Malaysiakini News

1MDB asset recovery: Gov't must start thinking like an owner

Rais Hussin  |  Published:  |  Modified:

COMMENT | Now that the focus has turned from hiding the losses from financial scandals such as 1MDB to recovering assets, the attitude of the government administrators must also reflect the new objective.

Usually, for such an exercise, a crack team of lawyers, accountants, and other pencil pushers are assembled. They tuck their napkins into white collars, settle back in their cushy armchairs, and lick their lips as they settle in for the lengthy feast. This is the opposite of the correct course of action.

Instead of outsourcing the workload to bean counters paid by the hour who will gladly stretch their payday out for years, the administrators of the recovery program should act like owners, meaning that they should focus on the twin goals of maximising value and minimising time.

Maximising value

The people who misappropriated money from 1MDB invested it in a variety of assets. Some, such as luxury real estate and famous works of art, may appreciate over time. But others, such as fashionable handbags and superyachts, start depreciating the minute they leave the showroom.

The bean counters like to take their time to research and catalogue these items, with intricate due diligence, over months and months, only to then announce liquidation in fire-sale auctions that constrict buyers into time-bound deadlines. There is nothing that ensures distressed pricing more than a forced sale of a US$50 million mansion or a US$100 million painting.

The superyacht Equanimity that cost a cool US$250 million when she sailed out of the Netherlands in 2014 will gather layer upon layer of mould in a wet berth in Fort Lauderdale until she recovers pennies on the dollar when unceremoniously dumped onto a sensitive market.

The bean counters couldn’t care less. Their job is to administrate a process and collect fees, not to maximise the value of the assets returned to the people of Malaysia.

An owner, however, would ensure that he fetched the best price that he could, by preserving his assets in their best possible condition and by diligently searching out the highest bidders.

Minimising time

On July 20, 2016, the US Department of Justice and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) held a now-infamous press conference with the then-serving attorney-general Loretta Lynch and the then-deputy director of the FBI Andrew McCabe (both since fired by now-President Donald Trump) in which they exposed 1MDB as the largest case of government kleptocracy ever prosecuted by their institutions.

READ MORE: 'Stolen 1MDB funds': The DOJ lawsuit revisited


However, two years on, they are still plodding away at their civil case and at this rate it will comfortably go on like this for another year or two at least. When they do seize assets, they have to retain custody until winning judgements allowing them to liquidate them for cash, which is another long and drawn-out process.

In the meantime, Malaysians are paying interest through their noses on 1MDB’s mountains of debt – the cost of which is compounded every year that recovery is delayed.

If and when the US government does recover some of our money, we still have to undergo a formal process of reclaiming the proceeds for repatriation, for which the sum calculated will first allow them to recover their (not unsubstantial) costs. By this point, you get the idea that not only will this whole saga take its own sweet time but also bear a high cost of capital over the years.

An owner would not sit back and watch this drama unravel as a passive spectator. He would get into action and cut a deal to get his money back as soon as possible. After all, now the government is on the same side as them and the rightful owners, the rakyat, and not facing them as defendants.

RAIS HUSSIN is a supreme council member of Bersatu. He also heads its policy and strategy bureau.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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