News

How A Malaysian Bumiputera Bank Lost Billions In A Financial Scandal – Declassified CIA Documents Suggest Dr M’s Links To BMF Scandal That Led To The Death Of Jalil Ibrahim

Malaysia , land of financial scandals usually under the pretext of Bumiputera. Once you heard the word for Bumiputera this and that , you need to be extra careful.

Tunku Abdul Aziz Tunku Ibrahim had taken Mahathir to task over the scandal involving Hong Kong-based BMF and its parent Bank Bumiputera Malaysia Bhd which had accumulated assets worth more than US$15 billion (RM54 billion) by 1988.

Abdul Aziz had alleged that the flagship of the New Economic Policy had moved aggressively into overseas ventures and lent “recklessly” to politically well-connected companies and individuals, many of whom did not have the capacity or intention to repay the loans, losing billions in the process.

How A Malaysian Bumiputera Bank Lost Billions In A Financial Scandal

The Bank Bumiputra scandal was one of Malaysia’s biggest financial scandals before 1MDB. The bank lost $1billion in public funds to an elaborate scheme of corruption, false accounting and sham profits. The main mastermind behind this web of deceit was a civil engineer by the name of George Tan, who had fled Singapore after his first bankruptcy in 1972, and ended up in Hong Kong. He founded the Carrain Group which eventually collapsed with some 1.2 Billion USD of debt. In this episode of ‘The Big Steal’ we see how Bank Bumiputra lost millions in a financial scandal.

Declassified CIA Documents Suggest Dr M’s Links To BMF Scandal

The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has claimed the Mahathir administration was involved in the Bumiputera Malaysia Finance Limited (BMF) scandal that the country cost billions in the 1980s.

The conclusion was contained in a report that was part of a trove of 13 million pages from 800,000 of the agency’s files that were declassified and released online last week

In the report’s summary, it said that Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s position as prime minister then was at risk due to the graft scandal, as the Malaysian government-owned Bank Bumiputera (Bank Bumi) reputation was marred by the “questionable” operations of the BMF, its wholly-owned Hong Kong subsidiary.

“Circumstantial evidence suggests that the scandal extends into the Mahathir administration. As a government-owned bank, Bank Bumi is closely monitored by both the Finance Ministry and Central Bank and no important decisions are made without their agreement of knowledge,” the nine-page report titled “The Bank Bumiputera Scandal: More Trouble Ahead for Malaysia’s Mahathir?”

“It is unlikely that the government was unaware of Bank Bumi’s increase on lending limits for its overseas branches to allow more funds to be channelled to Hong Kong,” the CIA report added.

Bank Bumi and its offshore subsidiary BMF issued billions in bad loans to numerous Hong Kong property speculators, including the Carrian Investment Limited (Carrian Group) between 1979 and 1983.

The scandal cost nearly US$1 billion (RM3.57 billion) in two botched loan deal. It also involved the brutal murder of a young Malaysian Bank Bumi auditor.

The scandal affected Dr Mahathir’s leadership within Umno and Barisan Nasional (BN) following the now-defunct Carrian Group’s former chief executive George Tan’s move to declare bankruptcy.

The CIA said that BMF, unlike other banks in Hong Kong, had continued to extend credit to real estate despite concerns of a weakening property market.

The report also said that despite a probe into the graft scandal, government’s response to the losses incurred was “surprisingly restrained”.

“Equally damaging to to the administration has been the perception that the government has only half-heartedly pursued the issue,” it stated.

The CIA said although there had been no direct connections found between Dr Mahathir and the banking scandal, his administration was tainted by the “hint of association”.

“The secrecy of the government’s investigation — defended as necessary under Malaysia’s Banking Secrecy Laws — and a year’s delay after the problems surfaced in effecting any management changes at BMF have made the government suspect.

“Many businessmen and bankers believe that the government is using the six accused BMF officials as scapegoats in an effort to avoid implicating senior government officials,” the report added.

The former PM has repeatedly denied any involvement in scandal, saying just last year that the money lost in the 1980s ”belonged to the bank” and not the country, and absolved himself of any blame.

“I did not steal any money. No money went missing, what went missing was money belonging to the bank.

“I am not a bank manager, nor am I a bank adviser. So many banks lost money during that time. Why should I be blamed for them?” he was quoted as saying back in May 2016.

The BMF and other financial scandals from his administration have tempered the credibility of Dr Mahathir’s current attack against Putrajaya over alleged mismanagement of funds.

