The Sime Darby fiasco - the biggest scandal in Malaysia's corporate history
I have a gut feeling that Sime Darby Berhad, the world's biggest oil palm plantation company, is going to make history soon - for all the wrong reasons.
With an overzealous management, with some executives corrupt to the core and a Board of Directors which knew nothing about the things happening around it, the fiasco in Sime Darby is poised to become the biggest corporate scandal in Malaysia's history.
Therefore, those probing the financial scandal should not confine their investigations to the cost-overruns in Qatar and Bakun. There's more to it than meets the eye.
There are many other questionable deals which took place prior and after Sime Darby's merger with Golden Hope Plantations Berhad and Kumpulan Guthrie Berhad in November 2007.
I have some questions begging for answers:
1. What happened to the trading loss in China which had reached RM80 million at one stage? The Chinese buyers had refused to accept palm oil which was ordered when the price was high but fell when the shipment reached China? Why is palm oil being sold cheaper in China than it is in Malaysia? What is the actual quantum of investments of Sime Darby in China? Utilities Divison's Weifang operations, Jinning Port, Motor operations, property investments, etc. Has Sime Darby evaluated the country risks? Did Sime Darby over-expose itself in China? Was there a risk management report on China before all these investments took place? Were money paid to middlemen to secure projects?
2. What happened to the two AHTS (Anchor Handling Tugs) and one DLB (Derrick Lay Barge) which Sime Darby awarded to MLC Shipbuilding Sdn Bhd to build. Were these ships, worth RM155 million, ever delivered. Or was the RM155 million written off? Did Sime Darby call for tender before awarding the project to MLC? Does MLC, owned by one Redzuan Goh, have the expertise to build ships?
3. Why invest in plantations in Liberia? Is it worth taking the risk going to Liberia? Could Sime Darby have generated more money expanding/developing estates in Malaysia (ie Sabah/Sarawak) - less risk and still plenty of fertile land? Isn't it easier to deal with Sabah/Sarawak Government than the Liberian Government? What's the economic rationale of going to Liberia? This is despite the known fact that Guthrie started the Liberian project but got out of it twice due to civil wars. The Liberian Government is fragile. What if a new regime takes over and nationalises the Sime Darby project?
4. What is this special relationship with Brunsfield Group that enables it to secure many projects from Sime Darby. Among others, Brunsfield was given the contract to renovate KLGCC, to build Sime Darby's World Headquarters in Bukit Kiara, and The Oasis in Ara Damansara where the Divisional headquarters will be located. The total contract awarded to Brunsfield could actually be billions.
5. The sale of the land at USJ Elite Exit (now being developed by a private company - MCT). At what price was this land sold and what was its price when Sime Darby bought it? What is the market price now? Why was the land sold anyway? Is it to show income in an attempt to make losses elsewhere look smaller?
6. The Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club in Bukit Kiara now sits on a land leased from City Hall. Apparently, the Sime Darby management had agreed to buy the land from City Hall without the approval of the Board. To rectify the situation, a paper was submitted to the Board last week to approve the sales and purchase of the land in retrospect. It will be silly for the Board to do so, especially now when the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission is carrying out an investigation on Sime Darby. How much is the new facelift of the KLGCC going to cost?
I wonder if the Board is aware of all these things I have mentioned.
My name is Mohd Ashraf Abdullah. I was born and raised in Tampin, Negeri Sembilan. I am a journalist at heart. I served the New Straits Times as a journalist for 17 years, beginning as a cadet reporter in 1988. I was trained to be a political writer. I served the NST in various capacities including as Staff Correspondent of the Kuantan Bureau and London Correspondent. I resigned as News Editor in 2004 to join Golden Hope Plantations Berhad as Deputy General Manager, Group Corporate Affairs. Two years later I was made General Manager, Group Corporate Affairs. When Golden Hope and Kumpulan Guthrie Berhad were merged with Sime Darby Berhad in November 2007, I chose not to accept the offer of employment by the merged entity. I was a scholar of the British Government and possess a Masters Degree in International Studies and Diplomacy from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. I am also a Jefferson's Fellow of the East West Center in Honolulu, Hawaii.