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KUALA LUMPUR, June 23 ― In a damning news report published today, Australian daily The Age incriminated top officials of Malaysia’s Bumiputera empowerment agency and two “elite” Malay businessmen to the questionable purchase of a Melbourne property said to be inflated by A$4.75 million (RM13.7 million).
The Age said an eight-month-long investigation by Fairfax Media ― its parent publishing house ― uncovered a massive trail of documents across three continents to find out the real deal behind the A$22.5 million price tag (RM65.03 million) “for a building designed like an IKEA cupboard [that] seemed well above the odds”.
“Fairfax Media can reveal that a group of super-rich Malaysian officials, spending their own government's investment funds, have bid up the price of a Melbourne apartment block from US$17.8 million to US$22.5 million. The extra US$4.75 million was then laundered out of Australia and allegedly paid as bribes in Malaysia,” the newspaper said.
In several articles, the newspaper named two Malaysian businessmen described as “elite” and holding “Datuk” titles” Yusof Gani and Ahmad Azizi who engineered a deal with their Australian joint-venture partners to develop a student housing project near Monash University in Melbourne, Victoria in 2013 for which they would later buy an associated building named Dudley House worth A$17.8 million but which was pricetagged A$22.5 million, pocketing a cool A$4.75 million, camouflaged through a number of false invoices.
Citing from confidential records, the newspaper enlarged the ring of Malaysians implicated to include Ahmad’s two sons, named as Erwin and “Porsche-loving” Erwan who facilitated this deal via a network of contacts connected to MARA through a subsidiary that had been taken over by several Malaysian officials, including former politician turned MARA Investment chairman, Datuk Mohammad Lan Allani, and a MARA chief executive, Datuk Halim Rahman.
The newspaper said it managed to contact Mohammad Lan, whom it noted had visited Melbourne in May last year, citing information from the Malaysian consulate website.
Mohammad Lan reportedly said he was unable to remember the Dudley House purchase, adding that he was involved in setting up offshore companies as a “convenient” way to sell property bought by the Malaysian government.
The newspaper said the MARA investment chairman hung up the phone when it asked him if he knew of any alleged kickback.
The suspicious sale of Dudley House might have gone unnoticed if not for the project’s Australian contracted windowmaker, John Bond who raised the alarm, fearing he and others may not be paid after the developer appointed an administrator to liquidate their assets.
Among the documents that caught the attention of the appointed liquidating firm was an email dated March 8, 2013 and sent by a man purportedly working for Malaysian government officials which stated that a sum of “AUS$4,785,000 in the form of introduction and consultancy fees” would have to be wired to a mysterious shelf company in Singapore, in return for MARA’s purchase of the Melbourne property.
The newspaper said it followed the paper trail for the shelf company, which led to a Singapore cake maker whose brother had introduced her to three men linked to a Malaysian government agency that wanted an offshore business and had asked her to be its front, in return for A$1,000.
According to The Age, the Singaporean cake maker’s shop was not the only front company; Malaysian officials had set up other corporate entities in Singapore and in the British Virgin Islands to buy other exorbitant properties in Melbourne, including one worth A$40 million.
The newspaper said a company called Thrushcross in the British Virgin Islands was also used to buy Dudley House, along with a A$23.5 million property on Swanston Street near Melbourne University with some of the paperwork for the latter being inked by the “porsche-loving” Erwan Ahmad.
The Dudley House case has since gone to Australian court.
The Age reported that its developer Chris Dimitriou, questioned directly about these apparent “kickbacks”, said in court: “To the best of my knowledge, that $4.8 million went to Malaysian parties”.