Riong Kali’s network defending NMY

In the recent revelation of former UEM Supremo Tan Sri Halim Saad’s take on how Minister-in-charge-of-EPU Tan Sri Nor Mohamed Yakcop’s coaxed the former to let go of UEM and Renong instead of taking it private and settling the debts in one stroke, the episode continues. It seems that one-time-media-Baron Kalimullah “Riong Kali” Hassan’s network is coming out to strike.

Singapore Business Times’ rebuttal to Rashid’s and Mustapha’s Halim Saad interview:

By S JAYASANKARAN
KL CORRESPONDENT

“Barking up the wrong tree
It’s not Nor Mohamad Yakcop that tycoon Halim Saad should blame for Renong’s demise”

IN AN extraordinary interview, tycoon Halim Saad poured his heart out to the New Straits Times on Friday to deny that he was bailed out after the 1998 Asian financial crisis from what was then called the Renong conglomerate.

Mr Halim was the blue-eyed boy of Corporate Malaysia during the 1990s, the poster child of the country’s New Economic Policy which still seeks to create Malay entrepreneurs not just as good as their Chinese counterparts but as capable as anyone in the world.

And he was. His Renong group encompassed infrastructure development, banking, telecommunications, health care, you name it. His empire built highways, hotels, light rail transit systems, much of Malaysia – and they were good and they still endure.

In the process, however, he built up debt, lots of it. At its peak, after the Asian financial crisis, when asset prices had all but collapsed, the Renong group owed the banks slightly over RM20 billion or about 5 per cent of the total loans in the Malaysian financial system.

On Friday, however, Mr Halim told the paper that he would have prospered if sovereign wealth fund Khazanah Nasional had not taken over United Engineers, a Renong subsidiary or UEM, in an effective nationalisation.

‘If I was not forced out, and were given a free hand to manage the group, I would have been able to take advantage of the subsequent improvement in the economic conditions to list Plus (the North South highway), realise the full potential of the Nusajaya land bank (the current Iskandar Region in Johor) and grow the overall assets and business of the Renong/UEM Group,’ he said.

After the buyout that cost taxpayers RM2 billion, Renong disappeared and was replaced by United Engineers and the group assets are now owned by Khazanah.

In 1997, Mr Halim incurred the wrath of portfolio investors when United Engineers, a bluechip company at the time, bought 32.6 per cent of Renong (its parent), at a time when the market was crashing and taking on debt (over RM3 billion) for no apparent reason.

Mr Halim told the NST that the 32.6 per cent block in Renong ‘was not owned by me or by parties related to me’.

Then why authorise such a senseless thing? Mr Halim’s act at the time precipitated a market meltdown and all but chased away foreign portfolio investors.

It also incurred the wrath of the Securities Commission which saw fit to rebuke Mr Halim in its 1997 annual report – unprecedented at the time.

Mr Halim also seems to imply that it was Nor Mohamad Yakcop, now the minister in charge of the Economic Planning Unit, who did him in. He said that Mr Nor told him ‘in no uncertain terms’ that he would not be allowed to proceed with plans to restructure Renong.

Mr Halim appears to be trying to clear his name, which is fair enough. It is also true that he would have benefited had he been allowed to ride the wave of economic recovery. But there is also no doubt that he lacked the financial heft of a Khazanah at a time when Malaysian banks were frightened of further lending.

And to single out Mr Nor seems disingenuous. He was only an economic adviser to the then premier Mahathir Mohamad. It was Dr Mahathir who called the shots at the time and it was Dr Mahathir who signed off on the Renong nationalisation because, at the time, he was also Khazanah’s chairman.

Indeed, if Mr Halim has a beef, it should be with the good doctor. The tycoon might have been rescued if, at the time, Kuala Lumpur had approved a deal allowing Singapore Telecommunications to buy a significant interest in TimeDotCom, Renong’s telecoms unit, at a very good price.

But Dr Mahathir vetoed it on the grounds of security. SingTel, he quipped to reporters then, ‘might sing and tell’.

****************

Riong Kali is now unleashing the defense mechanism for his friend Nor Mohamed, using the Singapore network. It is not difficult to understand why. How Jayanaskaran presented the defense illustrated that Riong Kali is now trying to shift the blame away from his friend and ‘master’, who enabled both to benefit immensely from manipulating what had belong to the nation.