Source : Malay Mail

I was only aware of RM5.7 bil forex losses, not RM30 bil, says Tun M

Former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said that he was only aware RM5.7 billion worth of foreign exchange (forex) losses suffered by Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM) in the early 1990s and not RM30 billion.

“If I had known the losses was RM30 billion, I would not have said sometimes we lose, sometimes we win’ orsometimes we make profit and sometimes we make losses’, which (then Finance Minister) Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim and (then deputy Auditor-General) Tan Sri Clifford Francis Herbert claimed I said when they met me late 1993. However, I don’t remember saying this,” he told the Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) into the 1990s forex scandal.

According to Mahathir, Anwar and Herbert testified during the RCI that he (Mahathir) had made such a statement when they brought the issue of losses to him in 1993.

Though he claimed not to remember making the statement, Mahathir did not deny it.

“For me, I do not think it strange to have said something like that because in the late 1980s, former BNM governor Tan Sri Jaffar Hussein informed me of that the central bank’s forex trading was to balance its reserves and the nation’s economy.

“What was meant then was there were profits from forex trading by BNM.

“Therefore, when they informed me of the losses in 1992, with the knowledge of profits in 1980s, I did not find it strange to have said so.

“However, if I had made that statement, I must have been convinced that the losses of RM30 billion was not communicated to me at that time. If it was RM30 billion, it is impossible for me to have said that,” he added.

Mahathir said as the Prime Minister, he had no reason to suspect that BNM had acted against the powers given to it under the law and he had no personal knowledge of the losses or profits in relation to the forex trading.

“I was also not aware that Jaffar decided to take part in active forex trading to balance out the currency volatility to safeguard the reserve and nation’s economy following the negative impact of the Plaza Accord,” he told the five-man panel.

On former Finance Minister II Tan Sri Nor Mohamed Yakcop’s reappointment as BNM’s adviser in 1998, Mahathir said he sought Nor’s expertise to help Malaysia through the Asian Financial Crisis then.

“I needed financial and currency experts to help the country overcome the crisis then. I remembered seeing Mohamed Yakcop walking on the road once. Few weeks after that, I asked him to meet me in Buenos Aires (Argentina) to give me information on forex trading.

“I then appointed him in 1998 to be part of a small committee that would have daily morning briefings on the crisis. He helped to restore the economy and our ringgit which I believed enabled Malaysia to save us from billions in losses,” he added.

Meanwhile, Mahathir said there ought to be an RCI into 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) where RM2.6 billion was allegedly banked into Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s personal account.

“It has been 25 years since the forex losses occurred yet Najib via his `helpers’ have succeeded in setting up the RCI in less than 25 days (on Feb 15, 2017) following former assistant BNM governor Datuk Abdul Murad Khalid’s revelation to the media regarding the forex losses,” he added.

Remembering Jalil Ibrahim

The year 1987 was when the employer transferred yours truly to the Hong Kong office and the biggest story of the year must have been Black Monday, the largest one day drop on Wall Street.

In Hong Kong, another big story was the sentencing of Datuk Hashim Shamsuddin, a former director of Bank Bumiputra Malaysia Berhad’s (BBMB) Hong Kong subsidiary, Bumiputra Malaysia Finance (BMF), for conspiring to defraud the bank of US$137 million and accepting a corrupt payment of HK$15 million.

Hashim admitted guilty to four charges of corruption and conspiracy to defraud involving George Tan, a Chinese Malaysian businessman and head of the then Hong Kong market darling, Carrian Group Limited.

The newspaper headline the day we stepped foot in Hong Kong was the decision by the court of appeal to increase the prison sentence against Hashim from four and half years to 10 years.

The primary incident to all this was the murder of BBMB assistant general manager Jalil Ibrahim, who was sent to conduct an audit of BMF Hong Kong in 1983.

We did not know Jalil but were only familiar with his residence in an area popular with Malaysian expatriates. There were many enjoyable memories there.

A television programme in 2011 mentioned that Jalil had met Malaysian businessman Mak Foon Than at a hotel before Mak had murdered Jalil, carried the body in a suitcase and disposed it at a banana plantation.

Police found an unfinished letter Jalil had written to his wife, confiding about interference with his work from above.

Following the decision against Hashim, then opposition leader Lim Kit Siang asked that the Ahmad Nordin inquiry committee be revived. (The three-member committee was headed by Auditor-General Tan Sri Ahmad Noordin to investigate fraud, improprieties and corruption in BBMB and specifically BMF.)

