Tackling beneficial ownership: MACC wants provision to identify real owners

KUALA LUMPUR: It's vital for the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) to have its own provision on beneficial ownership in the MACC Act 2009 to identify real owners of businesses or properties to further eradicate corruption.

MACC chief commissioner Latheefa Koya said currently, there were provisions on beneficial ownership but it is under other legislations, such as the Companies Act and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2001 (AMLA).

A beneficial owner is one who enjoys the benefits of ownership even though the title to a property or business is the name of another.

"We have a lot of Mr Waynes and Mr Smiths; as you can see, we have cases where when we go for it, we find out that a vehicle (for example) belongs to the driver when the driver can't actually afford it, so these are the things that we are dealing with.

"We need to make sure the law is enough to support our investigations," she told reporters at the regional workshop in promoting beneficial ownership transparency in Southeast Asia on Monday (July 22).

Latheefa said the beneficial ownership provision would also make the enforcement for MACC more effective.

Earlier in her speech, Latheefa said Malaysia faced with multiple cases which proved the importance of having a strong beneficial ownership legislation.

The SRC International Sdn Bhd and other big cases that have been charged in court by MACC, particularly the 1Malaysia Development Bhd, were clear examples as to why strong laws on beneficial ownership were becoming more important, said Latheefa.

"Companies are being used in these cases to cloud the eyes of the enforcement agencies and to legalise their financial gains and/or to use their companies to get financial gains without having to reveal their involvement in the companies.

"Based on our own experience in handling these cases, MACC is planning to have its own specific provision on beneficial ownership in the MACC Act," she added.

Latheefa said millions of Malaysian taxpayers are paying a "terrible price today for the greed of a few".

She added that such corruption cases must not be allowed to happen again.

Asked if other countries would be looked at for the beneficial ownership provision, Latheefa said yes.

"There are a few countries that have the provision, but the way they take action is different. That is why we are in this workshop (today) to compare which one is suitable for Malaysia.

"It is important to see if we need to iron out any redundancy or conflict between various agencies. That is what we are doing actually, because we have the provisions under AMLA and Companies Act.

"We need to see if it is enough, and we just need an additional reference in the MACC Act or we need a set of new provisions," she added.

In January, Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad announced that a new provision would be included in the MACC Act to allow graft investigators to identify actual owners of businesses, and not their proxies.

The Prime Minister said that with this provision, action could be taken against the rightful owners should any corporation be found to have committed fraudulent activities or wrongdoings.

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