The organiser of Malaysia's biggest investment forum lamented the absence of 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), as former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad renewed his attacks on the controversial state investor whose mounting debts have spooked the financial market.
1MDB's decision not to take part was disappointing, given the cloud of negativity hanging over the Malaysian economy as a result of its huge debts, Datuk Seri Nazir Razak, chairman of CIMB, the country's second-largest bank, said yesterday.
"I am disappointed because I think they (1MDB) would have been an important element of Invest Malaysia, given the backchat on the topic," he told reporters on the sidelines of the annual forum, which CIMB is organising this year.
While Mr Nazir did not think 1MDB's debt of RM42 billion (S$16 billion), which it racked up over the past five years, was "a systemic issue", he said it was not "helpful that they're not here".
"Sometimes you cannot just spin... The faster we clear it up, the better," said Mr Nazir, brother of Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak.
Datuk Seri Najib, who also holds the finance portfolio and is 1MDB's chief adviser, had addressed questions on the Finance Ministry-owned 1MDB in an hour-long televised interview two weeks ago.
But critics of the state investment firm, especially Tun Dr Mahathir, scoffed at his responses, which they said failed to answer pressing questions surrounding the controversy. Mr Najib had last month ordered an audit of the state investment firm amid allegations that a businessman close to him had siphoned off more than RM700 million of public funds.
These moves have not stopped Dr Mahathir - who earlier this month launched an aggressive campaign to force Mr Najib to step down - from attacking the state investment agency.
Dr Mahathir wrote in his blog yesterday that 1MDB was able to borrow 42,000 times its RM1 million paid-up capital only because of government guarantees.
"It is the government which is borrowing the money. If 1MDB loses money, the government will bear the loss. Yet the operation of 1MDB is not overseen by government officers responsible for the management of government funds," he said.
He also questioned why the company borrowed at least RM42 billion but had assets worth only RM14.7 billion.
"It is not sovereign wealth but sovereign debt. Where is the rest of the money?" asked Dr Mahathir, who was prime minister for 22 years until 2003.
He said the government also lost RM25 billion when it sold prime land cheaply to 1MDB, which is developing those parcels into a new financial hub and satellite city called Bandar Malaysia, south of Kuala Lumpur.
This article was first published on April 24, 2015.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.