“When met by reporters on the 1st of January 1984, Mahathir insisted that a Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) could not called into the scandal as “BMF was registered in Hong Kong, not Malaysia.” But that was not what he told Hamzah on the 2nd of October 1983. On that day, the duo spoke at length about a phone call that was “made hours before Jalil Ibrahim’s murder.” They decided that an RCI could never be called into the scandal as the then Yang di-Pertuan Agong, Sultan Haji Ahmad Shah, was not someone who could be controlled”
THE THIRD FORCE
In 1975, Dr Mahathir Mohamad planned to get the late Tan Sri Hamzah Abu Samah appointed as Minister of Finance under the administration of the late Tun Hussein Onn. That plan, along with a mission to topple Hussein, is something I spoke of at length in the third installation of this series (READ PART 3, LINK BELOW). It all began when the Member of Parliament (MP) for Kubang Pasu discussed the question of succession with Hamzah, then the Minister of Trade and Industry under the administration of the late Tun Abdul Razak.
Having been told that Razak was terminally ill, Mahathir began charting a course towards premiership by getting Hamzah to act as his ‘strategic’ advisor. The latter quickly anticipated some rough patches ahead for the Kubang Pasu MP seeing that Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah was better positioned in Hussein’s circle. Hamazah realised that Hussein planned to leverage on Razaleigh’s extensive ties with the left-leaning business community in the east coast through the latter’s chairmanship of Bank Bumiputra Malaysia Berhad (BBMB).
By then, Hamzah had come to know of Razaleigh’s interest in bolstering BBMB’s coffers by venturing into property development together with the United Malayan Banking Corporation (UMBC), then a Godfather-styled banking concern. He found that to be particularly convenient, considering that Mahathir himself had plans to use BBMB as a vehicle to fund development projects in Hong Kong together with the royal family of Negeri Sembilan (SEE PART 3, LINK BELOW). On the 15th of November 1975, the Trade and Industry Minister called the late Tan Sri Sulaiman Ninam Shah and informed him that “Razaleigh must not touch the Gammon House” as “Mahathir wants to use Syarikat Pesaka Antah Sdn Bhd to purchase the building.”
It was the truth.
However, the info was deliberately leaked to Sulaiman by Hamzah as the latter knew of Razaleigh’s overly suspicious character and how the more than gullible BBMB chairman believed in such things as black magic and voodoo. The Minister of Trade and Industry also knew Sulaiman well enough to know that the latter would never reveal his identity to Razaleigh. When the Kelantan Prince got to know of Mahathir’s ambitions, he quickly dropped all plans of becoming Hussein’s deputy and set his sights on the Ministry of Finance portfolio instead (see note below article of a correction that was made to part 3).
Bitter and distraught, the Kubang Pasu MP ditched the idea of purchasing Gammon House and tasked Hamzah with prying into Razaleigh’s affairs instead. Now, the first thing that the Minister of Trade and Industry did was to get in touch with Sulaiman, who, following a lapse of three years, revealed that the person Razaleigh frequently dealt with in Hong Kong was in fact a Malaysian born in Sarawak. When Hamzah asked who the person was, the latter cooly replied that “it is George Tan,” the founder of the Carrian Group.
“What did you say?”
“George…that Carrian man.”
The next phone call Hamzah made was to Mahathir.
Stumped, the then deputy premier asked Hamzah if he got his facts right, as “everyone knows George is a Singaporean and not a Malaysian.” When Hamzah insisted that Sulaiman was dead sure, Mahathir sought the help of his bother in-law, the late Dato’ Sri Mohamad Jaffar Mohamad Ali, to get in touch with the then director of Jardine Methason & Co. (JMC), Simon Keswick (SEE PART 3 TO DISCOVER JAFFAR’S FRIENDSHIP WITH SIMON). What Simon told Jaffar next was something both Mahathir and Hamzah could never have imagined, not even in the wildest of their dreams.
According to him, the founder of UMBC, the late Chang Ming Thien, had once helped a notorious triad leader from China sneak the latter’s six year old adopted son into Sarawak through Labuan (SEE PART 4, LINK BELOW). Not knowing much about the lad’s whereabouts between the years 1939 and 1952, Simon was certain that his name was changed from Chiang Meng Chuan to George Tan Soon Gin with the help of a British official in thirties Malaya. Both Mahathir and Hamzah got the shock of their lives.
Not even Hussein or the Government of Malaysia knew about this, though the information Simon conveyed was a hundred percent certain. As a matter of fact, Razaliegh himself came to know about it from the late Dato’ Wong Kee Tat on the 13th of January 1980 (SEE PART 4, LINK BELOW). But the Prince of Kelantan chose to keep his mouth shut even as he got the late Lorrain Esme Osman to approve borrowings worth USD292 million, channeled in four tranches (to be discussed in a later part) to a Hong Kong based entity between the 19th of December 1979 and the 25th of June 1980.
