In an interview with the magazine Euromoney, CIMB bank chairperson Nazir Razak shares his views on the 1MDB scandal and being dragged into the imbroglio.
Published in its September issue, the article's writer noted how two days before the meeting with Nazir, a brother of Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak, the United States Department of Justice filed a civil suit in relation to alleged abuse of 1MDB funds.
"When you agree to an interview, you don't imagine what's going to happen two days beforehand," Nazir had told the writer, who claimed that the banker honoured the interview against the advice of his communications advisers, "three of whom joined us in the room with a barrage of notebooks and tape recorders".
Responding to a question on the impact of the 1MDB scandal on Malaysia at an international level, Nazir conceded that it has never been harder to represent Malaysia than it is now.
He described it as "quite damaging."
"Investors today have a choice. They have vast choice. And Malaysia, even with everything else being equal, has a challenge, because we are a small economy, and we have strength but we also have this weakness that we are relatively small.
"If I set up in Indonesia, I've got a market of 200 million people. Malaysia's 10 percent of that.
"I've always maintained Malaysia has to work harder, much harder than the bigger markets. And a situation like that… when investors see something like the 1MDB fiasco, and don't understand it, they are left to question whether Malaysia condones the weak governance practices that were evident, and [they] have questions about the big institutions. It makes it difficult for us to promote Malaysia," he said.
Responding to the revelation that linked him to the 1MDB issue, which prompted the banker to go on leave pending CIMB's internal probe, Nazir said he was upset to have found himself in that position.
'I knew I wasn't doing anything wrong'
"We have our own laws and regulations and practices, so within that I knew I wasn’t doing anything wrong," he says. "But when the story came out in the WSJ, external observers were wondering: what on Earth is this? So that's why I had to take the step to clear my name.
"And the reason why this story comes up is because of the questions around the legitimacy of the funds that I was given, that's why it became a story. Without that, there's no story."
To a question, Nazir said he believed the money he had helped channel for his brother was campaign donation.
"And that may not be a done thing in all countries, but that happens in many countries in an election period.
"I'd say that I found it… it was upsetting to be dragged into this whole 1MDB controversy.
"I'd never in my wildest dreams thought that what I was asked to do had anything to do with 1MDB. So when the furore came out and it got linked to 1MDB, of course it was very upsetting, because I was determined that CIMB be nowhere near 1MDB," he said.
Though being cleared of any wrongdoing on his part, Nazir, according to the article, suggested that from an international perspective viewpoint, it does not look normal for a bank chairperson to distribute US$7 million of contributions to political parties through his own account at the behest of a sibling prime minister.
"Every time we deal with CIMB now, this is going to be flagged by compliance and we will have to explain why," the magazine quoted one international banker as saying.
Nazir was also questioned on how CIMB was affected by his name being linked to 1MDB, to which, he replied: "There are always incidents and challenges, and the key thing is how banks respond to them.
"In this instance it was very much a personal matter, and I dealt with it in that way. It wasn’t so much about CIMB; it was my account that happens to be in CIMB, as you would naturally expect. I would like to think we've kept CIMB very much away from this whole thing."
In the Euromoney article entitled, "CIMB's Nazir battling Malaysia’s demons", there is also a Game of Thrones-inspired image of a Malay warrior in the middle of two armies.
Commenting on this in an Instagram posting, the banker remarked: "Although flattering me with the super-muscular appearance, the artist is not giving me much chance of survival, in the middle of two fierce-battling forces! Oh well, so long as I think I did right by Dad's legacy and kids are proud."
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