More government assets could be sold to manage national debt: Malaysian PM Mahathir

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KUALA LUMPUR (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Malaysia does not rule out the possibility of selling more assets - including land - to keep its national debt at a manageable level, said Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad on Thursday (April 4).

He said that aside from the sale of the superyacht Equanimity to conglomerate Genting Malaysia Bhd for US$126 million (S$170.5million), any future sale of government assets would be to Malaysians.

"We still have some assets. In fact, we may, if necessary, even sell land belonging to the government. But of course we will sell it to Malaysians, not to foreigners. That will help reduce the debts," he told reporters in the lobby of Parliament.

The yacht was allegedly bought with money stolen from state investment fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) and once used by fugitive Malaysian businessman Low Taek Jho to host lavish parties.

Equanimity was seized off Bali's coast by Indonesia in February last year at the request of the US authorities as part of a multi-billion-dollar corruption investigation into the 1MDB scandal.

The luxury vessel is among assets allegedly bought by Low, also known as Jho Low, and his associates with money taken from the fund, US and Malaysian officials say.

The Indonesian government handed over the vessel to Malaysia in August, but the Malaysian government struggled to find buyers for the 91m ship after an earlier auction failed.

The Pakatan Harapan government has so far spent RM14.5 million (S$4.8 million) to maintain Equanimity, which was docked in Port Klang before being moved to the Royal Malaysian Navy's Region 3 headquarters in Langkawi, said Malaysian media.

The US$126 million purchase price was the best offer received since the superyacht was put on sale in October last year. Malaysia had originally wanted to sell the yacht for no less than US$130 million.

Low is said to be an associate of former premier Najib Razak, who has been charged in court with corruption and abuse of power over 1MDB.

Tun Dr Mahathir has blamed the Najib administration for saddling Malaysia with debt and liabilities of more than RM1 trillion.

Dr Mahathir said on Thursday that the government sees the possibility of reducing more debt through identifying assets of the government.

"So at the moment the process is going on, it's not static. It (the national debt) is being lowered, being worked on all the time. I can't give the exact figure but I believe it has been reduced quite considerably," he said.

The prime minister also said the government has recovered money that was lost from Singapore, but did not reveal any details.

"We have been able to recover quite a lot of money that was lost, that was kept by Singapore. So that money helps to reduce the debt," he said.

Asked if the money was related to 1MDB, Dr Mahathir said: "I will have to ask the finance minister. He has a better figure than me."

On the opposition's move to oppose the liquidation of government assets, he said: "They can oppose, but they are not in power."

He added that the government has to do what it thinks is right and noted: "During their time (in power), they didn't oppose the selling of land to foreigners."

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