KUALA LUMPUR, June 29 '• After Majlis Amanah Rakyat's (MARA) controversial Dudley House buy hit headlines last week, the National Oversight and Whistleblowers (NOW) raised red flags today over three other property purchases in Australia by the Bumiputera empowerment agency, claiming they were arranged via 'suspicious' means.
According to NOW chief Rafizi Ramli, the properties were either purchased through an offshore company or the transaction was wired through three different companies in three different companies.
Rafizi, who is also PKR secretary-general, said that the use of these methods to purchase the properties was 'suspicious' and a means to hide information from the public.
'From this information it's clear that the property purchases were structured to hide information from the public by using an offshore company in the British Virgin Islands and using several layers of companies in different countries to distance the purchases from Mara Inc,' he said.
Rafizi revealed that purchase of the Dudley House in Melbourne, which allegedly involved some A$4.75 million(RM13.75 million) in kickbacks, as well as another property namely 746 Swanston Street, were made via an offshore company from the British Virgin Islands (BVI).
'One of the more important information is the structure of the holding companies or how the whole purchase was structured by MARA Inc.
'If the Cayman Islands created controversy with 1MDB, BVI is actually tighter than Cayman. If Cayman has total secrecy, the BVI is far more secretive
'The whole thing about its financials, its operation, about its ownership, will not be subject to public scrutiny and completely shielded from public,' Rafizi told a press conference at NOW's headquarters.
He also pointed out that two other properties, 333 Exhibition Street and 51 Queen Street, were purchased through three different companies respectively based in Labuan, Singapore and Australia.
'MARA Inc used three layers of company to shield information... from Labuan directed to Singapore directed to Australia.
The PKR lawmaker explained that the property at 51 Queen Street was purchased by Australian company Queville Pty Ltd, which is fully-owned by Singapore firm Marinn Property Pte Ltd. Marinn Property is in turn owned by Vortex Holdings Ltd, a company registered in Labuan.
The property at 333 Exhibition Street, however, was purchased by Peter's Equity Pty Ltd, an Australian company wholly-owned by Carlton Garden Pte Ltd, a company registered in Singapore, which in turn is owned by Powerwell Holdings, which is also based in Labuan.
According to a report by British daily The Guardian in March 2013, BVI has been deemed by nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) as a "tax haven" for having extremely low tax rates and is also infamous for its "financial secrecy," making it one of the top destinations for offshore companies.
The Guardian adds the multilayer secrecy at BVI is to the point where even the local government knows little of the tax-free companies it registers apart from the name of the company's agent.
Last Tuesday, Australian paper The Age reported that a senior MARA official and two 'elite' Malay businessmen were involved in corruption related to the Malaysian government agency's A$22.5 million purchase of Dudley House in Melbourne.
According to The Age, an eight month-long investigation by Fairfax Media, its parent publishing house, revealed that this group of 'super-rich Malaysian officials' had spent government investment funds to push up the price of the student housing block that was built for A$17.8 million, but inflated by A$4.75 million to A$22.5 million.
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