Najib’s inner circle

(Straits Times) KUALA LUMPUR, July 15 — The people in Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s inner circle;

Tan Sri Peter Sondakh

Sondakh advises Najib on Indonesia.

He came into contact with Najib when he was negotiating to sell a controlling interest in his telecommunications group, Excelcomindo Pratama, to Malaysia’s national telecommunications company Telekom Malaysia in 2004.

Flush with cash from the sale of his telecommunications group, Sondakh, now 57, acquired hotels in Malaysia, including the Sheraton Imperial. The latter was owned by a financially troubled unit controlled by Telekom Malaysia’s parent company Khazanah Holdings, the country’s state-owned investment agency.

Since then, Sondakh has emerged as an informal personal adviser to Najib on matters related to Indonesia.

Omar Mustapha

Omar was Najib’s aide when he was DPM.

The one-time special assistant to Najib owns a business consultancy called Ethos & Co.

Omar, who is 38 years old, also has links with Sondakh.

The two struck up a relationship several years ago when Omar was assigned by Najib, then Deputy PM, to build a network in Indonesia, which was identified as a potential investment destination for Malaysian companies, particularly state controlled enterprises.

Businessmen who know Omar say that he is being tapped for strategic advice.

He is also said to be the architect of the Premier’s “1 Malaysia” slogan — a call for a more united Malaysia, which has become the central theme of Najib’s first 100 days in office.

But Omar, who graduated from Oxford, has been ensnared in a controversy in recent weeks after the board of the national oil corporation Petronas rebuffed a proposal by Najib to appoint his young aide as a director.

Bankers and lawyers familiar with the situation say that the board of directors of Petronas opposed Omar’s position because he failed to honour his scholarship agreement with the oil corporation after it financed his studies in Britain.

After graduating in the mid-1990s, he worked briefly in Petronas and another government-linked corporation before joining consultancy firm McKinsey.

He left it to set up Ethos in early 2002 with several friends, and two years later was appointed Najib’s special officer in the DPM’s Office.

Omar did not respond to requests for comment.

Siew Ka Wei

Siew controls several public-listed entities.

The businessman and Datuk Mohamed Al-Amin Abdul Majid, a senior politician from the ruling Umno, are said to be close to completing a takeover of a 70 per cent interest in a private company that owns the Malay Mail.

Political handovers in Malaysia often result in changes in the top positions in the country’s mainstream media organisations and this is one change on the cards.

The lanky, cigar-chomping Datuk Siew, 53, is a controlling shareholder of several public-listed entities such as Nylex and Ancom.

Al-Amin, who is also 53, is a board member of both firms.

Tan Sri Tan Kay Hock

Tan is said to be a golf buddy of the PM.

He is the low-profile controlling shareholder of Johan Holdings, a public-listed investment holding company, and said to be a golf buddy of Najib’s.

The Financial Times had reported that Tan, 61, was the owner of the 607ha Guiana Island, which is now at the centre of a fraud case brought by the United States authorities against Texan billionaire businessman Allen Stanford.

Joe Low

Another low-profile businessman, he was a key architect of a multibillion-ringgit sovereign wealth fund established by the state of Terengganu.

The fund, called the Terengganu Investment Authority (TIA), has sparked controversy because it will be created using borrowed money and not existing capital held by the state. It will raise capital from a RM5 billion bond issue, which will be guaranteed by the Malaysian government.

Little is known of Penang-born Low, who a TIA official said is an adviser to Malaysia’s King, Sultan Mizan, and has close ties with several Middle East investment funds.