BBMB, through BMF, had overly lent to Carrian, with the loans totaling RM2.5 billion. Carrian had grown in a short of time to become a stock market favourite.

Consequently, BBMB had to be revived with a RM1 billion injection from Petronas. Carrian collapsed to default on many other banks too. BMF was the biggest.

By the time Jalil had arrived in Hong Kong, Carrian was ailing and facing cashflow problems.

In a 300-page report, the committee concluded there were prima facie cases of corruption against three former directors and three former officers of the Hong Kong subsidiary, namely former BMF chairman Lorrain Esme Osman, former directors Hashim and Rais Saniman, former BMF general manager Ibrahim Jaafar, former assistant manager Henry Chin and former BMF money market dealer Eric Chow.

The report alleged that the ex-directors, together with four of their relatives and the former BMF management, had received direct and indirect benefits from Tan in exchange for more than RM1 billion in unsecured loans.

Kit Siang raised issues against those highlighted during the trial – then prime minister Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, his deputy Musa Hitam and BBMB chairman Tan Sri Kamarul Ariffin, together with a reference to then Minister of Finance Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah.

[read in https://bibliotheca.limkitsiang.com/1987/01/17/dap-calls-for-the-revival-of-the-ahmad-nordin-bmf-inquiry-committee-to-specifically-inquire-into-the-three-irregular-transactions-highlighted-in-the-hashim-shamsuddin-case-in-hong-kong/]

Will Kit Siang reissue the same call made 30 years ago now that the CIA last week declassify documents relating to the BMF scandal? His current political friend Mahathir is mentioned in the report.

This July it will be 34 years since the day Jalil was found murdered. His two children are already of the age he left his family for the last time in Seremban to return for 10 days to celebrate Hari Raya that year.

The public outcry in Hong Kong back then was no more the losses incurred by banks but rather the financial cost to taxpayers.

The public wanted an immediate end to the case but the police and public prosecutor were still pursuing Tan, Lorraine and Rais. It became the longest case in Hong Kong judicial history and cost over HK$210 million over 17 years.

Unlike “that person’s” politically motivated allegation towards Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak to call for his removal, 1MDB underwent through due processes and is still undergoing it abroad.

Ahmad Nordin’s committee recommended that the police and then Anti-Corruption Agency investigate further the irregular transactions and also issues highlighted in court. It was not done but what was done was a major media exercise to divert public attention.

Jalil was glorified as a national hero, a Malay warrior. He was posthumously awarded the Pingat Gagah Perkasa. But the motive behind his death remains a mystery till today.

In an interview with The Sun in 2008, Lorraine argued that Jalil’s death had no link to the BMF investigations. He fought extradition from a London prison for seven years until he finally relented and was sent to prison for a few months in Hong Kong.

Lorraine was a fellow board member in FIMA Metal Box with a former prime minister.

At the time Jalil was in the hotel room before being murdered, Tan was at BMF urgently requesting an assistant manager to release a loan with a letter from the BBMB chairman. Jalil’s last call to Chin was an instruction to not release the loan and wait for instructions from the head office. The call ended abruptly.

BBMB was established to assist ethnic Bumiputras by providing access to capital but instead ended up backing Chinese ethnic businessmen to be corporate players in a foreign market.

Bank Bumi Mystery Figure Dies

Was Lorrain Esme Osman the man who ordered the death of Bank Bumiputra auditor Jalil Ibrahim in Hong Kong in 1983? The death on Aug. 8 of Osman, the onetime chairman of Bumiputra Malaysia Finance, makes it ever less likely that the identity of the culprit will be revealed.

But Osman always ranked high on the list of suspects of those behind a murder that sparked the collapse of the Carrian Group, a Hong Kong corporate edifice created by Malaysians but built on bogus accounting, corruption and sheer bravado and which ensnared numerous greedy or gullible international bankers, auditors and lawyers. Carrian was the biggest Asian corporate collapse of that era, seriously blackening the reputations not just of Malaysian companies but the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank – through its investment banking subsidiary Wardley — and the accounting firm then known as Price Waterhouse, which not only audited Carrian’s dubious accounts, but whose then-senior partner John Marshall was appointed managing director of the major Carrian companies for 18 months before they collapsed.

