Guan Eng shines the spotlight on Vincent Tan and Mahathir

Lim Guan Eng told reporters on Tuesday to ask Barisan Nasional why it approved a gambling license to Tan Sri Vincent Tan.

But what he failed to mention to those reporters was the name of the man who issued the license to Vincent in the first place.

Had he done so, he would have risked Malaysians discovering a secret deal Dr Mahathir Mohamad entered with the Berjaya Chairman back in 1987.

The deal saw a Vincent acquire the rights to offer wagers on English and Australian horse races all across the peninsula and East of Malaysia.

THE THIRD FORCE

“I Gotcha!”

Those may have been the word whizzing in and out of Lim Guan Eng’s conscience last Tuesday like a mantra. The Minister of Finance, known among many circles to be “the king of lalaland,” told reporters at the lobby of Parliament to ask Barisan Nasional why it approved a gambling license to Tan Sri Vincent Tan. But what he failed to mention to those reporters was the name of the man who was responsible for issuing the license in the first place.

Had he done so, he would have risked Malaysians discovering a secret deal Dr Mahathir Mohamad entered with Vincent back in 1987. And we’re talking the year Guan Eng’s father was arrested along with more than 100 activists under the (now defunct) Internal Security Act (ISA). Vincent’s concern, Nautilus Development Sdn Bhd, was granted the rights to offer wagers on English and Australian horse races all across the peninsula and East of Malaysia.

The deal was said to be worth some RM500 million.

Wait. Mahathir approved a gaming license?

Yes.

Reeling from an UMNO election he almost lost, Mahathir, then the fourth premier, felt it was too risky to depend on the party to stock up his war chest. Vincent had then just been offered an opportunity by the Honourable Sir Nicholas Beaumont to partake in the launch of the Festival of British Racing at Ascot, a small town in East Berkshire, England. Nicholas needed the Berjaya Corporation chairman to offer bets at racecourses both in Berkshire and Perth, Australia. Mahathir, on the other hand, needed Vincent to channel a portion of proceeds from those bets to a war chest he tucked safely away for his future pursuits as UMNO president.

A deal was struck.

What sort of deal?

Well, Vincent was granted the rights to offer racing bets in return for his willingness to rescue Raleigh Berhad (later renamed Inter-Pacific Industrial Group), a onetime Daim Zainuddin flagship that was losing a lot of money. The bailout was meant to rescue Daim’s closest associates who were then holding the company in trust for him. In June 1988, Vincent acquired a controlling stake in Raleigh through a private concern of his, B&B Enterprise Sdn Bhd. The acquisition was negotiated through a share-swap deal that gave Raleigh substantial control of Berjaya Corporation Berhad.

So basically, the deal was all about Vincent purchasing an ailing company and parking a very successful concern of his under that company.

Did that make any financial sense?

To Vincent, it did.

A month prior to the share swap, the Government of Malaysia (GoM) sold its 30 percent stake in Sports Toto to Raleigh following negotiations that were conducted in extreme secrecy. The move gave Vincent near-total control of the gambling cash cow given the 70 percent he already acquired back in 1985 through B&B Enterprise. Ascot had then already begun operations in Kuala Lumpur and participated in several races both in England and Australia. The company minted hundreds of millions of dollars in just a year before it surrendered its license in 1990.

Why did it surrender the license?

The general election was drawing near.

What concerned Mahathir most was the accusation that he was un-Islamic for approving a gaming license to Vincent. It wasn’t long before rumours began to spread that the general election would be funded using proceeds of gambling activity. Mahathir quickly told Vincent to surrender the license as a measure of damage control to allay Muslim fears. So as not to offend the Berjaya chairman, he promised to reactivate the license once he was sure he was going to retire.

And that’s precisely what he did four months ahead of his retirement date.

To be continued…

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