Johor and Negri Sembilan royal families at war

(The Star) – Two royals are battling it out in a quest to wrest control of the financially-distressed KNM Group Bhd.

For the first time since the boardroom tussle unfolded, Johor Ruler’s eldest sister Tunku Kamariah Aminah Maimunah Iskandariah Sultan Iskandar has broken her silence and gave an ultimatum to the current directors led by a Negri Sembilan royal.

“Form a unity board or make way for us,” she challenged in a strongly worded statement yesterday.

Currently, the board is led by Negri Sembilan royal Tunku Datuk Yaacob Khyra as the chairman and the single-largest shareholder of KNM with a 9.5% stake.

Tunku Kamariah would be appointed as the new chairman if her camp, led by German billionaire Andreas Heeschen, secures majority support from KNM’s shareholders.

The Johor princess referred to Heeschen as a “friend” who was “invited to invest in Malaysia with the hope of restructuring KNM from its financial struggle while bringing in foreign direct investment and job creation”.

Earlier, Tunku Yaacob alleged that Heeschen and his camp were backed by a “Malaysian syndicate”.

While he stopped short of naming the syndicate, he said it wants to take control of KNM and could reward the German tycoon by selling off KNM’s crown jewel, Borsig GmbH, to him.

Heeschen had previously tried to acquire Borsig, but the deal fell through in 2022 after his multi-billionaire partner – Sir Leonard Valentinovich Blavatnik – pulled out.Germany-based process equipment maker Borsig has a market value of €300mil.

KNM, which has a Practice Note 17 (PN17) status, is in the midst of listing Borsig on the Singapore Exchange (SGX).However, it seeks to retain a 40% equity interest in Borsig.

The current board of KNM is also looking at monetising several other assets, including FBM Hudson Italiana SpA, the waste-to-energy power plant project in Peterborough, the United Kingdom as well as an ethanol plant in Thailand.

Tunku Kamariah criticised the planned disposals, pointing out that “anyone can do asset strip by selling assets of the company at distressed prices”.

Tunku Kamariah outlined her vision for the next five years, which includes injecting new capital, acquiring new assets to increase Borsig’s current capacity, substantial investments into new projects, cooperating with inter-governmental bodies and securing new long term contracts.

“We have the local and European resources to assist KNM to settle its debt repayment,” she said.

On the plan to list Borsig on SGX, Tunku Kamariah warned that the move could cause the delisting of KNM from Bursa Malaysia.

This is because more than 75% of KNM’s revenue is derived from Borsig.

With less than a week to go before the EGM is convened on Oct 16, Tunku Kamariah questioned the need to hold the EGM virtually.

However, at this juncture, it seemed unlikely that the EGM would be held physically.

Ahead of the meeting, Tunku Yaacob is confident of the board members retaining their positions in KNM.

“The other side (Heeschen) has about 15% (together with other KNM shareholders).

“With our friendly parties, we have more than 30%,” Tunku Yaacob told StarBiz after a briefing for investors on Oct 9.

The support for Tunku Yaacob also included the new substantial shareholder of KNM – Sarawak businessman Datuk Seri Mahmud Abu Bekir Taib.

Mahmud, who is the son of the sitting Sarawak governor Abdul Taib Mahmud, acquired a 5.03% stake in KNM from the open market.

In a statement, Mahmud said he has the fullest confidence in the current board of directors under the leadership of Tunku Yaacob.

“They have formulated a very sound plan for KNM,” he said in the statement.

However, Tunku Kamariah welcomed Mahmud, whom she described as her “favourite businessman”, to vote in the EGM and assist KNM in getting out of the PN17 status.

In the event Tunku Kamariah and her team managed to wrest control of KNM’s leadership next Monday, the current board will be removed.

Six new directors have been proposed to take over their posts, including Heeschen and former KNM executive director Flavio Porro.

The others directors that Heeschen’s group has proposed to be appointed included former chairman of Magna Prima Bhd and Komakcorp Bhd Datuk Abd Ghani Yusof, Jiankun International Bhd chief executive officer Edwin Silvester Das, SMTrack Bhd executive director Datuk Zaidi Mat Isa@Hashim, and CN Asia Corp Bhd executive director William Van Vliet II.