The Business Times

1MDB saga extends to Swiss bank in S'pore

Anita Gabriel
Published Thu, Mar 12, 2015 · 09:50 PM
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SINGAPORE has unwittingly found itself drawn into the 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) saga after it was revealed that a local branch of Swiss private bank BSI is keeping the state-backed firm's money that was redeemed from a controversial investment in Cayman Islands funds.

However, this is not the only time that the same bank, BSI Singapore, deemed a boutique wealth manager, had dealt with 1MDB.

Based on documents obtained by The Business Times, BSI Singapore had issued portfolio statements on 1MDB's US$2.318 billion investment in Cayman Islands funds back in 2012 for client Brazen Sky - 1MDB's wholly-owned unit incorporated in the British Virgin Islands and the entity that carried out the investment offshore.

Typically, portfolio statements, which provide information on the value and performance of investments, are issued to clients by the investment manager, in this instance, it should have been Hong Kong-based Bridge Partners Asset Management as well as Australia's Avestra which entered the picture later.

When contacted to confirm or deny if the bank had issued these portfolio reports for 1MDB's investments, a BSI Singapore spokesman declined comment, citing confidentiality.

On Wednesday, Malaysia's Ministry of Finance issued a statement that 1MDB's cash of US$1.103 billion, the second tranche of total funds of US$2.32 billion invested in Cayman Islands is being kept in BSI Singapore. The first tranche of US$1.22 billion was redeemed and repatriated late last year and has since been "substantially utilised", according to 1MDB's latest financial statement.

The funds for the Cayman Islands investment followed a complex series of corporate transactions by 1MDB involving a joint venture firm it had set up with PetroSaudi International (PSI).

Documents reveal that four months after 1MDB sold and converted its stake in the venture, 1MDB PetroSaudi (1MDB PS), into Islamic notes of US$1.2 billion in 2010, the state-owned firm ploughed a further US$500 million to subscribe for more Murabaha notes issued by the venture.

The funds were meant for a proposed investment of a 4.23 per cent stake in French energy giant GDF Suez. The joint "investment opportunity" was proposed to 1MDB in July 2010 by PSI, which claimed that it could acquire the stake in the French state-controlled firm at a discount for a total of US$2.5 billion and that it would be a "strategic fit" and could "assist in transforming the Malaysian economy", given the French firm's technology and capital expertise.

PSI is helmed by Saudi businessman Tarek Obaid who founded the oil and gas investment firm with reportedly Prince Turki Abdullah Al Saud, the seventh son of Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah. Following King Abdullah's death and a reshuffle in January this year, Prince Turki relinquished his post as governor of Riyadh.

It is unclear if the proposed investment involving a global giant listed on Euronext Paris with a current market value of 45 billion euros (S$65.86 billion) eventually happened; this investment has not been publicly disclosed by 1MDB nor can it be gleaned from GDF Suez's shareholder profile in the annual reports.

The commercial benefits are also unclear as, unlike a straight forward equity investment, 1MDB will not enjoy the upside from a potential price appreciation in GDF Suez's shares.

The proposal, led by 1MDB's then chief executive Shahrol Halmi - he left the firm in 2013 to join Pemandu, a government unit tasked with the country's economic reforms - was prepared by 1MDB chief investment officer Nik Faisal Ariff Kamil to the board in early July 2010.

It is understood that Malaysia's central bank approved 1MDB's request for a foreign currency borrowing of US$500 million to subscribe to 1MDB PS's Murabaha notes - Murabaha is a cost-plus-profit deal and one of the most common and deemed the easiest methods of Islamic financing.

Documents also reveal that 10 months later, Mr Shahrol sought approval from 1MDB's shareholder, the Ministry of Finance, to invest a further US$330 million for the Murabaha facility to utilise the proceeds for "strategic international investments". 1MDB planned to make a drawdown from a facility agreement with AmBank Bhd and Standard Chartered Bank Malaysia and for the funds to be credited to an account at RBS Coutts Bank Ltd in Zurich, Switzerland. While Standard Chartered Malaysia did not provide the drawdown, AmBank did.

One year later, 1MDB's total investment of US$2.03 billion in Islamic notes was repaid for US$2.2 billion and following a series of corporate transactions, the proceeds were reinvested in a segregated portfolio company in Cayman Islands.

The move by 1MDB to invest its funds abroad drew much criticism, not least because of its mandate as a strategic development firm to woo foreign money into the country and galvanise economic activity.

Following intense pressure and doubts over the investments, 1MDB redeemed its offshore investments late last year.

1MDB's critics have long questioned the firm's rationale of keeping its money outside Malaysia, given its tight cashflow problems to service its hefty debts of some RM42 billion (S$15.7 billion) .

On Thursday, Malaysia's second Finance Minister Ahmad Husni Hanadziah said that the government had provided 1MDB a standby credit facility of RM950 million and admitted for the first time that the firm was facing cashflow problems, a clear signal of the firm's mounting woes.

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