April 26, 2016
Bank Negara Malaysia: Questions for Zeti Aziz –Where is Integrity?
by Dr. Lim Teck Ghee
If I can anyway contribute to the diversion or improvement of the country in which I live, I shall leave it, when I am summoned out of it, with the satisfaction of thinking that I have not lived in vain.– Stephen Grellet
Did the much quoted line attributed to Grellet (he escaped from execution during the French Revolution and went on to a new life as a Quaker reformer in the United States) run through Governor Zeti Aziz’s mind when her staff in Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM), monitoring the suspicious movement of unusual sums of money making their way through the nation’s banking system, drew her attention to the enormous funds making its way surreptitiously into the country through the Prime Minister’s personal account?
Leaving Bank Negara (Central Bank) Malaysia with a severely battered reputation
Perhaps she had been alerted by the Prime Minister himself earlier. So it may not have come as a surprise. It is possible that she told her staff : “Don’t worry; I am taking care of the matter myself”.
What is the explanation for the internationally lauded BNM’s top official’s inaction or inability to respond to what in any other part of the world would have triggered off alarm bells on the possibility of money laundering, and other concerns of illegal money transfer and corrupt practices arising from a massive and unprecedented deposit from abroad into the nation’s banking system?
It could not have been because of ignorance, negligence, oversight or incompetence. Then what? Only Governor Zeti can answer that. Zeti, and BNM, have on numerous occasions stressed the importance of ensuring the integrity of the country’s financial system.
In its latest press statement on cyber security BNM said that “it continuously reviews and enhances the resiliency of its control measures, governance and adopts best practices which involves robust defence mechanisms with timely transactions monitoring”.
In Accord with International Best Practice?
According to foreign reports, between opening his account at AmBank on January 13, 2011 and April 10, 2013, Mr. Najib received a total of more than $US1 billion — or, more precisely, $US1,050,795,451.58 — including a series of individual deposits that ranged between $US9 million and $US70 million. So much money was flowing into the account that it is supposed to have triggered money laundering alarm bells in AmBank which is part-owned by Australia’s ANZ Bank
The initial money transfers would probably have been made known to Zeti perhaps even before their actual movement was effected. And discreet approval may have been granted well in advance. Nobody in his or her right mind would attempt to receive such hefty sums without making sure that the banking authorities will approve. Besides, the country’s gossip mill is notoriously tireless on money matters so that it would have been crucial that the transaction should remain a secret.
Najib Razak–A Leader of Unimpeachable Integrity?
Perhaps Zeti decided to close one or both eyes to the transfer because she was convinced that the Prime Minister is a leader of unimpeachable integrity doing the best for his country. And following the wisdom of Grellet, since she is passing through the world but once, her act of kindness towards Najib would be recognized for its goodness.
The Prime Minister may have confided to Zeti that the enormous sum deposited in his account was a personal donation from a member or members of the Saudi Royal Family. He may also have explained why the donation was made and what it was to be used for.
Zeti may have agreed that it was in the national interest that the deposit be permitted without the need for investigation, clearance or publicity; and that it was best to keep it as hush-hush as possible in view of the misgivings and misconceptions that would arise if the news was ever leaked.
Various versions of the use of the money and its intentions have now emerged. They include:
helping the Prime Minister win the 2013 elections by paying off politicians and projects
enlisting Malaysia’s help in the fight against ISIS
influencing the direction of the country’s Islamic development by keeping it firmly anchored with the Saudi-led Wahhabi camp
We can only speculate which is the correct one that persuaded Zeti to jettison the independence from political influence and other values and ethics that Bank Negara and other central bank authorities are supposed to swear allegiance to.
Was it to ensure victory for the Prime Minister beleagured by forces of bad intention and chaos from within? Or was it to help Najib preserve Malaysia’s standing as a moderate Islamic nation and to defeat the forces of evil and darkness from outside?
Zeti has not directly responded to the many questions asked of the personal donation as well as of the 1MDB scandal. She has left it to her mainly UMNO defenders who have brushed off accusations that she failed in her duty as the chief regulator of Malaysia’s financial system and financial adviser to the Government. Also the accusations that she is guilty of partisanship in the country’s politics, complicity in money laundering, and perhaps also looking after her own interests by striking a deal with a tainted regime in view of her husband’s alleged involvement in a corruption scandal and other alleged shady family businesses.
Because questions and accusations remain unanswered, Zeti will be leaving office with her reputation, and that of Bank Negara, damaged and tarnished.
But we may not need to wait long for some light to emerge. The links between 1MDB, where the official story line is unraveling rapidly and the personal donation are like a hydra. Official stonewalling and whitewashing may temporarily decapitate one of the heads but another soon re-emerges.
And hopefully, soon, Zeti Aziz’s part in the personal ” donation” scandal, and possibly also the 1MDB debacle, will become more clear to all even if she chooses to remain silent. Silence is not golden.