The mysterious 1MDB ‘fund units’, three years on

INTERVIEW | Arul Kanda Kandasamy was brought into 1MDB as its chief executive officer at a time of crisis, in early 2015, as debt collectors came knocking in.

At that time, 1MDB was also facing mounting pressure on the status of Brazen Sky Ltd’s US$2.33 billion “units” investment in a Cayman Islands-registered fund. Brazen Sky is a subsidiary of 1MDB.

This was Arul Kanda’s first order of business when he declared, a week after his appointment, that the 2012 Cayman Islands investment had been fully redeemed.

“1MDB hopes that the redemption of these funds, in full, draws a line under this matter,” he said in a statement on Jan 13, 2015.

But to date, a line could not be drawn as the investment in Bridge Global Absolute Return Fund SPC, the Cayman Islands-registered fund, was never fully redeemed.

Malaysiakini, in a recent interview with Arul Kanda, grilled him about the status of the “fund units”.

When Arul declared the Brazen Sky “fund units” were fully redeemed at the beginning of his tenure, US$1.39 billion was supposedly in cash and immediately expended while the remaining US$940 million in units was meant for a sale to Aabar Investments PJS Limited (Aabar BVI).

It caused a stir when caretaker prime minister Najib Abdul Razak, who is also caretaker finance minister, claimed the remaining amount was also redeemed “in cash” but the Finance Ministry was later forced to clarify, two months later, that it was still in “fund units”.

Arul Kanda later took the rap, claiming that he thought the redemption was fully in cash as he was unaware of the planned sale of a portion of the fund units, which was inked before his appointment.

The sale of the remaining US$940 million Brazen Sky “fund units” to Aabar BVI never took place.

The standard explanation, and reiterated by Arul during the interview, was that the planned sale was “superseded” by the binding term sheet with the International Petroleum Investment Company (IPIC) on May 27, 2015.

This 2015 “white knight” deal saw IPIC providing 1MDB with a US$1 billion advance and assuming responsibility on the principal and interest payment of US$3.5 billion in 1MDB’s bonds in exchange for an asset swap which included the Brazen Sky “fund units.”

But even this did not go through as the deal eventually fell apart and both 1MDB and IPIC went to arbitration and later, a settlement.

So, three years after Arul Kanda declared the Brazen Sky “fund units” were fully redeemed, what has happened to the remaining US$940 million?

Highly intelligent and polished in his oratory skill from his debating days, Arul Kanda had a set explanation for every question hurled at him and rarely deviates from them.

He was initially coy about the remaining “fund units” but after repeated grilling, he acknowledged that they remain unredeemed. Below is a transcript of that conversation, which has been edited for brevity, grammar and accuracy.

Malaysiakini: In terms of the Brazen Sky units, ultimately you redeemed a part of it. What’s the status of the remaining US$940 million? Was it fully redeemed?

Arul Kanda: So in terms of the fund units that I told you, we have a rationalisation plan, and the plan required us to monetise our assets, over time, to meet our obligations. So there is an ongoing process and you have seen 1MDB has met every single interest payment under the remaining debt, so we have a process under which we have progressively monetised our assets as a whole.

Malaysiakini: But with regard to the US$940 million, has it been drawn down to pay for something or is it still US$940 million (in fund units)?

Arul Kanda: We have partially monetised some of the fund investment.

Malaysiakini: Brazen Sky, specifically?

Arul Kanda: Well, I can speak in general terms, right? We have partially monetised, but as I told you, we have a programme and we will utilise what is most efficient for the company and in terms of meeting our immediate requirements.

Malaysiakini: So, are you not willing to answer in terms of what happened to those units?

Arul Kanda: No, I am not saying that.

Malaysiakini: I mean you answered in very general terms but we asked you a very specific question.

Arul Kanda: I am saying in general terms because… you are welcomed to ask whatever questions you want, guys, this is an open scenario… and equally, I can give you the answer, right?

