Politicians, ministers and M’sian uber-rich revealed in latest offshore leak
PANDORA PAPERS | After several exposé, there seems to be no shortage of rich and powerful Malaysians revealed as owners of offshore companies or trusts.
The latest exposé, the Pandora Papers, is an anonymous dump of 2.94 terabytes of confidential financial files to the Investigative Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ). ICIJ has provided access to its partners, including Malaysiakini.
The dump is made up of more than 11.9 million documents and other records from 14 offshore service providers that set up and manage shell companies and trusts in tax havens around the globe.
They include providers in Singapore, a popular gateway for powerful and rich Malaysians to move their assets to tax havens.
It was found that more than 10,000 documents leaked from Singapore-based service providers Asiaciti and Trident Trust were linked to Malaysian individuals.
However, not all the documents involved the incorporation of trusts or businesses offshore, with some naming Malaysian individuals as part of background checks of others.
More documents relating to the offshore dealings of high net worth Malaysians were also found in leaks from providers in Hong Kong or in the Caribbean.
They include Finance Minister Tengku Zafrul Zainal Abidin, Deputy Finance Minister Yamani Hafez Musa, Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and Westports executive chairperson G Gnanalingam.
Having offshore entities is not illegal, but in some instances, the practice has been linked to tax evasion or tax avoidance. In other cases, it is an attempt to maintain secrecy for various reasons.
More recently, industry experts said that offshore companies play a valuable role in legitimate tax “optimisation”.
Below is a non-exhaustive list of notable Malaysians in the Pandora Papers. Malaysiakini has reached out to all of them for comment and published their comments if available at the time of publication.
Tengku Zafrul Aziz, Finance Minister
Tengku Zafrul was named as director of Capital Investment Bank (Labuan) Limited, a boutique bank incorporated in the offshore jurisdiction of Labuan.
His name first appeared in the ICIJ series Offshore Leaks in 2013, after being appointed to the position in 2009. However, recent checks indicate he may no longer be in the position.
This record appears again in the Pandora Papers, albeit in less detail, in a list of “officers” in offshore firms as part of a leak of documents of leading Panama law firm Alemán, Cordero, Galindo & Lee (Algocal). The leak does not specify why Algocal was holding onto this list.
An aide to the minister told Malaysiakini Tengku Zafrul is no longer a director of Capital Investment Bank and cannot comment on its dealings. The aide, however, did not respond when asked when he resigned.
Malaysiakini has contacted Capital Investment Bank and its owner FCA Capital Sdn Bhd on the matter.
In 2013, in response to another leak to ICIJ and its partners, Tengku Zafrul’s uncle and then cabinet minister Raja Nong Chik Zainul Abidin admitted his family had an offshore trust RZA International Corporation incorporated in 2007, but it was de-registered as no investments were made.
He maintained the trust was not used for any nefarious or illegal activities.
Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, Umno president
Ahmad Zahid emerged in the files of Algocal, who acted as agents of a firm called Breedon Limited in the British Virgin Islands (BVI).
Breedon was incorporated in September 1996 with Zahid and one Fon Kin Voon as directors before the company’s name was changed to Rising Resources (BVI) Limited in November that year.
In 1999, the company had a share capital of US$50,000, but the nature of the business was not revealed.
In 1996, when the company was incorporated, the then 44-year-old Zahid was victorious in a hotly contested race for the Umno Youth chief position.
However, subsequent documents from Algocal showed the company had been “struck off” for being dormant several years after incorporation. There is no indication of what the business was set up for, while companies with similar names registered in Malaysia are unrelated to Zahid.
Malaysiakini has contacted Zahid on the matter.
William Leong, former PKR treasurer and Selayang MP
The former PKR treasurer and his wife, Alice Chan Ai Lee, became owners of Collister Holdings Ltd in Jersey on June 24, 2009.
The company had 50,000 shares at USD$1 per share, but there is no indication of what the firm is used for.
This is not the first time Leong has been linked to offshore ownership.
In the Offshore Leaks in 2013, his law firm William Leong & Co Advocates & Solicitors were revealed as intermediaries of a BVI firm Maxcorp (Asia) Overseas Ltd.
