You don’t say no to PM: tycoon in tell-tale video

In a widely-shared video, former high-flying tycoon Tajudin Ramli is apparently shown talking about being pressured into buying MAS in the 1990s.

PETALING JAYA: A new video has threatened to revive a corporate drama involving well-connected tycoon Tajudin Ramli more than two decades ago, as the digital propaganda machines of Barisan Nasional and Pakatan Harapan gather steam ahead of polling on May 9.

The clip, being shared on social media and WhatsApp, purports to show former MAS and Celcom boss Tajudin in conversation with unknown others and recounting behind-the-scene conversations with Daim Zainuddin in the 1990s, when Daim was finance minister and close to Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

FMT is attempting to obtain confirmation from Tajudin about the video, one version of which partially contains only audio.

In the clip, Tajudin talks about how Daim approached him to take over the government’s holdings in Malaysia Airlines — a deal that later caused political controversy when the government bought back the shares seven years later at the same price that Tajudin had paid after MAS suffered severe losses.

Later, in a court case in 2006, he had revealed details, stating that Mahathir and Daim asked him to buy the airline to help the government cover Bank Negara’s losses from foreign exchange dealings. He alleged in the court case that the deal was disguised as an arm’s-length transaction because the government wanted it that way.

Mahathir, in his autobiography, denied being behind the deal.

The clip shows Tajudin saying that Daim had approached him one day asking him to purchase a 32% stake and take over Malaysia Airlines, then government-owned.

“I told him, if I were to buy MAS, (the price of the shares) should be at RM3,” he says.

He says Daim disagreed, prompting Tajudin to raise the price to RM5 a share or a total cost of some RM1.1 billion for 224 million shares.

He says he reminded Daim that the market value of MAS shares then was about only RM3, or a total market value of some RM600 million.

“I would be paying RM400 million extra (over the market value). The government would have to work hard if it were to get a foreign loan for that amount. So I offered RM5 per share.”

After he had made the offer, Daim approached him again, this time with a message from the prime minister, Mahathir, requesting that Tajuddin buy the MAS shares at RM8 each.

“I kept quiet. I told him I cannot buy. Then he (Daim) said, ‘You don’t say no to the prime minister’,” Tajudin says.

In 1994, Tajuddin bought the stake in MAS with RM1.79 billion in loans. Seven years later, a huge political controversy erupted when MAS, after years of losses, was bought back by the government at the same price of RM8 per share, far more than the market value at that time of RM3.86 per share.

Tajuddin eventually lost control of Celcom, held through his personal investment company Technology Resources International, when the government’s asset management company Danaharta sued him in 2004 to recover RM1.6 billion in loans.

After Celcom was sold, Danaharta sued Tajuddin in 2005 to recover the balance of RM589 million. Tajudin filed a counter claim, demanding relief totalling RM13.36 billion from the government, TM, Telekom Enterprise Sdn Bhd, Celcom as well as 22 people.

In his suit, he said Mahathir and Daim had forced him to buy MAS as a form of “national service”. Tajudin said he had wanted to swap his shares in Malaysian Helicopter for the MAS shares, but was forced to borrow RM1.8 billion because the government had insisted that he pay in cash.

However, Mahathir denied in his autobiography that Tajuddin had been coerced to buy the shares, and said Tajuddin had borrowed heavily because of “his own modest collateral”.

The suits were settled out of court, causing further political controversy.