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RM34.5b debts: Another crisis in the making?

 | June 20, 2012

DAP MP Tony Pua wants to know if the government would have to bail out Syed Mokhtar Al-Bukhary's companies, which have incurred massive debts.

KUALA LUMPUR: Will there be a repeat of the 1998 financial crisis due to the massive corporate debts of tycoon Syed Mokhtar Al-Bukhary amounting to RM34.5 billion?

Asking this today, Petaling Jaya Utara MP Tony Pua cited the 1998 Asian financial crisis which precipitated the collapse of “Umno crony company, Renong Bhd”, which, at the time, had debts in excess of RM20 billion (about 7% of all loans in the banking system then.)

He said that Renong had gone bankrupt and caused hundreds of millions in losses to investors, leading to the collapse of the stock market index and triggered a RM10 billion bailout of the company by the government.

Pua said Renong was one of the largest and favoured conglomerates by the BN government with interests in highways (PLUS, UEM, Linkedua), rail (KTM, Putra LRT), property, telecommunications (TIME) and a whole host of other companies.

“Fast forward 14 years later, we now have Syed Mokhtar’s group of companies which have a combined debt of RM34.3 billion or more than 10% of all local currency outstanding corporate bonds as at 2011.

“These companies have a total cash and cash equivalents of RM7.8 billion as at May 2012,” said the DAP publicity chief.

Pua urged the government to explain what measures have been taken with Syed Mokhtar’s companies to avoid a situation similar to Renong.

“The finance ministry must make available data on how much our financial institutions and statutory bodies such as the Employees Provident Fund (EPF), Civil Service Retirement Fund (KWAP), Tabung Haji Fund and Armed Forces Fund (LTAT) have invested in these debts,” Pua said, adding that all the above have provided loans to Syed Mokhtar’s companies.

“We call upon the government to assure Malaysian taxpayers that in the event of a default, public monies will not be made to pay for the follies of Barisan Nasional cronies.”

Monster bailouts

Detailing the debts of Syed Moktar’s companies, Pua said they far exceeded that of Renong’s and expressed his fear that there would be a repeat of the Renong crisis requiring “monster bailouts with taxpayers’ funds”.

“This fear is especially real in the light of a global economic slowdown and a fallout from the eurozone financial crisis,” he said.

Pua said that Syed Mokhtar’s empire is generally held under four listed entities.

“The largest of them is the 51.8%-owned MMC Corporation Bhd whose group alone has outstanding debt of RM24.2 billion. The key subsidiaries of MMC Corporation are Malakoff Corporation, Gas Malaysia, Aliran Ihsan Resources, Port of Tanjong Pelepas, Johor Port, Senai Airport Terminal Services, SMART Tunnel and the MMC-Gamuda joint ventures.”

“His second largest entity is the 55.9%-owned DRB-Hicom Bhd which has debt of RM5.7 billion, including the most recent RM3.0 billion debt raised to acquire Proton Bhd.”

Pua said other companies of the group are Edaran Otomobil Nasional, Modenas, Honda Malaysia, Bank Muamalat, Puspakom, Alam Flora, POS Malaysia, Defence Technologies and several property development companies.

“The third entity is 43.0%-owned Tradewinds (M) Bhd which has debt of RM3.48 billion. It owns Bernas which has a monopoly on rice purchase, import and distribution in Malaysia; Central Sugar Refinery and smaller stakes in Malaysian Sugar Manufacturing Bhd, which together monopolises the Malaysian sugar market; and Tradewinds Plantations.”

Pua said the fourth and final entity is the 71.5%-owned Tradewinds Corporation which has a debt of RM890 million. It runs several major hotel chains in Malaysia, including Crowne Plaza, Mutiara Kuala Lumpur, Hilton Kuching and Petaling Jaya and Hotel Istana.

“Despite the expansiveness of his empire, and the load of his debt holdings, the Prime Minister’s Department has just confirmed the privatisation of Penang Port to him. With no details yet available, the acquisition will certainly require him to raise possibly several billions of additional debt to fund the exercise.

“What’s more, it has been widely rumoured that Syed Moktar is also leading the race to acquire Port Klang [Northport Holdings] as well as KTM Bhd.”


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