Abdullah hits back with probe of Mahathir son's deals

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 16 August, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 16 August, 2006, 12:00am

The escalating war of words between Mahathir Mohamad and his hand-picked successor as prime minister, Abdullah Badawi, has broadened to include the children of the two men, and in particular their business interests.

Dr Mahathir last week accused Mr Abdullah's son, Kamaluddin, and son-in-law, Khairy Jamaluddin, of corruptly benefiting from Mr Abdullah's position.

He was targeting the two men's interest in ECM Libra Avenue, an investment bank that receives business from the government.

On Monday Dr Mahathir said Mr Khairy, under severe pressure, abruptly sold all of the shares at a considerable loss. The same day Mr Abdullah's son-in-law and confidante Kalimullah Hassan also sold 16.26 million of his shares in the same investment bank.

'I was hounded out of the business by these people and I am giving [the shares] up to protect ECM,' Mr Kalimullah told The Edge, a leading business weekly.

The weekly said their shares sale was the culmination of a 'tirade' against them by Dr Mahathir as part of a proxy war with Mr Abdullah, apparently sparked by the cancellation of projects commissioned by Dr Mahathir by his successor.

In retaliation, Mr Abdullah yesterday ordered a probe into the controversial sale of a large stake in Pantai Holdings that Mokhzani, Dr Mahathir's son, once held.

The company manages hospitals and holds the lucrative government contract to conduct health checks on all foreign workers.

Mr Abdullah this week also cancelled another giant project that Dr Mahathir had approved before retiring in 2003 - an M$1.2 billion (HK$2.54 billion) waste incinerator.

The cancellation is seen as part of the dismantling of Dr Mahathir's legacy as Malaysia's longest-serving premier and another big loss for businessmen allied with him.

Besides Mr Mokhzani, Dr Mahathir's other sons - Mukhriz and Mirzan - also dabbled in business, but with varying success.

During the 1998 Asian financial crisis, national oil corporation Petronas bought Mr Mirzan's debt-laden shipping company while Mr Mokhzani sold off his ailing firms to Malaysian interests. The sons still hold interests in fibre optics, logistics, computers and luxury cars.