDB President had lied to the world about the fact that there was US$1.1 billion of “cash” sitting in the branch of the Swiss Bank in Singapore, when it was merely so-called “assets”, a fact which Arul Kanda himself has conceded as a laughable “misunderstanding”.

However, the mystery had deepened when the Second Finance Minister, Dato’ Seri Husni Hanadzlah fine-tuned the latter parliamentary reply further in his press statements, claiming that what was held in BSI Bank were “units”, when he was asked to clarify on the exact nature of these “assets” in Singapore.

Nobody in the world knows exactly what these alleged “units” were except perhaps for Arul Kanda himself. Even Dato’ Seri Husni Hanadzlah was at a loss when asked to explain what these “Units” were. “Units” of investment are typically re-packaged assets sold by certain fund managers to investors using their own opaque measurement and valuation terms.

However if these assets in BSI Bank Singapore were still in “units” form, instead of being in raw assets like cash or shares or properties, it actually meant that the investment in Cayman Islands was never truly “redeemed”.

This means that Arul Kanda had lied and misled Malaysians from the very beginning. He not only lied about the fact that the proceeds from the redemption are in the form of cash, he lied to Malaysians about the fact that the Cayman Islands “fund” was redeemed in the first place! There was never any real “redemption” because the investment was in “units” form before the 13 January 2015 redemption, and they are still in “units” form today!

This proved that the whole so called investment in Cayman Islands since 2012 was a scam to hide the true worth of funds and assets remaining in 1MDB. It also proved that Arul Kanda’s media statements, despite having issued 48 of them on behalf of 1MDB, cannot be trusted by any measure.

As the President of 1MDB, a wholly-owned Ministry of Finance subsidiary laden with more than RM42 billion of debt, Arul Kanda must be held accountable to the tax-payers. If his “open book” media statements are not trustworthy, then the next best “open book” measure is for him to hold a public dialogue or debate with his critics.

I am ever prepared to accept a dialogue offer from Arul Kanda made in January at any time and place specified. I will not chicken out at the last minute claiming insufficient notice or other prior engagements. I am also 100% certain that thousands of Malaysians will want to watch the dialogue or debate “live” as they have had enough of 1MDB’s lies, half-truths and evasive answers.

Tony Pua

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