Umno's Hishammuddin says concerned about debt issues raised over Felda by Mahathir govt

Malaysian opposition leader Hishammuddin Hussein said some of the issues highlighted in the White Paper on Felda needed an exhaustive investigation. PHOTO: ST FILE

KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysian opposition leader Hishammuddin Hussein on Thursday (April 11) expressed his concern over debt issues involving Felda plantations raised by the government, saying he will work with Economic Affairs Minister Azmin Ali on the matter.

Datuk Seri Hishammuddin is a former vice-president of Umno and cousin of former premier Najib Razak, whom the Mahathir administration is blaming for the debt woes involving Malay land settlers under the Federal Land Development Authority (Felda).

Najib was prime minister and finance minister when Felda, a state-owned agency, borrowed several billion ringgit from the Finance Ministry to pay US$505.4 million (S$684 million) for a non-controlling 37 per cent stake in an Indonesian palm oil company Eagle High Plantations, though it was worth US$115.2 million in the open market when the decision was made in December 2015.

Datuk Seri Azmin unveiled a White Paper in Parliament on Wednesday on Felda, saying it would provide RM6.23 billion (S$2.1 billion) in financial aid, as part of measures to revive the organisation.

This includes RM2 billion to ease debts owed to Felda by settlers, as well as RM730 million in grants for housing and living costs for settlers.

Najib had defended the Felda loan.

Mr Hishammuddin wrote on Twitter: "I support (the White Paper) and will work with him (Azmin), especially for the 2,285 (Felda) settlers in Sembrong," he said.

Mr Hishammuddin is MP for Sembrong in Johor, which has Felda plantations.

He said some of the issues highlighted in the White Paper needed an exhaustive investigation, "especially, those related to the Eagle High transaction which has become a question mark for many".

Hishammuddin is the second Umno lawmaker to support the Mahathir Mohamad government over the Felda issue.

On Wednesday, Umno lawmaker Tajuddin Abdul Rahman told Parliament that he had "smelled a rat" with regard to the Eagle High deal, but said he was powerless to act against Najib then.

The government's White Paper on Felda had noted the Finance Ministry's involvement in the deal.

Azmin had told Parliament that Najib had tried to expedite the deal despite concerns over its over-valuation.

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