You have to bear in mind, we have commercial considerations and we have also confidentiality considerations. Remember, we signed the settlement agreement with IPIC, the settlement agreement covered a lot of things.

But frankly, we have constraints on what we can say and what we can’t say. So ultimately, I would love to answer your question, but there are commercial considerations and confidentiality considerations.

Malaysiakini: Are you suggesting that what happened to those (Brazen Sky) units is confidential? I think you have a duty to somehow give an explanation to Malaysians what exactly happened to those units.

Arul Kanda: Well, as I told you, there is a rationalisation plan and from the company’s perspective, it will be used the in the most efficient way to monetise its assets, over time, in order to pay the debt – that’s our responsibility.

Malaysiakini: Forgive us for harping on the remainder of the fund units. The reason why we are actually on this is simply because a couple of days after you took on the job, you told the Malaysian people that this has been fully redeemed. As you stated, there was some confusion about the fund units and it was later superseded by the IPIC binding term sheet. So, to date, more than three years since you made the public statement and told Malaysians that this has been disposed of, it still seems to be there. So we would like you, if you could, to explain what is the status.

Arul Kanda: Well, we have been very open about how we are meeting our debt obligations. So if you look at the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) report, there is very detailed set of cash flow, if you look at the various ceramah sessions I have done over a few years, particularly over the last two months, we always said first we needed cash for the operation of the company and pay back short-term debts. As a result, we sold Edra, then we have the real estate Bandar Malaysia, Tun Razak Exchange, Air Hitam (land)…

Malaysiakini: I’m sorry… you just said…

Arul Kanda: You keep asking the same question, you have to let me answer. So how and what is monetised over time is a function of what is the most efficient for the company to do. That’s the simple answer. So I can’t tell you today that I will monetise the units, or tomorrow I will monetise the lands or the day after I will monetise the other. At the point in time, what is most efficient for the company, that’s all we will do.

Malaysiakini: Will you, or will you not, go on record to explain the status of the remainder of the Brazen Sky units. If you are not willing, then we will move on.

Arul Kanda: As I said, the value is there, we are always open about it.

Malaysiakini: What’s the value?

Arul Kanda: US$2.5 billion. We are open about that.

Malaysiakini: That was before the earlier redemption, what’s the remaining amount?

Arul Kanda: We maintained US$2.5 billion as the value and as I told you, what we monetise – Edra, land, fund investment – it depends on the needs of the company and what is most efficient. The total assets of the company today are RM43 billion – I have publicly stated that – they make up of the land value, the fund investment and also Aabar BVI deposits. That’s RM43 billion.

Malaysiakini: US$2.5 billion is Brazen Sky units?

Arul Kanda: No, no, approximate US$940 million is Brazen Sky. US$1.5 billion is 1MDB Global Investment Ltd (1MDB GIL).

Malaysiakini: So, meaning this US$2.5 billion is still available? Has it not been disposed of?

Arul Kanda: Yes, as I told you, we got a plan over time and we have multiple assets and we will utilise or monetise the assets as needed to meet the requirement. But if your question is what is the value of the company’s assets today, the value of the company’s assets today that we have publicly stated is RM43 billion. But remember, as I said, some of the assets have been transferred to the Finance Ministry, some are still on the balance sheet, you know.

Malaysiakini: So the US$2.5 billion is still available for 1MDB to use?

Arul Kanda: Of course, it is part of the rationalisation plan.

The DOJ version of events

For clarity, 1MDB had invested almost US$3.83 billion in “fund units”. This was US$2.33 billion by Brazen Sky and US$1.5 billion by 1MDB GIL. Both are 1MDB subsidiaries.

After previous redemptions in 2014, the remaining sum of the Brazen Sky investment stands at US$940 billion and coupled with 1MDB GIL, now stands at close to US$2.5 billion.

