1MDB president quizzed by Parliament panel

But meeting ends with no fireworks as panel chairman says his answers were satisfactory

1 Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) President and Group Executive Director Arul Kanda addresses journalists in Kuala Lumpur on Oct 31.
1 Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) President and Group Executive Director Arul Kanda addresses journalists in Kuala Lumpur on Oct 31.PHOTO: AFP

After a six-month delay, 1Malaysia Development Board (1MDB) president Arul Kanda Kandasamy finally appeared before a bipartisan parliamentary committee yesterday to answer questions about the affairs of the state investment firm that has shaken the Najib administration.

Dozens of journalists parked themselves outside a meeting room in Parliament where he was questioned by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) for four hours but there were no fireworks yesterday.

Formed in 2009, 1MDB came under heavy criticism from politicians of both stripes including former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad and the media for racking up debts of RM42 billion (S$13.9 billion) in its first five years of existence and opaque deals. The state fund bought assets at seemingly high prices, struggled to pay bonds that it issued, and changed its chief executive three times and its auditors three times also in those first five years.

Premier Najib Razak is caught in the middle of this as he backed 1MDB's formation and heads its advisory board. 1MDB is owned by the Finance Ministry with Datuk Seri Najib also the finance minister.

There have also been allegations that billions of ringgit of 1MDB funds were siphoned off.

PAC chairman Hasan Arifin of Barisan Nasional said the committee was satisfied with the cooperation and answers given by Mr Arul. He said PAC has asked the 1MDB president to appear before them a second time on Dec 18 to offer more details.

"There was not enough time, there are more issues, the idea is to get more details. Overall, PAC is relieved that 1MDB is conducting business and overseas investments with reputable foreign companies," he told reporters after the hearing.

PAC vice-chairman Tan Seng Giaw, who is an opposition MP, said the bulk of the problems was not so much Mr Arul's responsibility, as the alleged financial misappropriation happened before Mr Arul took over.

"We are asking him questions and he is replying. Basically he does not have much baggage as what happened was from 2009 to 2014," he told reporters.

Mr Arul came on board as president and group executive director of 1MDB in January after Mr Mohd Hazem Abd Rahman stepped down as managing director and chief executive officer. Before that, Datuk Shahrol Azral Ibrahim Halmi was 1MDB's chief executive officer from February 2009 to March 2013.

Mr Tan told The Straits Times the focus was on Mr Arul's predecessor Mr Shahrol, who had appeared before the PAC twice, once last week and a second time on Monday.

"He (Shahrol) should have the crucial information, we got some (of that information)," he said on the sidelines of the hearing.

Mr Shahrol and Mr Arul were unable to appear before the PAC the first time they were summoned to testify in May. A second hearing date for the two was set for August, but it was disrupted when four PAC members quit suddenly because they were promoted to be part of PM Najib's Cabinet - one became a full minister, the others deputy ministers. The PAC will quiz Mr Hazem on Dec 14.

Meanwhile, Bank Negara governor Zeti Akhtar Aziz yesterday told reporters that there has been some progress in the bank's inquiries into the 1MDB affair. She was quoted by the Malaysiakini news website as saying "now there is some progress in the actions that are being taken, relating to some of the approvals we have given them (1MDB)".

Bank Negara had earlier instructed 1MDB to repatriate funds totalling US$1.83 billion (S$2.6 billion), after three permissions granted to 1MDB under the Exchange Control Act 1953 for investments abroad were revoked, but the firm said it would be unable to repatriate the funds as they have either been spent or earmarked for a debt transfer.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 02, 2015, with the headline '1MDB president quizzed by Parliament panel'. Print Edition | Subscribe