PUTRAJAYA - Former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad says he is keen to offer information to the Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) that is probing foreign exchange losses suffered by Malaysia's central bank in the 1990s.
Making a surprise appearance at the proceedings on Thursday (Aug 24), 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, set up by the government, is probing the billions of dollars lost in forex trades over 20 years ago, during the leadership of 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. Those with knowledge of the matter say he is considered "a person of interest" to the inquiry and as such, has appointed a lawyer to represent him.
"I'm curious to know what is happening, whether the name royal given to it is reflected in the proceeding," he said on Thursday.
"The expectation is that they (the RCI) would not in any way blacken the image of the royalty," he added.
The former premier now leads opposition party Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia, leaving 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 (1MDB).
Dr Mahathir told reporters on Thursday 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, referring to the possibility he could be forced to resign.
Responding to speculation that he was 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 Thursday's hearing, the commission called a former employee of Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM) as its first witness of the day. Wong Yew Sen, who used to work in the bank's internal audit department echoed Datuk Murad's earlier statement that there were no set limits on the amount of forex traded, allowing the bank's management-level dealers to take large positions in the market.
However Mr Wong said he could not confirm if there were attempts to conceal the US$10 billion losses claimed by Mr Murad.
"In my opinion, there's no benefit for Bank Negara to hide the forex losses," he told the commission.
The commission determined on Monday that the forex losses had amounted to roughly RM31.5 billion and the figure was concealed in BNM's reports.
The commission also heard on Thursday that an External Reserve Committee was in place to monitor forex trading but the committee took no punitive action after the bank lost billions.
Mr Wong and another two former employees of BNM told the panel that final trade decisions were made by former assistant governor Nor Mohamed Yakcop, who was then in charge of the bank's forex trading. Tan Sri Nor, and then central bank governor Tan Sri Jaffar Hussein resigned in 1994 over the scandal.
Dr Mahathir's lawyer, Haniff Khatri Abdulla also spoke to the media. He questioned Mr Murad's credibility, asking why he had waited over two decades before coming forward with "startling revelations".
"If this is so, then why did he do nothing for 25 years?" Mr Haniff asked.