As Hamzah dug deeper and deeper, he discovered Ming Thien’s close associations with Razaleigh and the former’s role in transferring another USD50 million from UMBC to a BBMB subsidiary in Bahrain on the 4th of April 1980. However, that transfer never made it into a report by the Committee of Inquiry that Mahathir called to probe the BMF scandal.
Mahathir was coy about the whole affair.
When met by reporters on the 1st of January 1984, he insisted that a Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) could not called into the scandal as “BMF was registered in Hong Kong, not Malaysia.” But that was not what he told Hamzah on the 2nd of October 1983. On that day, the duo spoke at length about a phone call that was “made hours before Jalil Ibrahim’s murder.” They decided that an RCI could never be called into the scandal as the then Yang di-Pertuan Agong, Sultan Haji Ahmad Shah, was not someone who could be controlled.
As a matter of fact, that is another reason why Mahathir pulled Dato’ Seri Najib Tun Razak out from government before turning the latter into the Menteri Besar of Pahang (SEE PART 2, LINK BELOW). Had Najib remained Deputy Minister of Finance, there was a risk that sensitive details pertaining the whole BMF affair would have wended its way to the Palace of Pahang. Mahathir feared that the people of the palace would deliberately fuel rumours to trigger an RCI into Jalil’s murder. Had that happened, chances were high that the commission would discover the identity of the mystery caller the Prime Minister was trying so hard to protect.
That explains why Mahathir preferred a Committee of Inquiry (hereinafter referred to as the Noordin Committee of Inquiry, or NCI) over an RCI. He knew that the NCI lacked jurisdiction to subpoena persons or confidential documents and did not grant legal immunity to investigators against possible cases of defamation. When Mahathir got the late Tan Sri Ahmad Noordin Zakaria to head the committee, he believed that the latter would be careful never to wade into murky waters as Noordin was known to be an overly cautious man.
However, not only did the Auditor-General dive as deep as he could into the whole affair, he insisted that the NCI report be made accessible to members of the general public “come whatever may.” When Mahathir refused to entertain the idea, Noordin called Daim Zainuddin up and told the latter to “stop all this bullsxxt and get that fellow (Mahathir) to release the report.” Thereafter, he made a very public plea for disclosure by insisting that the Prime Minister made available all the committee’s findings even if it brought shame to government. The very next day, Mahathir had this to say:
“if damage is done to the credibility or credit-worthiness of BBMB”, as a result of publishing the report, “the bank will be fully justified in suing you for damages.”
But not only did Noordin agree to take responsibility, so did one other NCI member, a lawyer by the name of Chooi Mun Sou. Seeing no alternative, the Prime Minister quickly got his men to attach a RM250 price tag to the report before agreeing to make it public. Now, imagine getting someone to purchase a copy of the RCI report into the Nineties Forex Scandal at RM1,250, which roughly is what the NCI report would have been worth today. Back then, the average Malaysian would likely have found the price too hefty and would probably have given the report a miss.
But even those who wanted to purchase it couldn’t find a copy of it anywhere – Daim quickly instructed a senior executive from BBMB to snap up most copies almost as soon as they were published. To appease members of the general public, Mahathir got the GoM to release a ‘white paper’ on the scandal that was so scant on details, Aliran Monthly insisted that it was a “white wash” and not the white paper. Then, a week later, Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah received a sudden and unwelcome call from the Prime Minister himself, Dr Mahathir Mohamad…
To be continued…
Note 1: In part 3, a minor correction was made in the fifth last paragraph. Originally, it was stated that Mahathir and Hamzah feared Razaleigh would discover their plans to purchase Gammon House. That was an error, as it was Hamzah who leaked the plan to Razaleigh through Sulaiman. Correctly, both Mahathir and Hamzah feared that Razaleigh would discover the exact method by which they planned to purchase Gammon House. The error is regretted.
Note 2: This series of exposes will span some 20 parts and is the result of an extremely elaborate 12-month discovery exercise that involved intelligence agents and whistleblowers from both the US and the UK. All those named who are as yet alive are at liberty to challenge these findings in public or in the court of law if they so wish to. Towards the later part of this series where BMF’s and BBMB’s financials are discussed, elaborate transaction schemes and documents will be presented as and when deemed necessary.
PAST ARTICLES IN THIS SERIES
Part 1: The dirtiest scandals in Malaysian history. Part 1 – The Maminco tin scandal as never before told