When contacted about Collister, Leong, through his lawyer Loy Tuan Bee, said this is linked to his role as executive vice president and chief operating officer of the Manila-based Philippine National Steel Mill from 1994 to 1997.
At the time, a financial and tax expert firm advised that the best way to manage his income as an expatriate was through Collister Holdings Ltd.
“All these were legally and rightfully conducted. There was no infringement of both the Malaysian and Philippines laws.”
By the time he returned to Malaysia and became a serving MP, Collister Holdings Ltd was no longer being used, so it was not part of the declaration of assets.
Regarding Maxcorp (Asia) Overseas Ltd, Leong said he could not disclose further information without his client’s consent as per the normal procedure for a law firm.
Mahmud Abu Bekir Abdul Taib, son of Sarawak governor Abdul Taib Mahmud
he son of Sarawak governor Abdul Taib Mahmud appeared in the Pandora Papers through directorship of his family business, BVI company Rondinmass Incorporated.
Registered via the Hong Kong branch of Trident Trust, Bekir’s mother, Laila Taib, was initially director of the company before Bekir took over several months before her death in April 2009.
The company was set up to hold commercial properties in Seattle, Washington, United States, worth US$35 million, which was purchased through a loan.
According to Sarawak Report’s investigations, the Taib family reportedly owns various properties in Seattle, including one which houses the FBI’s headquarters. Rondinmass is the ultimate owner of that building.
Bekir is also the brother of Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Hanifah Hajar Taib (above, right), who, although not an office-bearer in Rondinmass, was previously revealed to be the owner and director of other offshore firms.
They are Iquest and Ambersheen Investments, two companies incorporated in the BVI and exposed in Offshore Leaks in 2013. Her mother was also part of Ambersheen.
Malaysiakini has contacted Hanifah and Bekir for comment.
Bekir was contacted via Cahya Mata Sarawak Bhd, where he is the chairperson. However, Cahya Mata said it could not respond regarding the chairperson’s personal matter. It did not respond further when asked to be put in touch directly with Bekir.
Tiong Hiew King, Rimbunan Hijau Group chairperson
Tiong Hiew King and his brother Tiong Ik King are listed as the ultimate owners of IB Holdings Limited, a company incorporated in the Cook Islands in 1990.
Hiew King is the founder and chairperson of timber company Rimbunan Hijau Group, which also runs the Chinese language newspapers Sin Chew Daily and Guan Ming Daily.
The purpose of IB Holdings is stated as investment and timber products trading.
IB Holdings appears in the Pandora Papers as part of a document leak from Asiaciti Trust, a Singapore-based financial services company.
G Gnanalingam, Westports Holdings executive chairperson and director
It has emerged that G Gnanalingam is the owner of Paisley Marketing Limited incorporated in the British Virgin Islands and administered by Trident Trust.
According to the Pandora Papers, the company is used for investments and its US$2 million assets (as of 2016) is held by Standard Chartered Bank, Singapore.
Malaysiakini had reached out to Gnanalingam for his comments.
Lim Kok Thay, Genting Group chairperson
Documents from the Pandora Papers have shown a link between Genting head Lim Kok Thay and Azure Supreme Limited, a company incorporated in the British Virgin Islands.
Azure first appeared in ICIJ’s database as part of the Offshore Leaks in 2013 with Portculis (BVI) Ltd as the registered agent of the company.
There is limited information available on Azure’s nature of business and its other owners (if any).
Malaysiakini has contacted Lim requesting more details on Azure.
Larry Low Hock Ping and Goh Gaik Ewe, Jho Low’s parents
Larry Low Hock Ping and Goh Gaik Ewe, the parents of fugitive businessperson Jho Low, are linked to Coswell Corporation and Strategic Equities Limited.
Coswell was incorporated in the British Virgin Islands in 1991 via Trident Trust (BVI) Limited with Low and Goh as the sole shareholders.
The stated purpose for Coswell was property investment in London with an asset value of US$2 million, while Strategic Equities was to hold shares in Frencken Group Ltd (valued at US$5 million).
Frencken Group is an industrial and precision machine manufacturer incorporated in Singapore.
As recent as 2017, Low and Goh were still listed as clients of Trident Trust despite links to the 1MDB scandal.
Low and his wife left Malaysia in 2018, and their current whereabouts are unknown.
Source : Malaysiakini