PETALING JAYA: A former director of United Engineers (M) Bhd, Datuk Syed Amin Al-Jeffri, claimed that it was Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, who was then the finance minister, who first instructed UEM to buy shares in parent company Renong Bhd.
He said this in a statutory declaration (SD) dated July 18, 2013 on events that had transpired leading to UEM buying a 32% in Renong in October 1997.
The transaction ran foul of corporate governance ethics and finally culminated in Khazanah Nasional Bhd taking over UEM and Renong in 2001.
The SD was emailed to StarBizWeek by his lawyer, Abu Talib Abdul Rahman. It is not known why the SD was disclosed about 11 months after it was signed.
Syed Amin, 67, said the request to buy over the block of Renong shares came through a letter from Anwar to the UEM managing director at the time, the late Datuk Dr Ramli Mohamad.
It was conveyed at a board meeting that was took place sometime between late 1999 and early 2000.
According to Syed Amin, who is a close associate of Tan Sri Halim Saad, the cross-holding was to prevent foreign investors from gaining control of the Renong-UEM group via a hostile takeover and to support the broader market.
UEM acquired a 32% stake in Renong in October 1997, at the height of the Asian financial crisis, sparking a corporate governance controversy that led to the stock market being sold down further by foreigners.
Halim was the executive chairman of Renong and its single largest shareholder. Renong controlled UEM, which was a cash-cow as it had the North South Highway under its belt.
Anwar was deputy prime minister from 1993 to 1998 during which time he was also finance minister.
Ramli, he said, informed the board that the proposal was a result of a request from the then finance minister.
“The managing director then circulated the letter from the minister to the board members but took it back after all the board members had read it,’’ according to the SD.
Syed Amin was a director of UEM from May 25, 1997 to Sept 9, 2001.
One of the conditions for the board to approve the purchase was for Halim to abstain from voting on the matter at an extraordinary shareholders meeting of UEM on Feb 14, 1998. Halim was also to be given a “put and call” option to buy the 32% block of Renong shares within three years from February 1998.
Syed Amin noted that two UEM directors, Datuk Earnest Zulliger and Thomas Lee, resigned from the board after UEM acquired the shares in Renong.
Eventually, the UEM shareholders approved the put and call option to Halim at an EGM on Feb 14, 2001.
Syed Amin said in his SD that Halim later told the directors at another board meeting of UEM and Renong that “he was summoned by the then prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad who told him to sell and relinquish his control over UEM and Renong group of companies.”
“No explanation was given by Halim other than that the prime minister had wanted the Government to take control of UEM and Renong and that Halim was to negotiate with Tan Sri Nor Yakcop,’’ Syed Amin said in the SD.
Nor Yakcop was then the economic adviser to the prime minister.
“Subsequently, the then chairman of the Securities Commission Datuk Ali Kadir summoned the whole board of directors of UEM to his office “to give instructions and reiterated the instructions came from Putrajaya.”
The instruction was not to entertain Halim’s request for extension of time to exercise his “put” option and not to extend any assistance to him in this matter.
The directors were also reprimanded for allowing the cross-holding to take place, despite the “put and call” option in place, and for all that they should all resign.
Syed Amin said that he, together with another director and Datuk Dr Ramli Mohamad went to see the prime minister to ask for government support for Halim, or to let UEM-Renong sort it out without government interference.
“The prime minister informed us that if we wanted to pursue the matter, then we should do it with Nor Yackop,’’ Syed Amin said. “Nor Yackop’s first words were for us to “lay off” and nothing came about of that meeting.’’
UEM was taken private by Khazanah on Oct 15, 2001.