The Carrian disaster also resulted in the near collapse of BMF’s parent, Bank Bumi, which required nearly US$1 billion in recapitalization by the Malaysian government. It was the biggest bank failure in the world at the time. It is unique for another reason. Despite considerable suspicion of fraud and corrupt payments to officials, the Malaysian government, then headed by Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, declined to attempt to prosecute any of the bank’s officers or government officials. It was the first major milestone in a culture of impunity that has handicapped Malaysia’s ruling Barisan Nasional ever since.

Lorrain Osman already has a place in history but for a different if related reason. He spent a record seven years on remand in London’s Brixton prison fighting extradition to Hong Kong to face various charges related to BMF and its relationship with Carrian. That he managed to fight for so long against extradition to what was then a British colony with an almost identical judicial system was thanks to apparently limitless access to funds for legal plus friends in high places in Kuala Lumpur and London. Although he was eventually extradited to Hong Kong he only served a few months in jail there because of his period on remand and he left Hong Kong owing a million pounds sterling to the government in legal fees.

For most Malaysians, and in particular Jalil’s widow, the issue was who and what caused him to be murdered. A small-time Malaysian businessman named Mak Foon Than was convicted of the actual murder, which took place at the ultra smart Regent Hotel (now the Intercontinental) on the Kowloon waterfront. Although Mak denied the murder but only confessed to helping dump Jalil’s body in a banana grove, he was convicted. (Mak claimed that a Korean hit man had done the deed but no such person was traced). Mak served his sentence and is now a free man living, apparently prosperously, in Penang. He has always kept his silence – doubtless wisely.

He had no obvious motive for being involved other than as one who performed errands for more important Malaysians. So which important Malaysian was desperate to see Jalil dead? Or was Jalil killed by mistake, the cord around his neck being intended to frighten, not kill?

Osman, who was staying in Hong Kong at the time, was an obvious suspect. Jalil, sent from KL to find out more about what was going on at BMF, was obstructing a big new loan by BMF to parties related to the Carrian group needed in a last-ditch effort to prevent it from going under. Osman was BMF chairman but Jalil insisted on approval from KL. Another was the founder and head of the group, George Tan, also a Malaysian, who was even more desperate for the life-saving cash but had no evident connection to Mak. More distant suspects included the bankers, lawyers and accountants who had taken Carrian kickbacks or made unprofessional judgments for money. One lawyer, a senior partner in Hong Kong’s largest law firm was found dead in his swimming pool with a concrete manhole cover around his neck. This was deemed suicide.

Quite why BMF – Carrian was its only significant client – was allowed to lend so much to Carrian has never been satisfactorily explained despite the efforts of Malaysia’s well-regarded auditor general Tan Sri Ahmed Noordin to get to the bottom of the story – his powers of inquiry were limited. But there was no doubt about the close links between the three main BMF directors, Osman, Hashim Shamsuddin and Rais Saniman and Bank Bumi in KL. (Hashim and Rais were both jailed in Hong Kong). Hashim was also an executive director of Bank Bumi.

Doubtless some funds found their way back to politically connected persons – after all, Bank Bumi was owned by government entities and existed to help Malays. But meanwhile Carrian acquired a life of its own, attracting funds from everywhere, not least the Hong Kong bank. And when the Carrian crunch came it was the Malaysians who had most to lose.

The careers of several prominent and highly educated young Malays were blighted. Osman, born in 1932 was educated at Cambridge University and then called to the English bar and possessed charm as well as intelligence. Hashim was a UK-trained accountant and prominent UMNO figure. As for Lorrain, assuming he did not order the Jalil murder, he paid a higher price than others, his seven years avoiding extradition and in jail being followed by a life (albeit it quite prosperous) of exile in Ireland and the UK.

In a three-year-old interview with the Malaysian online publication The Sun, Lorrain blamed everybody else but himself. He was quoted as saying: “I know for a fact that the executive directors of the bank who were overseeing the running of BMF were doing things that I knew nothing about. I didn’t know what they were doing, but I believe they were up to something. Only after my release did I realize this.” He also said his prosecution in Hong Kong was an attempt by “certain British civil servants” to attack the Malaysian administration, then under Mahathir.

Some Malays tried to distance themselves from him, quietly hinting that he was not a Malay at all, as evidenced by his first names, and that the Carrian debacle was all his doing, not that of real Malays. It was certainly not that.

Nor does Malaysia seem to have learned many lessons. Bank Bumi’s injection of capital to cover its Carrian losses but these proved minor compared with the losses of the “entrepreneurs” backed by public funds during the Mahathir era that continue today.

Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Most Popular

To Top