Businessman Low Thiam Hoe told the court that he was a ‘victim’ of a ‘larger scheme’ involving Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim and Hong Leong chairman Quek Leng Chan.
KUALA LUMPUR: Businessman Low Thiam Hoe, who is being sued by Hong Leong Finance Bhd (HLFB) in a breach of repayment suit involving RM445 million syndicated loans given in 1997, today named several individuals whom he identified as “cronies” of Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim.
Taking the stand at the Commercial High Court here today, Low said that he was “the victim” in a deal in which he was assisting Anwar as well as HLFB executive chairman Quek Leng Chan.
However, when cross-examined by the bank’s lawyer, Andrew Chiew, Low admitted that he had nothing in black and white to prove that he was simply used as a “nominee” of Anwar – the then finance minister and deputy prime minister – and Quek.
“Sometime in March 1997, two individuals by the name of Hamzah Harun and Mohd Faiz Abdullah (Anwar’s speech writer), both from a company known as Arus Murni Sdn Bhd (AMSB), told me that they were acting on behalf of Anwar and Quek,” Low said during examination-in-chief by lead counsel, D Paramalingam.
Low said that HLFB, through Quek, was then pushing to acquire Kewangan Bersatu Bhd (KBB), which was at the time acquired by Arus Murni Corporation Bhd (AMCB) from one Ishak Ismail for RM390 million.
He said he agreed to be a nominee, or “conduit”, for the syndicated loan transaction.
The other individuals and companies used as nominees were Hood Osman, Nik Hussain Nik Mohamed, AMSB and Mekuritek Sdn Bhd, whom he described as “cronies” of Anwar.
Paramalingam: How are these companies and individuals related?
Low: From what I know, they are all cronies of Anwar Ibrahim.
Low said he did not apply for the loan as “the whole thing was arranged by Hong Leong’s representative, namely Seow Lun Hoo”.
Quek’s right-hand man
He also said that he was informed that Seow, who was president and CEO of Hong Leong Credit & Leasing Bhd at the time, was “essentially Quek’s right-hand man”.
Low said the loan given to him was RM30.161 million but a credit assessment was never done on him at all.
“It was all pre-approved. I just had to turn up to sign the necessary documents, that’s all. I was unemployed at that point in time.”
Low also said that he signed the relevant loan documents at a hotel in Singapore in March 1997 as HLFB “wanted to avoid paying stamp duty”.
“Syndicated loans were also given out to the other nomiees as well to reach the plantiff’s target of RM445 million for the acquisition of AMCB. A sum of RM80.1 million was given to Hood, RM80.1 million to Nik Hussain, RM30.161 million given to Mekuritek and RM224.478 million to AMSB,” he said.
However, he said that the plan to purchase KBB did not take place by the end of 1997.
“It was only at that point in time that we discovered that Seow, on behalf of Quek, was the mastermind of the whole transaction. The plantiff through Seow deliberately sabotaged the scheme…”
Low said that the plaintiff, HLFB, had “acted in bad faith” when it breached its fiduciary duty, and he and other nominees were “clearly cheated by them”.
“We were left high and dry,” he added.
During cross-examination by Chiew later, Low was aggressively grilled on his credibilty.
Chiew: The two individuals told you they were acting for Anwar and Quek. Did you take any steps to check?
Chiew: Did you talk to Anwar?
Chiew: Did you talk to Quek?
Low: I was in no position to contact Quek.
Chiew: If they were to hoodwink you, they could have, couldn’t they?
Low: No. I had no reason not to believe (them)… Faiz was Anwar’s speech writer…
Chiew: But what about Quek? The point is this. You were told about this deal. Any documents to work out how this deal is to be srtructured? Was it presented to you by Faiz?
Low: I had no reason to believe…
Chiew: My question is… Was there any paper in writing?
Low: No, but it was all arranged at top level
Chiew: You are a director of a public-listed company, with experience in financing. Is that your position: you believed these two persons about this deal, which seems ‘phantom in nature’ by your own answers? When you entered the deal, you knew what you were going into…
Low: I knew what I was getting into. I was just a nominee. But can I add… it was on a bigger picture. It was linked to Anwar and Quek.
Chiew also repeatedly asked why Low did not raise this “bigger picture” 14 years ago when the case was first filed.
“Fourteen years later you suddenly have an inspriration. I’m putting to you this was done in bad faith,” Chiew said, to which Low denied.
Chiew also asked Low to explain and clarify several statements he made – including allegation about Anwar’s cronies, the meetings that took place and the credit assessment done on him as well as the allegation that HLFB wanted to purchase KBB at RM350million.
Low admitted that it was Hamzah who supplied him with those information.
Chiew: This contention that you have this representation/collateral contract… it doesn’t exist. It never existed. It is really an afterthought.
Low: Of course based on all the documents here… there is nothing to support my contention.
Chiew: I am putting it to you that you are putting up this fantastic story about Anwar and Quek. Correct? You got this from strange publications found on the Internet? Hence you are stringing this defence together? There is no basis to your contention about this so-called larger scheme?
During re-examination by Devanandan S Subramaniam, Low said his reason for raising this issue 14 years later was that initially, he had full confidence that Hamzah would “take care” of the case.
On March 19, High Court judge Hadhariah Syed Ismail dismissed Low’s application to amend his defence statement to include Anwar as “the person behind the deal”.
In rejecting his application, Hadhariah said it was made at the “eleventh hour” and had come too late in the course of the trial.
However, the court had last week allowed the defence to subpoena four individuals namely Anwar, Quek, Hamzah and Faiz.
Six witnesses of the plaintiff had already taken the stand.
In 1998, Hong Leong Finance filed a suit against Low, Merkuritek and Arus Murni over non-payment of the syndicated loans amounting to RM445 million.
The loans were given to the parties in a bid to acquire financial institution AMCB which owns KBB.
Each defendant was sued for over RM28 million plus interest for the non-repayment of the loans.
In 1999, Low filed a counter-claim against HLFB, HLG Capital Markets Sdn Bhd and Hong Leong Credit Bhd’s former CEO Seow Lun Hoo asking for damages for alleged wrongful or negligent advice.
Hong Leong also filed another suit against Mekuritek and three guarantors – Hussin Abdul Karim, Agus Salim Mohd Dom and Abdullah Abd Karim Bajerai – as defendants for a similar claim of RM28 million.