Friday, March 17, 2017

Which Finance Minister in the world worth his salt would tell you that the debts of its wholly-owned subsidiaries are not the debt of the parent company?

First of all, I would like to thank the Second Finance Minister, Dato’ Seri Johari Abdul Ghani for issuing the official statement “Some Facts for Tony Pua”, in response to my earlier press statement on this issue.

This is because the Minister confirmed the very facts which I had stated.

1.     The Minister confirmed that real estate owned by the Government was sold to 1MDB at “nominal” prices.  A check on 1MDB financial statements would show that the 70-acre Tun Razak Exchange (TRX) land was priced at RM64 per square feet (psf) for a total of RM194 million, while the 486-acre Bandar Malaysia was at RM72psf for a total of RM1.67 billion.

2.     The Minister concurred that the 1MDB real estate companies took loans amounting to RM800 million from SOCSO and another RM2.4 billion worth of sukuk for Bandar Malaysia.

3.     The Minster also confirmed that the above debts amounting to RM3.2 billion are no longer under the books of 1MDB as they have been assumed by the Ministry of Finance.

The question is, how else to describe the above transactions other than a bailout?  The Government granted these parcels of land at “nominal prices” to 1MDB, but when effectively less than 50% of these parcels of land were ‘returned’ to the Government, they came with an attached liability of RM3.2 billion?

The Minister failed to mention the fact that 1MDB has sold 30.5 acres of TRX and 40% of Bandar Malaysia for RM3.5 billion and RM7.8 billion respectively where the proceeds are due entirely to 1MDB.  None of it went towards the settlement of these debts.  So why is it that 1MDB gets to keep all the astronomical profits, while the Ministry of Finance is left to carry all the liabilities in their entirety?

Dato’ Seri Johari tried to wriggle his way out of it by claiming that the above were merely the “operating debts” of the real estate subsidiaries.  Malaysians fail to understand his convoluted argument that “there is therefore a clear distinction between 1MDB debts, which will not be taken over by MOF Inc, and the BMSB/TRXC project company operating debt, which are part of the assets and liabilities of the company…”

I hope that Dato’ Seri Johari, who was formerly a corporate man himself, did not actually draft the statement because it makes no financial sense.  No Finance Minister worth his salt would argue that the “operating debts” of a wholly-owned subsidiary does not belong to the parent company’s accounting books.

The Second Finance Minister might do well to consult 1MDB’s newly appointed auditors, Parker Randall for an accounting opinion before issuing such embarrassing statements.

What is worse is that, even if Dato’ Seri Johari’s illogical statement holds, he has failed to acknowledge that both the Auditor-General and the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) have discovered that the bulk of the money raised from the borrowings did not go towards the real estate projects!

Page 43 of the PAC Report would tell you that out of RM800 million borrowed from SOCSO, only RM338 million went towards 1MDB Real Estate and its projects.  The balance was “advanced” to the 1MDB parent company for other purposes.

Even more shocking, Page 45 of the same report would tell you that not a single sen of the RM2.4 billion sukuk raised went towards the development of Bandar Malaysia or TRX, or any other 1MDB real estate projects!  The net proceeds from the sukuk were “advanced” to the 1MDB parent company for other purposes as well as to refinance previous borrowings, which were also utilised for non-real estate purposes.

The 1MDB CEO, Arul Kanda himself, confessed to the Public Accounts Committee that due to cashflow difficulties within the 1MDB group, these funds were “diverted” from their intended purposes.

Hence while the intent of the RM3.2 billion of borrowings was perhaps “operational” as emphasized by the Second Finance Minister, in reality, the overwhelming bulk of the borrowings was brazenly utilised for “non-operational” purposes.

Therefore, using Dato’ Seri Johari’s own argument, since more than RM2.8 billion of the borrowings were “non-operational” in nature, 1MDB must pay back these “advances” to MOF.

Otherwise, it’s a triple-whammy for the Malaysian tax-payers – where (1) 1MDB made multi-billion ringgit profits from nominally priced land from the Government to partially cover up tens-of-billions of ringgit of losses from other 1MDB transactions; (2) the Government takes back less than 50% of the land attached to a RM3.2 billion liability and (3) the RM3.2 billion borrowed was never invested in the land in the first place, which means that MOF itself has to further invest in the projects to realise their value.

The Malaysian tax-payers cannot be more screwed and victimised than the extra-ordinary bailout that is taking place right before our very eyes.
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