The repeated delays in disposing of the “fund units”, which would, in theory, be more liquid than assets such as power plants and land, raise concern about the Department of Justice’s claim that they are “relatively worthless”.

Going by the DOJ court filings, the “fund units”, including the Brazen Sky investment, were a front for money that had already been misappropriated.

But if the “fund units” were worthless, how could 1MDB possibly redeem US$1.39 billion from the initial US$2.33 billion in the “fund units”?

The DOJ claimed this was achieved through a US$975 billion Deutsche Bank loan which, through multiple intermediaries, was sent to Brazen Sky’s account. Brazen Sky then sent the money out again, and after passing through the same intermediaries, the money came back to it.

“The purpose of this unnecessarily complicated funds flow was to create the appearance that fund units in the Brazen Sky Account were being redeemed for cash and being paid forward to 1MDB, thereby fraudulently disguising the fact that the fund units were illiquid and relatively worthless,” the DOJ said in its filing.

But for Arul Kanda, the DOJ filings are unproven claims which have been sensationalised.

“I think there’s complete sensationalisation, right? How many times has the US attorney-general conducted a press conference with this huge supporting cast, just to say this lawsuit is being filed.

“And if you look at the content of the lawsuit, there’s a lot of info, which is actually not relevant to the genesis of the case, which is the attempt to seize certain asset from a certain named person. That’s one part of it.

“The second part of it, despite that razzmatazz press conference, very serious allegations were made but two years on, that civil lawsuit has still not gone to court.

“The DOJ itself has requested for a stay to be extended further recently. To me, that’s not in the interest of justice. I am speaking generally because of the case. As far as 1MDB is concerned, we are not involved in the case,” Arul Kanda said.

Likewise, he a pointed out that there was no admission of guilt in caretaker prime minister Najib Abdul Razak’s stepson Riza Aziz’s move to settle with the DOJ. The DOJ had implicated Riza as one of the beneficiaries of allegedly misappropriated 1MDB funds.

“Riza Aziz has entered into settlement agreement with DOJ, under which there is no admission of wrongdoing, no liability on him and the fact is the settlement cannot be used against him in any civil or criminal process

“So this DOJ lawsuit raises a lot more questions,” Arul Kanda said.

The settlement is specific to Red Granite Productions, a film production company co-owned by Riza. He has also been named in the forfeiture of other assets allegedly acquired using 1MDB-linked funds which remain unresolved.

Who is managing the units?

Meanwhile, Arul Kanda was not willing to reveal what entity is currently managing the so-called “fund units”.

Specifically asked about this twice during the interview, Arul Kanda said that the question was “not relevant” and stuck to his script that 1MDB’s various assets, including the US$2.5 billion worth in “units” would be monetised eventually.

“I think the more relevant question is what is the importance of the fund investment.

“If you look at the rationalisation plan, there three parts: Number 1 – The disposal of Edra in order to generate cash that was used to pay debt and manage our operations. Number 2 – the development and sale of land – TRX and Bandar Malaysia, etc.

“And finally, the monetisation of the fund unit investments. That’s US$2.5 billion between 1MDB GIL and Brazen Sky, it fluctuates, depending on the valuation, then US$3.5 billion deposit paid to Aabar BVI.

“Well again, we can go back and talk about this, frankly that’s not relevant, right? What is relevant is, can 1MDB, over time, monetise its assets in an efficient enough manner in order to meet its debt obligation?

“And the answer to that, as you have seen, we presented to the PAC and we explained to the people, this is assets that are available and this is our plan over time to pay,” he said.

It was previously reported that Bridge Partners Investments Management (Cayman) Ltd was the fund manager, However, it’s track record has been brought into question.

Arul Kanda told the PAC that BSI Bank, which is where Brazen Sky had its account, introduced the fund manager.

BSI Bank has since been shut down by authorities for serious regulatory oversight in relation to the 1MDB matter.

Artikel disiar pada April 16, 2018 - 2:58 pm oleh Susan Loo

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