Amazing tales remain puzzling


  • Nation
  • Sunday, 07 Sep 2003

By FOO YEE PING

THE truth is still out there, or so it seems. A fascinating story was told in the Dewan Rakyat last week but whether it is a tale of fiction or fact remains a puzzle. 

By PAS MP Husam Musa’s account, Bank Negara has approved a two-dollar company in Australia to operate a bank in Labuan called Commercial IBT. 

“That company is located at 303, Collins Street, Melbourne. But it isn’t operating from a proper building or even a counter. There is merely a corner for an answering machine to respond to calls,” he said. 

Similarly, its address in Labuan was actually an insurance company, which had nothing to do with banking, he claimed. 

That is not all – according to Husam, Commercial IBT’s main shareholder is a Malaysian who has deposited US$6bil (RM22.8bil) in it. 

“I am not going to reveal the identity of this ‘Mr Bank’. It is the duty of Bank Negara to explain who he is, and how he has accumulated so much riches,” he said. 

His conjecture was that “Mr Bank” had bought a small Australian firm and then registered it as a bank to put his money for safekeeping. 

“This would have prevented him from being investigated, should he have bank accounts overseas like in Switzerland. As we know, banking secrecies are changing now. There is more transparency in seeking information from foreign banks,” he said. 

Husam said Commercial IBT had informed the Australian Securities and Investment Commission (Asic) in 1999 that it was not an “active bank”, meaning that it does not accept deposits and then reinvest them. 

“Yet, Rating Agency Malaysia has stated that this is a ‘real’ bank which is regulated by Asic – and this was said in May last year, barely two months after Commercial IBT was registered,” he said. 

Finance Ministry parliamentary secretary Hashim Ismail had the responsibility of replying to Husam’s accusations. 

Incidentally, Hashim was under siege even from Barisan MPs the whole of last week – all the Bills debated were those that concerned the Finance Ministry and he was the only one holding the fort. 

Hashim explained that the bank was licensed to operate as an offshore investment bank in which its activities included providing consultancy services on corporate matters and helping others to make investments. 

“Such a bank is not allowed to accept deposits from the public,” he said. 

The bank had its origins in the 1970s as a group that provided credit to small and medium-sized industries, he said. 

In 1988, it became known as Average Trading Australia Limited and subsequently went through two other changes before becoming Commercial IBT. 

The Labuan Offshore Financial Services Authority had investigated the firm's office in Labuan and went away satisfied it was a valid place running a legitimate business, he said, adding that all criteria of being an offshore investment bank had been met. 

“Likewise, it has a valid office in Australia at the address given,” he said. 

He said Commercial IBT, as of September 2001, had assets of more than US$8bil (RM30.4bil) and shareholding funds of US$6.17bil (RM23.4bil). 

Prior to this, Datuk Dr Yusof Yacob (BN-Sipitang) related his experience in Sydney where he visited the office of the world’s third biggest public listed company. 

“There wasn’t anybody there but just an answering machine. I was shocked. Maybe that is how they operate there,” he concluded. 

Hashim, despite being goaded by a Barisan MP, stressed that he had no heart to call Husam a liar. 

“I would merely like to say that his facts are inaccurate. And I hope he won’t play up the issue again,” he said. 

Husam was adamant, saying that he was willing to go with Bank Negara officers to Australia to verify his claims. 

“We can fly there tomorrow. I have brought my passport. I will pay for my own airfare. I will not retract my claim that the address given is not that of a bank,” he said, claiming that he had the documents to back his views. 

Deputy Speaker Datuk Muhamad Abdullah stepped in when the argument persisted with PAS making accusations about money laundering. 

“These are all just assumptions. Just say that the matter would be investigated,” he told Hashim. 

However, Datuk Mohamad Aziz (BN-Sri Gading) pointed out that “we MPs want to know the actual situation. There should be an explanation so that the rakyat would not be confused.” 

“If it is a baseless accusation, we can clear the Government’s name. But if it is true, we want to know how this mistake came about,” he said. 

Eventually, Hashim relented by saying that there would be a probe to ensure no hanky-panky was involved. 

Still game for more amazing tales? Husam claimed that a politician had borrowed RM5mil from the then Bank Bumiputra and did not settle the sum. 

He said the information was gleaned from previously released documents, which listed out the names of the bank’s bad debtors. 

“That is what is ailing our banks,” he claimed. 

“Some of us have seen those documents, including myself. I was worried that they could be classified under the Official Secrets Act so I merely memorised parts of it without keeping a copy of them,” he said. 

In his reply, Hashim said that Bank Negara had enforced the Development Financial Institution Act since last year, which would enable the central bank to monitor such institutions. 

“With this, Bank Negara can impose prudent guidelines on loans given out,” he said, but made no mention of any so-called bad debts. 

Besides Husam being the active one from the opposition bench taking part in the debates, the old guards from Barisan Nasional who did not fail to show their diligence were YBs like Sipitang MP Datuk Dr Yusof Yacob and Tambun MP Datuk Ahmad Husni Hanadzlah. 

This has just been the first week of a 40-day meeting scheduled to end on Nov 6. 

With the curtain coming down on this 10th Parliament, more incredible stories may yet emerge. 

These tales are entertaining and make great coffeeshop talk, but pity the ordinary Joes and Janes who just want the truth.  

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