By Azizi Khan in Melbourne, Australia and Hasnah Abdul Rahman in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

When the article appeared about the tirade Lee Kim Yew of Country Heights fame made against the organisers of the World Chinese Economic Forum (WCEF) led by chairperson Cheah Chyuan Yong and their invitation to former premier Najib Razak to present the keynote address during the forum, we were led into researching the relationship between Lee and another former premier, Mahathir Mohamad.

Lo and behold, search engines being an effective tool to lead us on to other searches, we were led to some very interesting discoveries which we were aware of, but may have slipped our minds. Recent events have triggered the need to explore these further.

Najib Razak at the WCEF Forum before presenting the keynote address in Kuala Lumpur last week . – Photo from Najib’s Facebook.

While the after-effects of the forum made it seem like a proxy war between Cheah-Najib versus Lee-Mahathir, we were led into looking at the intimate business relationship between Mahathir and another tycoon, Vincent Tan of Berjaya fame. This seems like a who’s-who and what’s-what of cronyism practices gone overboard.

Duo Proposes Controversial Plan To Privatize Malaysian River – screamed the Wall Street Journal headline of 04 July 1996 describing the business relationship between Mahathir and Vincent and the latter’s partner, David Chew Keat Soon.

The year may have been 1996, but the shit is still here for us to live with. – Screenshot photo of WSJ article

Mahathir privatised Malaysia’s sewerage system to Vincent, using Indah Water, and then bailed it out when failed.

In fact, Mahathir actually privatised our Klang River to Vincent and his partner David Chew for 99 years to build the 10 million square feet KL Linear City.

Yes, our shit water and rivers were privatised by Mahathir to Vincent.

According to the WSJ report, Linear City joins the growing list of megaprojects that are a source of pride to Mahathir, but dismay to some Malaysians who worry about the financial and environmental impact of the country’s freewheeling privatisation strategy. (Malaysia defines “privatisation” as any allocation or sale of government-owned assets or resources to private investors.)

How the venture was promoted reflects Tan’s close rapport with Mahathir, a longtime admirer of the hard-charging entrepreneur. It also illustrates the opaque, top-down nature of Malaysian decision making so reflective of Mahathir’s administration that can spring a previously unknown project on the Malaysian public as a fait accompli.

The article disclosed that in December of that year, a team of 40 technicians worked all night to shift a massive scale model of the Linear City project to Dr. Mahathir’s office compound and to reassemble it for his personal inspection during briefings by Tan and Chew. The developers also put together a stylish multimedia presentation for the then prime minister.

Other articles went on to highlight the ventures both (Mahathir and Vincent) were engaged in included:

  • 4D licence
  • Sports Toto licence
  • renting 70 acres of DBKL land at Kiara for 70 years for annual quit-rent and rental of RM291,000 per year.
  • renting out the Desa waterpark land for 30 years
  • allowed to build his (Vincent’s) Bukit Tinggi resort on 16,000 acres of land
  • Giving him 500 slot machine licences
  • Awarding him a 20-year monopoly on sports betting for a bargain price without tender or approval
  • Selling Pantai Hospitals to his son, Mokhzaini
  • Vincent Tan’s brother sold Diperdana Corp to another of Mahathir’s son, Mirzan

Other interesting joint-venture exploits include:

Privatising the KL Monorail to Vincent, then bailed it out when it failed.

Later on, Mahathir and David Chew formed a 50-50 JV company which bought out all the rights and production of an Italian light-aircraft company to form Euroala Industries.

At present time, Mahathir is still the 50% shareholder and Chairman of an aircraft manufacturing company which owns the technology and sells the JetFox plane.

So, on top of being a minority shareholder and director of a private jet leasing company with Country Height’s Lee Kim Yew, Mahathir also owns an airplane manufacturing company.

At present time, Mahathir is recorded as a shareholder of the Palace of the Golden Horses – a 5-star hotel complex.

Not bad, even though conflict of interests are all over the place and Mahathir essentially tried to privatise almost everything to his close friends.

Currently, there is now a list of 488 companies in Malaysia which Mahathir’s family (him, his three sons and his daughter) has interests in being spread around on social-media. That’s one hell of a long list.

