KOTA KINABALU, Oct 28 — Former Sabah chief minister Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal today defended a controversial RM300 million loan given by the state-owned Sabah Development Bank (SDB) to ailing budget airline AirAsia during his tenure.

The Parti Warisan Sabah president said he welcomed the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission’s (MACC) investigation and asserted that there is no foul play or hidden elements in the loan.

He said the loan sum had been agreed upon and approved only after a lot of thought and consideration for the state’s benefit.

“AirAsia Berhad is a Bursa Malaysia listed company, so any transaction of RM300 million will definitely only be approved after all conditions have been met.

“As an airline favoured by Malaysians, AirAsia had development plans which would be beneficial to Sabah and they were planning on creating some 100,000 jobs for the state,” he said in a statement.

Shafie said AirAsia had plans to create a produce-storing facility for its e-commerce platform called Ourfarm, as part of its expansion into agriculture and fisheries distribution. 

“They were also planning on spending RM110 million to develop the Kota Kinabalu International Airport as their international hub,” he said.

He added that AirAsia’s plans were in line with his plans as then chief minister to make Sabah a top food producing state.

“AirAsia would have fit into the plans by helping with the marketing as well as logistics so that the produce can reach target markets quickly,” he said.

Shafie also said the state was hoping that with AirAsia’s help, Sabah could once again become a popular international tourism destination after the pandemic.

“We are aware that before the Covid-19 pandemic hit us, Sabah’s tourism sector was on a roll and the people were reaping economic spillovers across the state. We could not rely on just the national carrier Malaysia Airlines and underestimate the roles of other airlines like AirAsia.

“The state government was responsible to ensure we had good working relations with AirAsia so that if they succeed with their plans, Sabah would also benefit from them,” he said.

The Sabah MACC was earlier reported to be investigating the RM300 million loan to AirAsia, purportedly under order of current Chief Minister Datuk Seri Hajiji Noor. 

The money was reportedly disbursed a few days after the Gabungan Rakyat Sabah state government took over.

Sabah MACC director S. Karunanithy confirmed the investigation was ongoing but declined to release any details.

The report in a local Sabah based newspaper claimed that the loan was approved on July 2, a month after AirAsia had begun a retrenchment exercise and the monies was disbursed “without his knowledge” a few days after Hajiji took office on September 29.

The report claimed that Hajiji met with SDB board members and top management and asked them why he was not informed of the matter given that it was a wholly-owned government institution and involved such a large sum of money.