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KQ Halim Saad's Loan Scandal: Rebutal to Danaharta
By Kapal Berita

25/9/2000 4:49 am Mon



Pengurusan Danaharta Nasional Berhad's (Danaharta) statement of denial of any bailout in the Halim Saad's 3-billion ringgit loan scandal is misleading. It wholly misses the essence of the scandal.

In a press statement on 21st Sept, apparently in response to an Asian Wall Street Journal (AWSJ) article on 19th Sept, Danaharta denied there was any bailout of the lending banks or the borrower, Hottick Investment. It further claimed that Malaysian taxpayers only suffer a maximum loss of 4 ringgit (Danaharta paid l ringgit to each of the 4 lending banks for taking over the loans).

On the surface, Danaharta seems correct, as it has not paid out any money to the lending banks or Hottick. But it misses completely the central figure of the scandal, Halim Saad, who is the real borrower of the 3-billion ringgit loan. In an intricate manoeuvre, Halim took over National Steel Corp of Philippines (NS), using Hottick Investment Ltd. Of Hong Kong as the vehicle, whose main registered shareholder is Abdul Rashid Manaff, lawyer for Halim as well as for the Renong Group. With NS shares as the only collateral, the banks lent out 3 billion ringgit to Hottick to take over NS.

The vital question in this scandal is: Why have the lending banks sold the 3-billion ringgit loans to Danaharta for a nominal 4 ringgit, instead of taking steps to recover the money from the real borrower and investor Halim Saad, who must have stood as a personal guarantor to these loans? The option taken by the banks is all the more puzzling when Halim happens to be one of the most prominent businessman in this Country. He is the controlling shareholder of the Renong Group, one of the largest and most powerful conglomerates in Malaysia, having some 10 listed companies under its umbrella.

Surely, Halim is worth billions, and is quite capable of repaying the debts, at least substantially if not fully. Why have the banks decided to forego this wonderful option for a hopeless one, which is recovery through Danaharta, which can do nothing other than selling the worthless NS shares? By Danaharta's own admission, "Hottick shareholders's investment is subject to a complete write off¨. By virtually writing off these loans when the option to recover them through the guarantors is still feasible, the management of these lending banks have committed an unforgivable crime, and have betrayed the interests of their shareholders. Which sane banker would have dared to do that?

To understand the intrigue of this scandal, one has to recognize two facts.

ONE, these lending banks, Malayan Banking, Bank Bumiputra, RHB and Commerce Assets, are subject to direct or indirect Government control or influence, through shareholdings and other connections. And in this Country, the wishes of the political masters can be interpreted as commands, as far as these banks are concerned.

TWO, Halim Saad is no ordinary businessman. He is generally considered as proxy for the financial interests of the ruling leadership, as apparent from the fact that his Renong Group is usually given the first preference to take on Government contracts and privatized projects. And again in this Country, it may not be surprising that he is recognized among banking circles as some one out of bounds to the pursuers of debts.

Under these circumstances, a simple political directive from the top may be all that was needed to persuade the banks to let Danaharta take over the loans at a nominal price in exchange for the privilege of writing off these bad loans by annual installments over a comfortably long period, as has happened. (Incidentally, by what authority or under what legal basis were these banks allowed to write off the bad loans by instalments over a prolonged period?)

As for Danaharta's claim that Malaysian taxpayers only loose 4 ringgit in this fiasco, this is totally false. By letting Halim off scot-free, his 3 billion losses is then transferred to these 4 banks, some of which are wholly or partially owned by the Malaysian Government (taxpayers). Hence, the taxpayers are shouldering a substantial amount of this 3 billion loss, and the balance is born by corporate and individual shareholders of the respective banks, many of whom are ordinary citizens.

The second part of this scandal is the questionable conduct under which these loans were given out in the first place. The net asset of National Steel was found to be only one quarter of the price paid for by Halim at the time of take over, as calculated from the data published by AWSJ. And with NS's poor track record of profits and difficult financial position then, NS should have been taken over at a discount, not at a whopping premium to its net asset, if at all any taking over this concern was considered wise.

The lending banks had therefore blundered in agreeing to accept the grossly over-valued NS shares as the only collateral, and in failing to evaluate the risks involved. But how could these banks have erred by such big margin, considering their formidable cumulative expertise in project evaluation and lending? And how could any banker be so daring and foolhardy as to commit such a huge sum on such precarious terms? The only plausible explanation is the hidden hand of politics again, considering Halim's closeness to the center of political power in this Country. This of course does not preclude the additional possibility of criminal improprieties on all parties concerned: the lenders, the borrowers and even the vendors (who sold the NS shares to Halim), in view of the strangeness of these transactions

Finally, after having said all the above, one wonders in the bizarre world of finance in this Country: is it remotely possible that Halim is not a personal guarantor to these loans? If the answer is affirmative, then Halim is not legally liable to repay these loans personally, but then this loan scandal would become even more explosive. You see, the lending banks had to make up their minds as to who the real investor was: Hottick the shell company, or Abdul Rashid Manaff the lawyer for Halim and Renong, or Halim the businessman, or Renong the conglomerate. As it is inconceivable that the lending banks had failed to recognize Halim or Renong as the real investor, then the motive of not getting Halim to stand as a personal guarantor must have been to cater for a situation like what has just transpired to let Halim off scot-free when the situation demanded. If this is not a grand collusion to defraud the shareholders of the lending banks, then what is? (applicable only in the eventuality that Halim is not a personal guarantor to these loans.)

As the Malaysian taxpayers and public investors are the real losers in this colossal scam, doesn't the Barisan Nasional Government owe the people of this Country a full explanation?

Kim Quek