Why are Ministers so prone to lie when it comes to the RM55 billion 1MDB global financial scandal?

The Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said has been caught red-handed telling another lie about the RM55 billion 1MDB global financial scandal in Parliament, raising the question why Ministers are so prone to lie when it comes to the RM55 billion 1MDB global financial scandal.

In her written parliamentary reply to the DAP MP for PJ Utara, Tony Pua on Wednesday, Azalina insisted that Good Star Limited, the firm which received US$1.03 billion from 1MDB, belonged to PetroSaudi International, and was owned by PetroSaudi at the time the payment was made.

Azalina’s untruthful reply is doubly inexcusable for two reasons:

Firstly, it flies in the face of the Bank Negara letter to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) Datuk Hasan Arifin on April 6 that "Bank Negara Malaysia had been informed voluntarily by the authorities of that country that Good Star Limited is a company owned by an individual that has no links to PetroSaudi Group" – and it was Azalina who cited this when defending the unilateral and arbitrary deletion by Hasan of this line in the PAC Report on 1MDB on the ground that this Bank Negara information was confidential and not meant for publication.

How could Azalina one day tell Parliament that Good Star Limited was not a company owned by PetroSaudi International but this information is confidential, and yet on the following week, blatantly lie that Good Star Limited was owned by PetroSaudi International – contradicting what she had said only a few days earlier?

What Ministerial standard is Azalina observing, telling one thing one day but a totally opposite thing a few days later?

In such circumstances, what credibility do Ministerial statements, speeches and assurances command whether in Malaysia or the international community?

There is another reason why Azalina’s lie is completely inexcusable. This was because as far back as March last year, the DAP MP for PJ Utara, Tony Pua and the DAP MP for Puchong, Gobind Singh Deo had lodged police report on exactly on this issue.

Fourteen months ago, Pua and Gobind lodged police report at the Damansara police station on a “conspiracy” to defraud 1MDB of at least US$700 million (RM2.553 billion), following the surfacing of documents and email communication which showed how various parties, including Penang billionaire Low Taek Jho and his associates, had “attempted to bring about the joint venture between 1MDB and PetroSaudi Ltd”, where the US$700 million was withdrawn into an account owned by Good Star Limited, which is also controlled by Low.

PetroSaudi was supposed to inject US$1.5 billion of assets into the joint venture but these assets were not there.

Did the Police and the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission conduct any investigations into Pua and Gobind’s police report that the transactions involving Good Star Limited and PetroSaudi International were a massive scam, and in particular on whether Good Star Limited was beneficially owned by Jho Low and not owned by PetroSaudi International?

A conscientious, diligent and responsible Minister would have learnt of Pua and Gobind’s police report on Good Star Limited in March 2015, and would be very careful in her Parliamentary answer instead of contradicting her own answer the week earlier as well as ignoring Pua and Gobind’s police report on Good Star Limited 14 months ago.

In fact, there was another police report on Good Star Limited and 1MDB lodged by the then PAS Vice President and Kelantan State Assemblyman Datuk Husam Musa on March 9, 2015 who asked the police to conduct an investigation into the US$700 million (RM2.575 billion) payment made by the debt laden company to Good Star Ltd in Seychelles.

The police report lodged by Husam Musa was under Section 405 of the Penal Code for criminal breach of trust, especially as the payment did not get the approval of the 1MDB Board of Directors.

Last month, after the PAC Report on the 1MDB, the Seychelles Government announced that its Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) is joining US, Switzerland, Singapore, Luxembourg and the United Arab Emirates in investigations into 1MDB financial transactions relating to corruption and money laundering in international offshore jurisdictions and tax havens.

Although the Seychelles authorities have repeatedly said that the archipelago is “not a jurisdiction where money laundering or other illegal activities are allowed to go undetected”, I am reminded of a recent Aljazeera television documentary where undercover journalists exposed how easy it was to set up hard-to-trace “shell companies” in Seychelles and hide the identity of who was really behind it by creating a labyrinthine ownership structure, putting “a company inside a company inside a company.”

The undercover journalists were told that the Seychellois company would be controlled by a company in Dominica, which would be controlled by a company in Belize, and so on – and anyone trying to discover the real owner would never be able to follow the paper trail around the world.

Surely, when the Good Star Limited is registered in one of the world’s most remote offshore havens, which had gained a reputation as a magnet for Arab princes, pirates, fugitives, mercenaries, mobster and outlanders who want to hide their money or disguise their business activities, this should strike a warning with the Malaysian financial regulatory authorities, and when Pua, Gobind and Husam lodged their police reports in March 2015 calling for investigation into the billion ringgit 1MDB payments to Seychelles-registered Good Star Ltd, action should have been immediately taken by the authorities concerned, whether police, MACC or Bank Negara.

It is most incredible that until this late stage, the PAC Chairman Hasan Arifin could come out in defence of Jho Low, denying The Wall Street Journal’s report claiming that the Bank Negara letter proves Good Star Limited was owned by tycoon Low Taek Jho, or better known as Jho Low.

Hasan said this was because Bank Negara Malaysia’s information provided to the PAC was 'intelligence grade'.

He said: “The PAC is not an intelligence body and the information received must be verified and true.

“Because the information was intelligence grade, the PAC cannot include the information (in its final report) as it would contradict our duties and responsibilities, as well as could create prejudice against various parties.”

So Hasan is changing the story as to why he had unilaterally and arbitrarily tampered with the PAC Report on 1MDB – not because the information provided by Bank Negara was “confidential for the purpose of intelligence only and not for court usage or public consumption”, but because it was of “intelligence grade”, meaning presumably of low-quality credibility value!

Hasan has taken more than a month to think of an excuse to justify his unilateral and arbitrary deletion of the PAC Report on 1MDB without the knowledge or consent of the PAC members from both sides of the political divide but the reason that the Bank Negara information is of “intelligence grade” and therefore of low credibility value does not pass muster.

Firstly, nobody understand what Hasan means when he categorizes the Bank Negara information as “intelligence grade” and cannot be accepted as true unless “verified”.

Isn’t it the job of the PAC to verify the truth of Bank Negara’s information by summoning relevant witnesses, including Jho Low and even Datuk Najib Razak not only as chairman of the 1MDB Board of Advisers but as the sole person under Article 117 of the 1MDB Memorandum and Articles of Association who must give written consent for any major 1MDB decision or transaction? Why was this not done?

Malaysian taxpayers would not grudge Hassan and the PAC flying out to Seychelles, the emerald-green archipelago in the Indian Ocean, if the PAC could come back with positive answer as to who was the beneficial owner of Good Star Limited, which plays so central a role to the nation’s first global financial scandal.

Hasan has failed as PAC Chairman but also the test of “intelligence grade” when he unilaterally and arbitrarily rejected Bank Negara’s information from financial watchdogs of other countries that Good Star Limited did not belong to PetroSaudi-International, and even worse, failed to commission PAC hearings to delve into Bank Negara’s information.

Hasan’s latest denial has only fortified the belief that there is a high-level “cover up” conspiracy concerning Malaysia’s first global financial scandal affecting the nation’s sovereign fund 1MDB.

Malaysians want the government to focus on rendering full responsibility and accountability for the 1MDB scandal instead of dissipating national resources and energies on less important matters – like the Bank Negara governor Muhammad Ibrahim's police report against the Wall Street Journal over the Bank Negara letter to the PAC Chairman dated April 6, 2016.

Lim Kit Siang DAP Parliamentary Leader & MP for Gelang Patah