Mahathir, Anwar offer to testify at forex-losses inquiry

Former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad says he is keen to offer information to the Royal Commission of Inquiry that is probing foreign exchange losses suffered by Malaysia's central bank in the 1990s.

Making a surprise appearance at the proceedings yesterday, Tun Mahathir told reporters on the sidelines: "I must admit I know quite a lot. Maybe this is of interest to the commission, to know what I know."

The inquiry is probing the billions of dollars lost in forex trades over 20 years ago, during the leadership of Tun Dr Mahathir.

Former central bank assistant governor Abdul Murad Khalid had alleged in a media interview in January that the actual losses were US$10 billion (S$13.6 billion), far higher than the RM9 billion (S$2.9 billion) that was disclosed then.

Dr Mahathir has not been called upon to testify yet, and was attending the proceedings as an observer.

The former premier now leads opposition party Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia, having left ruling party Umno after clashing with its president, Prime Minister Najib Razak, over Datuk Seri Najib's alleged links to billions misappropriated from state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad.

Meanwhile, former deputy prime minister and now jailed opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim also expressed his interest in appearing as a witness in the hearing, since he was finance minister at that time and his name was brought up in proceedings.

"I would consider it quite unjust if other witnesses are allowed to make prejudicial allegations against me in front of the commission and I am not allowed to make my response to them in the same manner," he said in a statement issued yesterday.

Mr Murad had said on Monday that Anwar told him in 1994 he would need to resign as finance minister if the actual amount of forex losses was revealed to the public.

Anwar denied he said those words.

"His malicious insinuation is clear - that I had implied a cover-up was needed. That allegation is false. I never said that to him," Anwar said in his statement.

Dr Mahathir also told reporters he would not resign as a leader in opposition pact Pakatan Harapan if the inquiry finds that he is implicated in the forex losses.

"I won't accept it. It has nothing to do with my politics," he said.

Responding to speculation that he had been ill, Dr Mahathir, 92, said: "You look at me, do you think I just recovered from a serious illness? For lots of people, it's wishful thinking on their part. They would wish I'm dead because I'm a nuisance, I'm a danger to the whole nation."

During yesterday's hearing, the commission heard from former central bank employee Wong Yew Sen, who said the bank's management-level dealers were allowed to take large positions in the market.

The commission determined on Monday that the forex losses had amounted to roughly RM31.5 billion and the figure was concealed in the central bank's reports.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 25, 2017, with the headline 'Mahathir, Anwar offer to testify at forex-losses inquiry'. Print Edition | Subscribe