My thoughts on 1MDB – Mahathir Mohamad

Former prime minister of Malaysia, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad writes his thoughts on 1MDB:


1. The management of government finances is governed by laws, rules, regulations and practices. Companies also have similar systems but the government manages huge sums of money, basically the people’s money, and it is imperative that the managers follow the laws, rules and regulations.

2. Corruption prevails in almost all governments. But usually they involve relatively small sums. The work of auditors are supplemented by special anti-corruption authorities to ensure that as little as possible of government money is misused, abused or basically stolen by the people authorised to manage it.

3. Governments can lose money through bad investments. We would know where the money is lost. But when huge sums of money disappear, then those entrusted with its management must answer for the disappearance. Disappearance is different from just losing. Disappearance is about money lost which cannot be traced. This can be because of corruption or theft.

4. In Malaysia, the PM and DPM usually hold one extra portfolio. Usually the Home Ministry and Defence Ministry alternate between the two. Occasionally while waiting for suitable candidate, the Finance Ministry is held by the PM. Datuk Seri Najib Razak however prefers to keep the Finance Ministry under him all the time. He has appointed a second minister of finance. This is his prerogative, of course, but he must ultimately be responsible for what happens to the country’s finances.

5. The first requisite for the management of government money is the yearly budget. Prepared by the Finance Ministry from feedback by all ministries and departments, the budget is first presented to the Cabinet. If passed it is then presented to Parliament.

6. Government is expected to spend money according to the budget. If the yearly budget cannot meet an urgent need of the government, a supplementary budget can be presented by Cabinet to Parliament. Drafts of the budgets are prepared by officers of the ministry. Government raises money through taxes and fees of all kinds. Government may own special businesses such as Petronas, which may contribute to the budget.

7. In Malaysia, there is also off-budget funds which may not be presented to Parliament but are still subject to scrutiny and approval of the Cabinet.

8. Cabinet papers are secret, of course. But in the case of 1MDB, the presentation to the Cabinet and approval by it seems to be unclear. There seems to be attempts to hide behind official secrecy.

9. What we do know is that 1MDB has as its advisor the prime minister and finance minister. It is inexcusable that the management which is appointed by the PM would reject his advice. So like the British Advisor of old, the advice of the advisor is a directive.

10. Since then, three CEOs of 1MDB have resigned without explanation. Could it be because they could not accept the advice!

11. The government invested RM1 million in 1MDB. According to known records, 1MDB then borrowed from various sources RM42 billion.

12. A company with RM1 million capital with no assets cannot borrow 42,000 times its capital with no collaterals. That 1MDB is able to do so is because of government guarantees.

13. In other words, it is the government which is borrowing the money. If 1MDB loses money, the government will bear the loss. Yet the operation of 1MDB is not overseen by government officers responsible for the management of government funds.

14. Why has 1MDB become controversial? What is wrong with 1MDB?

15. From the beginning, it was wrong. It started off as an off-budget and it was not put before the Parliament.

16. The money was borrowed. So it is not sovereign wealth but sovereign debt.

17. The bond raised by Goldman Sachs costs more than usual for government borrowings. The interest rate at 5.9% was too high. Government loans usually attract about 3% or below.

18. In addition, 10% commission went to Goldman Sachs which means that 1MDB gets only 90% of the money borrowed yet has to pay interest on 100%, raising the interest rate to 6.6%. Averaging at 6%, yearly interest on RM42 billion is about RM 2.5 billion. Since 2009, there has been no income from all the assets. And 1MDB had to borrow RM2 billion to pay the interest. The loan is now RM42 billion.

19. Total initial borrowings amounted to 42,000,000,000 (RM42 billion). As far as can be ascertained the investments are as follows:

a. Purchase of Tanjong Energy (now known as Powertek Energy Sdn Bhd) from Ananda Krishnan for RM8.5 billion. This is higher than market price. The licence was about to expire.

b. Purchase of Genting Sanyen Power (now known as Kuala Langat Power Plant) for RM2.3 billion. Again high above market price. The licence was abut to expire.

c. Purchase of Jimah Energy for RM1.2 billion.

d. Purchase of 70 acres of land in Jalan Tun Razak for RM320 million ie: RM64.00 psf. Land last sold in the area was at RM7,000 psf.

e. Purchase of 495 acres of land in the former Sungai Besi TUDM airport (now known as Bandar Malaysia) about RM363.5 million, ie. at RM 91.00 psf. Estimated value RM1,000 psf.

f. Purchase of 234 acres land in Air Itam in Penang RM 1.38 billion, ie. at RM135.00 psf.

20. It should be noted that TRX land is close to land recently sold at RM7,000 psf. Assuming the market price is RM3,000 psf, the true value of this land is RM6 billion. The government has therefore lost 5 billion plus because 1MDB paid only RM320 million.

21. With regard to the Sungai Besi Airport land, 1MDB paid RM363.5 million for 495 acres – ie. at RM91 psf. Assuming market price for this land is RM1,000 psf, the government lost approximately RM20 billion.

22. The land in Penang is of poor quality and has more than 1,000 squatters. Yet 1MDB paid RM1.3 billion, ie. RM135 psf.

23. These are all the purchases that are known. They all add up to RM14.7 billion. So there is approximately RM27 billion left.

24. More than US$1 billion was said to be paid to PetroSaudi without verification as to the value of this company or its assets.

25. Where is the rest of the money?

26. A certain amount was registered in the Cayman Islands. What was the money used for? What was brought back to Malaysia? What was brought back and deposited in a Swiss bank in Singapore? Why? Where was the money brought back from? Why is this money not used to pay the RM2 billion interest? Why did Bank Negara allow the first tranche to be repatriated to Malaysia and not the second tranche?

Now the Swiss bank has told the Singapore authorities that the document did not originate from them and does not represent a true account of the assets of 1MDB. So where is the money said to be registered in the Cayman Islands and is now brought back?

27. Clearly, 1MDB is not getting any return from its investments. Not only is it losing money, the government lost money when 1MDB paid only RM683 million for TRX and Sungai Besi. Total loss incurred by the government is approximately RM25 billion.

28. 1MDB revalued all its assets at RM52 billion. That is because government land was brought at far below the market price. It can only use this money to repay loans if it succeeds in selling them off as land or after development. Progress on TRX is very slow and there is no work on Sungai Besi land. No money will be generated during development, only outflows.

29. It is this disappearance of a huge amount of borrowed money by 1MDB and the inability to answer questions regarding what happened to the funds that disqualifies Najib from being prime minister of Malaysia. –, April 23, 2015.

* Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad is former prime minister of Malaysia.


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