Najib: Pilgrimage agency didn't bail out 1MDB. He says Tabung Haji has received offers, at higher prices, for land it bought
KOTA BELUD - Lembaga Tabung Haji, Malaysia's pilgrimage agency, did not bail out 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) when it bought a plot of land for RM188.5 million (S$70 million) from the state-backed investment agency, Prime Minister Najib Razak has said in his first comments on the controversial deal.
He said the fact that Tabung Haji had received several offers to buy the same plot of land showed that the earlier purchase was not aimed at bailing out 1MDB.
He was asked to comment on Tabung Haji's announcement that it would sell off the land.
He said Tabung Haji had received offers for the land at higher prices. "By flipping to a private company, Tabung Haji is going to make a few millions overnight.
"So it (could not have been) a bailout because no private company will buy over a project if it is a bailout," he said after launching a people's housing project at Kampung Pirasan yesterday.
Bernama quoted Datuk Seri Najib as saying that the government did not want the controversy surrounding the deal to be prolonged, adding that it had been twisted to look as if Tabung Haji was using depositors' money to save 1MDB from its financial woes.
"We do not want to continue with this controversy because it will take away a lot of our energy, in terms of concentrating on some of the big programmes that we have in mind," Mr Najib said.
The transaction has come under fire from various quarters, including former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad and non-governmental organisations.
In a blog posting, for example, Tun Dr Mahathir called on Tabung Haji to stop using the people's money to bail out 1MDB.
Datuk Seri Abdul Azeez Abdul Rahim, chairman of Tabung Haji, has said it plans to sell the 0.65ha of land after receiving three offers from interested buyers.
One Cabinet minister was yesterday quoted as saying that, perhaps, it was "poor timing" on the part of Tabung Haji to have bought the land from 1MDB.
"It is wiser for it to consider other investment prospects instead of getting involved in 1MDB's controversy at this time," Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Wee Ka Siong said in a press statement.
He disclosed that the Cabinet did not discuss the deal.
Meanwhile, Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein has called for an independent international auditing firm to be appointed to probe 1MDB even though it was already being investigated by the Auditor-General.
He said that in addition to revealing 1MDB's assets and liabilities, investment portfolio status and cash flow to the public, the auditing firm should also carry out a forensic audit on all of the company's transactions since its inception.
"We need to speed up the process to determine the financial status of 1MDB. We shouldn't just wait for the Auditor-General's report," he said.
1MDB is struggling with nearly RM42 billion of debts after buying 15 power plants and one desalination plant in six countries in just six years.
It is wholly owned by the Ministry of Finance and its board of advisers is chaired by Mr Najib.