Group finds offshore money of Malaysian politicians

Journalism group finds evidence of politicians and their families involved in offshore havens that may impact on May 5 elections

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 11 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 11 April, 2013, 5:07am

Malaysian politicians and their relatives have parked their wealth in offshore companies, while some of Indonesia's richest families have shifted money to these offshore havens, according to the latest findings of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ).

The findings may have an impact on Malaysian elections in which the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), which has controlled Malaysia through coalition governments since independence in 1957, faces a formidable opposition that promises to end corruption, cronyism and authoritarian rule.

The country's election commission chairman Aziz Yusof said yesterday that polling will take place on May 5 and the two-week official campaign period would begin on April 20.

ICIJ said Mirzan Mahathir, the eldest son of former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, is a director and shareholder of three offshore companies incorporated in Malaysia's Labuan island.

Mahathir is campaigning for Barisan Nasional, the ruling coalition. There is no evidence of wrongdoing by Mirzan. But he is named in an Indian court affidavit related to investigations into Kakinada port in India.

An international shipping consortium led by Mirzan won a contract to expand the Indian port in 1999. The project suffered delays and losses.

A Malaysian tycoon, Michael Chia Tien Foh, is a director or shareholder of three offshore companies, including a British Virgin Islands (BVI) company called CTF International, according to ICIJ. CTF International was alleged by whistleblower website Sarawak Report of being a conduit in channelling millions of ringgit to a Hong Kong account allegedly linked to Musa Aman, chief minister of the state of Sabah. Musa has denied any business ties with Chia, said ICIJ.

Malaysian minister Raja Nong Chik Zainal Abidin is a shareholder and director of RZA International Corporation, a BVI company incorporated through Singapore, reported ICIJ. The minister confirmed RZA International was set up by his father, "for the purpose of holding legitimate offshore investments for the family", said ICIJ.

The company was not used to obscure business activities, circumvent taxes or hide transactions overseas, the minister told news website Malaysiakini.

Nine of Indonesia's richest families, worth a combined US$36 billion, own more than 190 offshore companies and trusts, ICIJ found. Six of these families are linked to the late Indonesia President Suharto.

Documents obtained by ICIJ show that as Suharto's rule came to an end in 1998, offshore companies and trusts set up for Indonesians rose sharply.

Sons of former Indonesian President Bacharuddin Jusuf Habibie have used offshore companies, said ICIJ. "His younger son Thareq Kemal Habibie was part of the rush of Indonesians setting up offshores in 1998, forming two BVI companies in the last weeks before Suharto resigned."

About 10 years later, another son, Ilham, organised at least seven offshore companies using Portcullis Trustnet, an offshore services provider in Singapore.

Malaysia and Indonesia were in the top 10 developing countries with the most illicit outflow of money from 2001 to 2010, according to Global Financial Integrity, a US cross-border funds tracker.