We have been following the saga of the "I" Files, which claims to be a documented retelling of the life and times of Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim. We were at first a bit sceptical of the entire proposition, but it has become a riveting read, and now our wait appears to be paying off.
In the latest installment, the author, 'Jonathan Smith,' tells the story of how Anwar created his financial empire. This is not merely a story of what we already know -- Anwar's 5-star lifestyle after leaving prison in 2004 -- but rather contains allegations and detail generally unknown in Malaysia.
The allegations in this are nothing short of explosive, though they begin slowly. Smith alleges that Anwar's original funding came from his wife's family and from the Saudis. It is with the Saudis, and Anwar's time as Finance Minister, that the story becomes gripping. Smith writes:
One name recurred again and again, one I'd not to that point seen connected to Anwar: Saleh Abdullah Kamel, one of the wealthiest men in Saudi Arabia.
Anwar was a direct recipient of a great deal of his largesse, and had been since his ABIM days. Saleh Kamel would become important again later in the I-Files, but at the time the extent of his fingerprint was already remarkable. Anwar's radical charities in other countries, his charities here – all of which of course paid him some sort of management fee – and his every project at home received some amount of Saleh Kamel's largesse.
All of this would be remarkable enough, but even then, those of us who did wetwork against the Soviets knew Al Baraka and Saleh Kamel from another source: He funded the mujahedeen in Afghanistan, or more accurately, the mujahedeen who truly believed in the Saudi vision. He funded the madrassas in Pakistan and the unreachable parts of Afghanistan that would birth the Taliban a mere handful of years later – even then, we were aware of some of the danger he posed.
Al Baraka would later be Osama bin Laden's and al Qaeda's first choice in banks, a fact that have never seemed to bother Anwar or Saleh Kamel – and certainly did not slow Anwar down from joining the board of Al Baraka on leaving prison. He even proudly boasts of it to this day.
In 1994, while Finance Minister, Anwar privatised Bank Islam (which Anwar himself had founded), selling 2.89 million shares to Joint Arab Malaysian Investment, which already controlled 5.27 million shares. JAMI's largest shareholders were Al Baraka and Saleh Kamel; Anwar's longtime associate Kamaruddin Mohd Nor, several Saudi-controlled companies, and a handful of Anwar front groups were the remaining major shareholders. JAMI saw hundreds of millions off of the deal through off-books transactions.
As Finance Minister, Anwar always made certain that Al Baraka and Saleh Kamel received their share – they, and a mysterious figure we would come to know as 'Mr Ten Per Cent.'
The relationship has always been symbiotic. Anwar has over the years taken "consulting fees" for "introducing" foreign firms to Al Baraka and other Saudi enterprises; for example, in the last decade, he took $25,000,000 from the Hong Kong firm Pearl Oriental to "solicit investments" from Al Baraka.
It's good to be the king; or, failing that, the Finance Minister.
Yet the story does not end there; rather, this, claims Smith, is only the beginning of the story of Anwar's financial empire. Although some of the details of Anwar's finances leaked into the popular press at the time of his downfall -- especially the revelations in Abdul Murad's statutory declaration (mentioned in this chapter of the "I" Files) -- it is remarkable to see how he amassed the wealth and to get a flavour for how he accomplished so much.
For example, Smith alleges that when he began his time as Finance Minister, Anwar was worth $35 million; and that now, he and his family are worth somewhere around $4 billion. Apparently borrowing from Abdul Murad's statutory declaration, Smith alleges that Anwar
held roughly RM3 billion in Bank Negara, through proxy accounts and straw holder accounts – a neat little trick he'd learned from the Saudis, who hold so much of their wealth in Asian and, until recently, Swiss banks through dummy corporation after dummy corporation.