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AWSJ: Malaysian State's Oil-Royalty Lawsuit
By Leslie Lopez

10/3/2001 8:25 pm Sat

[Petronas dipegang kuncinya oleh Mahathir. Ia berbelanja tanpa sesiapa pun berhak bertanya. Sudah beberapa kali ia melakukan tindakkan diluar tujuan asal penubuhannya. Ia bukan milik rakyat lagi sebaliknya menjadi genggaman Mahathir untuk sang kroni. Mahathir begitu hebat berbelanja mega sedangkan rizab minyak negara cuma tinggal kira-kira 15 tahun saja lagi. Beberapa pelaburan sewelnyua masih belum memberi sebarang keuntungan lagi kepada negara melainkan kroni sahaja yang diberi projek-projeknya. Malah banyak antara mereka mendapat habuan dengan pen dan kertas-kertas sahaja dengan rakyat tidak mengetahuinya. Antaranya ialah RM1.8 bilion buat anak tuanya yang bermain kapal dan beberapa bilion lagi buat anak perempuannya yang 'tidak berkerja'.
- Editor

Source: The Asian Wall Street Journal

9th March 2001

Malaysian State's Oil-Royalty Lawsuit Could Shed Light on Petronas's Doings



KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia -- A state controlled by an Islamic opposition party has sued the Malaysian government over disputed oil-royalty payments, a move that could provide a rare peek into the secretive affairs of state oil company Petroliam Nasional Bhd., or Petronas, the country's richest corporation.

The Terengganu state government, which is controlled by the Parti Islam se-Malaysia, or PAS, filed a suit Thursday asking Malaysia's High Court to overturn a federal-government decree last year that stopped Petronas from making oil-royalty payments to the state. The PAS-led Terengganu government alleges in its suit that Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad's decision to stop oil-royalty payments unilaterally altered the terms of a 1975 agreement between the company and the state government and was, therefore, illegal. It further contends that the federal government's decision was motivated by PAS's defeat of Dr. Mahathir's ruling United Malays National Organization, or UMNO, in the 1999 state election.

The suit names Petronas and Malaysia's federal government as defendants. The federal government has yet to respond to the Terengganu government's allegations. A Petronas spokesman declined to comment Thursday.

When Kuala Lumpur ordered Petronas to rescind its oil-royalty agreement with Terengganu in September, it said it didn't have confidence in the PAS-led state government's ability to manage the funds. Instead, Kuala Lumpur said it would disburse the oil royalties to fund Terengganu development projects through a committee appointed by the federal government.

The suit could escalate tensions between PAS and UMNO at a time of political divisions in the country's ethnic Malay majority. Many Malays abandoned UMNO after the sacking and imprisonment of former Deputy Premier Anwar Ibrahim in 1998, and PAS saw its support grow. UMNO has proposed talks with PAS to discuss their differences, but PAS's conditions include full reinstatement of the oil-royalty payments to Terengganu.

The looming court battle could also provide a glimpse into the financial affairs of Petronas, Malaysia's sole Fortune 500 company and one that several times has played the role of financier to troubled businesses. Management at the company, incorporated in 1974 to own and manage the country's oil and gas reserves, reports directly to the prime minister.

While the company began to provide some details of its financial performance in the mid-1990s, a full version of its annual audited accounts has never been made public. Petronas declared record profit of 12.6 billion ringgit ($3.3 billion) for the year ended March 31, 2000, up 85% from the previous year, citing strong oil prices and large contributions from its overseas operations. But how much the government receives in annual dividend payments, or the amount Petronas holds in cash reserves, has never been disclosed.

Investment analysts, who track Petronas because it is a large bond issuer in international markets, estimate dividend payments from the company amount to almost 13% of federal government revenue, while the oil company's cash reserves account for about 5% of all Malaysian bank deposits.

The Terengganu suit against Petronas provides some clues to the oil company's financial clout. According to court documents filed Thursday, Terengganu state received a total of 7.13 billion ringgit ($1.88 billion) in oil-royalty payments between 1978 and March 2000. Since the 1975 oil-royalty agreement with Petronas stipulated that Terengganu receive a 5% share of the proceeds of all oil and gas produced within state territory, Petronas would have earned about 142 billion ringgit during that period from Terengganu alone. (Malaysia has two other major oil and gas producing states, Sabah and Sarawak on the island of Borneo.)

Petronas has regularly been tapped to play the role of private banker for the federal government. Kuala Lumpur twice -- in 1984 and 1989 -- used Petronas's money to save scandal-ridden Bank Bumiputra Bhd. from collapse. In August 1997, Petronas paid 1.8 billion ringgit to a state pension fund to purchase a controlling 29% stake in Malaysia's largest shipping concern, Malaysia International Shipping Corp. Bhd. Eight months after Petronas invested in it, the company acquired a debt-burdened shipping concern controlled by Dr. Mahathir's eldest son.

The oil company last year also completed the acquisition of a 27.2% stake in national car manufacturer Perusahaan Otomobil Nasional Bhd. Petronas's other interests include a controlling stake in a property concern that owns Kuala Lumpur's Twin Towers, the world's tallest buildings. The oil company is also funding construction of a new administrative capital that Dr. Mahathir's government wants to build near Kuala Lumpur.