Nor Mohamed, who had used PM ‘Flip-Flop’ Dato’ Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s postion and took full opportunity of the incompetent leader now requires help. Riong Kali’s Singaporean connection would gladly be of service to spin the story as to deflect the whole schematic of events away from the perpetrators.

Khazanah was restructured and fortified in its current form during the fifth Prime Minister’s tenure. One of the early function of Khazanah was to take up all the Bumiputera portions not taken up during IPOs and it played the investment holding corporation role for the Federal Government. Khazanah was not intended to go directly into business. Nor Mohamed ‘transformed’ the investment holding corporation into a full fledge active business group. Khazanah was and still is Nor Mohamed’s personal ‘business empire’. It was modelled after Singapore’s Temasek Holdings in structure, philosophy and intent.

In 2001 when then Special Functions Minister Tun Daim Zainuddin left Cabinet, Nor Mohamed’s role as the ‘Economic Adviser’ conveniently expanded out of void and default. Since capital control and pegging-0f-the-Ringgit already showed results and the economy was beginning to recover, a lot of corporate restructuring work was necessary. More so when government controlled companies needed to restructure their exposures. Nor Mohamed cunningly and conveniently wiggled his way to fill Daim’s shoes, since a lot of the backroom planning of the Government controlled corporate exercise were done in Putrajaya and took the entire opportunity that presented itself.

Then Prime Minister and Finance Minister Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad was too pre-occupied to go through the fine lines of all these strategic corporate exercises, asset and debt restructuring. The focus of economic recovery was still high on the agenda where the National Economic Action Council painstakingly went through all the plans and issues with meticulous attention and action planned formed. Action plans and economic datas were measured very actively, sometimes daily. Nor Mohamed used this opportunity of the void in government controlled corporate scene  to line up young professional personalities in the restructured government owned companies, where all the assets and exposures were being restructured.

All of the restructuring and corporate planning were put in place went into high gear when PM ‘Flip-Flop’ Abdullah took office on 31 October 2003. Six months later, Nor Mohamed was made Second Finance Minister after winning Bukit Jelutong Parliamentary seat and now is ready to execute all the work he had planned and strategically carried out since he filled Daim’s void. Now that Halim is out of the picture and Renong and UEM is the mainstay of Khazanah, Nor Mohamed snowballed the role of Khazanah Holding as an active corporate player.

Today, Khazanah has been snowballed into implementing Federal Government policies tactically. Previously, only Petronas played that role.

Riong Kali took prominence when PM ‘Flip-Flop’ Abdullah gave him a lot of latitude, especially the media was ‘directly’ under his control. The NSTP group was utilised to the fullest to play the ‘feel good factor’ and covering up a lot of quangos, whilst Nor Mohamed fortified his plans and the newly incepted the ‘Level Four Boys’ were in tandem with the Second Finance Minister to take over the function previously done by EPU, ICU and part of the Treasury.

Nor Mohamed was the Second Finance Minister when. MOF Inc owned Avenue Capital was hived off to ECM Libra in mid 2006. Riong Kali was part of the acquiring company. So was Khairy Jamaluddin, son-in-law to PM ‘Flip-Flop’ Abdullah. This is the first scandal which over-shadowed Security Commission Chairman Tan Sri Zarinah Anwar’s leadership.

The desperation to defend a comrade was hastily carried out, using the Singapore network since The Malaysian Insider is no longer convincing enough. The call for Nor Mohamed to be thrown out from the Federal Government is getting more intense since the downfall of PM ‘Flip-Flop’ Abdullah.

This is a landmark piece. Now Nor Mohamed could be pinned in the same breadth along with Riong Kali. One planned, the other one manipulated the facts and story for ‘cover’ as the pillage and plundering was the order of the bleak five and a half years of Malaysian history. It was a lethal combo.

What lies beneath is a bigger game of chess. Halim is undoubtedly Daim’s blue-eyed boy. Riong Kali is a known Singaporean stooge. This has now evolved to about Daim challenging Lee Kuan Yew. More over, Daim recently met Lee to settle via back-room private negotiations on the KTMB land in Singapore which was done hastily and many believed was not fair and Malaysia was the ‘snookered’ on its own turf.

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Published in: on September 6, 2010 at 12:02  Comments (5)