Malaysia’s Growing Port Scandal

The dogs bark, the caravan moves on

The port’s directors say it is now likely to default on billions of ringgit in loans, with the possibility, according to the PriceWaterhouseCoopers report, that accumulated interest could drive the cost up by more than a factor of six.  

Asia Sentinel

Malaysia’s massive port scandal, which has received enormous publicity, implicating a wide swath of past and present officials at the very top of the national coalition government, is confronting Najib Tun Razak, the prime minister, with an unappetizing list of choices given his public rhetoric about cleaning out corruption in his party and government. 

The cost overruns in the disastrous attempt to turn the Port Klang seaport into a national multimodal transshipment involve top figures in the Malaysian Chinese Association, the second component of the ruling national coalition, as well as influential members of Najib’s own party.

As with a staggering number of industrialization projects dreamed up by former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, the Port Klang free zone appears to have served as a kind of gigantic smorgasbord from which officials picked out whatever they wanted to enrich themselves. In September, police froze the bank accounts of Kuala Dimensi Sdn Bhd, the corporate entity with the contract to build the port, while they attempt to sort out what happened. 

“I believe they will nail a few people,” said a Kuala Lumpur observer with ties to the United Malays National Organization. “The scandal is too big to ignore. But how severe their punishment will be remains to be seen. Some will certainly go to jail. Lots of Umno guys are behind it, but they’re medium fry. The main culprits are the MCA guys plus Tiong.” 

That is Tiong King Sing, an influential Sarawak lawmaker and chairman of the parliament’s Backbencher’s Club, who holds 70 percent of the shares in Kuala Dimensi. Although authorities may charge Tiong, sources say, he is likely to be the only one despite the complicity of a long list of MCA and UMNO figures. Tiong has denied any impropriety and one source said that “Tiong has hid his tracks very well.”