Murdered hydrofoil pioneer who rose from rags to riches

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 03 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 03 September, 2013, 4:37am

In death as in life, prominent banker Hussain Ahmad Najadi, 75, made an impact when a gunman shot him dead in Kuala Lumpur, with his passing galvanising the public into pushing for a crackdown by the Malaysian government on soaring levels of violent crime across the country.

"I never in my life imagined such a thing would happen to my father in Malaysia. I am still in shock," Pascal Najadi, the banker's only son, told the South China Morning Post in a phone interview from Russia where he now lives.

"Malaysia should have tough laws to deal with such violent crimes. Even countries like France have similar laws [like the Emergency Ordinance]," said Pascal, 46, who is also a banker.

Bahrain-born Najadi's life story was one of rags to riches, a man who left his mark in Malaysia, where he was a permanent resident, as well as in Hong Kong, Asean and the Middle East.

In Hong Kong in the late 1960s, Najadi was the man who first introduced hydrofoils using the Supramar technology to replace the slow ferries plying the route between Hong Kong and Macau.

In his autobiography The Sea and the Hills, published last year, Najadi wrote how Jardine Matheson's John Keswick helped him set up a meeting with the late Hong Kong business tycoon Henry Fok and Macau casino magnate Stanley Ho upon hearing of his hydrofoil company, Supramar AG, in the late sixties.

"After spending days and nights in various cabarets and clubs with Stanley, Henry and their various concubines, we managed to tie up a contract for 23 hydrofoils in one go, at US$250,000 each, totalling US$6 million," wrote Najadi.

In Malaysia, Najadi founded the Arab-Malaysian bank in 1975 and paved the way for the country to establish business links with the Middle East.

In 1982, he sold off his shares in what has now been renamed AmBank Group, Malaysia's fifth-largest bank by market value.

Najadi was the son of a poor fruit and vegetable seller, such humble beginnings recounted in his autobiography,

A chance encounter with a German in Lebanon changed Najadi's life when the man offered to finance his studies in Germany, pulling him out of a life of poverty.

The Arab Malaysian Bank founder was walking to his car with his wife, Cheong Mei Kuen, on July 29 after mediating on a land deal involving a Goddess of Mercy temple when he was shot dead. His wife was wounded.

Malaysian police said Najadi was shot for helping to prevent the temple, which sits on a piece of land worth about Malaysian RM40 million (HK$100 million), from being sold and demolished.

Until the end, Najadi made his life count - for a temple and for a public crying for greater security from the government.

His death prompted the government to invoke the dormant Preventive Crime Act of 1959, paving the way for police to arrest 783 criminals without charge for up to 70 days, pending further investigation.