Meanwhile, a political observer and occasional writer for the New Malaysia Herald, Jae Senn wrote a commentary on why Lee Kim Yew went all out to make libelous statements against this year’s WCEF, and had his long tirades against Najib’s presence in that event despite the mainland Chinese co-organizers being the ones who wanted Najib to be there.

Well, wonder no more.

According to Jae Senn, it was under Najib’s administration that Mahathir’s business partner Lee Kim Yew came under a tax probe and was slapped with hefty back-taxes, forcing him to sell off his assets to pay the tax bill.

The IRB also seized Lee Kim Yew’s money in foreign accounts amounting to RM126 million and he was being investigated under AMLA.

So, when we see Mahathir’s playbook of using AMLA against Najib; of him getting the IRB to shoot first and ask questions later; of getting the ex-AG Tommy Thomas to charge first and find evidence later; we can understand where it’s all coming from.

It’s Mahathir’s vendetta for what Najib had done to his business partner. The same business partner that is now slandering the WCEF event and slamming Najib in thesis-long writings.

Well, the headline in this 2017 article by FMT says it all.

There’s a hypothesis going around that “Golden Horses” in the name “Palace of Golden Horses” is a portmonteau of Lee Kim Yew’s first name (Kim, “gold” in Chinese) and Mahathir’s first (sinonized) name (Ma, “horse” in Chinese). Gold Horse. That’s how deep the connection between Mahathir and Lee Kim Yew runs.

But has Mahathir forgotten how Najib let his kids off the hook? IRB was investigating his kids for tax evasion. The Securities Commission was investigating one of his kids for insider trading. These agencies hauled up Mahathir and members of his family for interrogation, resulting in those sob-story pictures of Mahathir and his wife in an interview room.

Jae Senn went on to write that a friend of his who was in the national revenue recovery task force told him that their team presented all the paper trails to Najib and told him that if action is taken as per these evidence and recommendations, the Mahathir-DAP threat against the sitting government can be neutralized.

Unfortunately, Najib considered that to be a low-blow and he wasn’t comfortable with it as he still regarded Mahathir to be a fellow statesman and friend of his late father. He told the team not to do anything for the time being, just let it slide, resume again after the elections if legal action really needs to be taken but don’t make it a witch-hunt.

Perhaps that was an opportunity missed? While Najib was reluctant to use the IRB and SC as the government’s attack dogs to kill political opponents, Mahathir and PH had absolutely no qualms about it.

So, what can we make out of Najib’s presence at the WCEF event, despite the vocal outburst of Lim Kit Siang, Lee Kim Yew and others? The fact remains that, in honor of his late father Allahyarham Tun Haji Abdul Razak, who was the Malaysian PM who forged diplomatic and trade ties between Malaysia and China, with numerous visits by Zhou Enlai to Malaysia during the Razak administration, Najib did all he could to take his dad’s legacy and kick it up by a few notches.

Malaysia saw our closest alliance with China – bilateral trade and diplomacy-wise – under the Najib administration. Foreign investments from China poured in like a burst faucet. Malaysia became an instrumental component of China’s One Belt Road vision for Southeast Asia. It resulted in the rise of sinophiles in Malaysia who paradoxically saw China, the regional superpower, as the future “big brother” of Malaysia, thanks to Najib’s efforts and yet, at the same time, supported Pakatan and rejected the Najib administration.

Jae Senn added that the mainland Chinese mega-corporations still view Najib as the best Malaysian PM ever. I’ve heard this from Chinese property developers, oil & gas companies, and many others. His presence as a key speaker at the WCEF therefore wasn’t surprising.

After the debacle that was the 22 months of PH rule, one wonders how long will it take Malaysia to rebuild our relationship with China, Singapore, the Gulf States, Saudi Arabia and other such nations that were our strong allies, foreign investors and trade partners under the prior Najib administration?

We don’t have a clear answer for that even under the present quasi-BN/PN administration. Perhaps that’s one of the factors that is stifling our roadmap for economic recovery?

It is not wrong to say that behind a great number of business tycoons in Malaysia, there is a 96-year old former premier who, during his 22 years + 22 months terms in office, has facilitated the easing of business ventures of his cronies. Perhaps we should disclose more of such juicy details in days to come. After all, the above scandals and bailouts make the 1MDB scandal now seems like child’s play. – New Malaysia Herald

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