Tuesday, 21 May 2024

Ex-Malaysian central bank governor Muhammad Ibrahim quizzed over controversial $659m land purchase

PETALING JAYA (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) – Graft-busters have questioned former Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM) governor Tan Sri Muhammad Ibrahim over the central bank’s controversial RM2 billion (S$659.04 million) land purchase from the Finance Ministry in January.

A highly placed source in the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) said other BNM officials were also questioned regarding the acquisition of the 22.57-hectare land known as Lot 41.

It is learnt that Tan Sri Muhammad has been questioned several times.

“We have recorded his statement and also from many other officers of BNM. What the MACC covers is mainly about the land sale,” the source said.

The source also indicated that MACC was looking into the money trail of the RM2 billion, while it left it to BNM to investigate whether it was a clean deal.

“If BNM wants to investigate its own officers, that is its own internal investigation. We will not interfere,” the source said.

Asked whether senior officers of the bank or high-ranking officials were called in, the source just said: “Many people.”

On Oct 31, Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said that someone in the central bank “obviously knew” what had happened to the proceeds of the land sale.

BNM issued a statement on the same day, saying that it had commissioned an independent party to review the processes and come up with its findings.

This was after news broke that four officers were told to go on leave pending the central bank’s internal probe.

BNM said in a statement that the relevant officers “opted to take leave of absence”.

It is learnt that the four officers include an assistant governor and a former assistant governor.

The assistant governor is said to have been recently promoted to the post.

The land sale controversy erupted after BNM made an announcement on Jan 4 about the land acquisition for the development of a financial education hub.

This came four days after former deputy governor Dr Sukudhew (Sukhdave) Singh parted ways with the central bank.

News of his resignation took everyone by surprise, and an internal memo to the staff read: “All I can say is that my life in the bank has been based on certain professional expectations, and when I find myself put in circumstances where those expectations can no longer be met, there could have been no other decision for me.”

Questions were raised about the purchase price, as the central bank was deemed to have overpaid. Since an institution of learning is to be built on the land and not for commercial purposes, the land price should have been lower than RM2 billion.

The central bank first expressed its intent in 2016 to buy the land at a nominal price.

Hartanah Mampan Sdn Bhd – a special purpose vehicle of the Finance Ministry – which sold the land to BNM, was incorporated on Oct 19, 2017.

Former Treasury secretary-general Tan Sri Dr Mohd Irwan Serigar Abdullah was one of SPV’s four directors.

Mr Muhammad stepped down in June, supposedly due to the controversy.

Shortly after May 9, when Pakatan Harapan defeated Barisan Nasional to form the new government, Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng revealed that BNM and the government’s strategic investment fund Khazanah Nasional Bhd made payments to the Finance Ministry, which were then used to service 1Malaysia Development Bhd’s debt obligations.

They involved the purchase of land by BNM and the redemption of redeemable shares by Khazanah totalling RM1.19 billion.

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