As forex RCI starts, BNM requests for closed-door inquiry, cites OSA material

Former assistant governor of Bank Negara Datuk Abdul Murad Khalid arrives for the BNM 1990s Forex Losses RCI’s second hearing at the Court of Appeal in Putrajaya August 21, 2017. — Picture by Miera Zulyana
Former assistant governor of Bank Negara Datuk Abdul Murad Khalid arrives for the BNM 1990s Forex Losses RCI’s second hearing at the Court of Appeal in Putrajaya August 21, 2017. — Picture by Miera Zulyana

PUTRAJAYA, Aug 21 — The Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) into Malaysia’s foreign exchange losses scandal started today with a request from Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM) for the inquiry to be held behind closed doors due to the confidential nature of some of its reports.

Lawyer for BNM Datuk Tan Hock Chuan said several reports that were involved in the investigations have been designated as under the Official Secrets Act (OSA) and might implicate the witnesses called to testify.

He also said two of the witness who were from BNM have not been granted immunity and could be charged in the future.

“Two witness from BNM have no immunity for criminal action to breach the OSA.

“We have an alternative suggestion — exclude the investigation to the press and public,” Tan said in today’s inquiry, held at the Palace of Justice court complex here.

However, the RCI panel chairman Tan Sri Mohd Sidek Hassan disagreed with Tan’s argument and said the inquiry will continue to be held openly.

“This is an inquiry; nobody is on trial. I’m advised [that] this is an inquiry, not a trial. We’re commissioned by the Agong to do this.

“I’m told that under the Act... commissioners have powers therefore from now I’m going to continue without delaying the inquiry,” Mohd Sidek said.

The inquiry started with testimony from two former BNM staff: Datuk Ahmad Hizzad Baruddin and Abdul Aziz Abdul Manap.

Lawyer Mohamed Haniff Khatri Abdulla, representing former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, requested for a copy of the witness statements to be furnished to those who were holding watching briefs, but was turned down by Mohd Sidek.

Dr Mahathir was the prime minister during the 1990s when BNM was alleged to have incurred billions of ringgit of losses through trading in foreign currencies.

Other than Mohd Sidek, the panel includes Special Task Force to Facilitate Business co-chairman Tan Sri Saw Choo Boon, High Court judge Datuk Wira Kamaludin Md Said, Bursa Malaysia Bhd chief executive officer Datuk Seri Tajuddin Atan and Malaysian Institute of Accountants member K. Pushpanathan.

The RCI panel, which has been given five terms of reference, has to complete its inquiry and submit its report to the Yang di-Pertuan Agong within three months by the scheduled date of October 13.

The five terms of reference include determining the validity of the claim that losses have been incurred by BNM due to foreign exchange dealings in the 1990s and its impact on the country’s economy; and determining whether BNM’s foreign exchange dealings which incurred losses had breached the Central Bank Ordinance 1958 or other relevant laws.

Former BNM deputy governor Datuk Abdul Murad is next to testify in the afternoon session of the inquiry.

*Editor’s note: An earlier copy of this article wrongly named Datuk Ahmad Izat Kamaruddin instead of Datuk Ahmad Hizzad Baruddin as one of the former BNM staff. Malay Mail Online apologises for the error, which has since been corrected.