A deal for a Chinese state-owned company to help bail Malaysia out of a multibillion-dollar financial scandal fell apart Wednesday after the Chinese government refused to authorize the investment.
China Railway Engineering Corp. and a local Malaysian partner had agreed in December 2015 to take a 60% stake in Bandar Malaysia, a major residential and commercial real-estate project in Kuala Lumpur that originally was being developed by 1Malaysia Development Bhd., a Malaysian state fund.
The deal, valued at 7.4 billion ringgit ($1.7 billion), was a cornerstone of efforts by Malaysia’s government to sell off 1MDB assets after the fund ran up over $13 billion in debt. The fund is now the center of major corruption probes in a number of countries, including by the U.S. Justice Department.
TRX City’s press release “does not fully and accurately reflect the circumstances and conduct of the parties in this matter,” the statement said.
The failure of the deal is a blow to Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, who set up 1MDB in 2009 with the stated goal of developing Malaysia’s economy, and headed its board of advisers. At the time of the deal, in a New Year’s message to Malaysians, he heralded it as “the final major milestone in the 1MDB rationalization plan.”
The prime minister’s office and 1MDB didn’t respond to requests for comment.
An internal Malaysian Finance Ministry document on problems with the sale, viewed by The Wall Street Journal, said a major reason for its failure was that China’s government declined to give the green light for China Railway to make the investment. A person familiar with the matter confirmed this.
The Chinese government’s information office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
The Finance Ministry document says that the consortium of buyers was given 12 extensions, with the last expiring on April 30th. TRX said in its statement that the Finance Ministry will now retain ownership of the site and begin seeking expressions of interest from possible developers.
The U.S. Justice Department, in lawsuits filed last summer, alleged over $1 billion in assets—including U.S. properties, a Hollywood movie company and a private jet—were purchased with money stolen from 1MDB. The fund has denied wrongdoing and said it is cooperating with authorities.
The lawsuits also alleged Mr. Najib received hundreds of millions of dollars in 1MDB money via a web of offshore shell companies. The prime minister has denied wrongdoing. Malaysia’s Attorney General has said the money was a donation from Saudi Arabia and most of it was returned, and cleared Mr. Najib.
A number of probes, including in Switzerland, Singapore and Luxembourg, into 1MDB are ongoing. Malaysia’s government has closed most of its probes into 1MDB without finding wrongdoing.
Last week, 1MDB and a former business partner in Abu Dhabi, International Petroleum Investment Co., struck a deal to avoid arbitration over part of the missing money. The Malaysian fund said it transferred $3.5 billion to IPIC between 2012 and 2014, but the Abu Dhabi fund said it never received the money. The two sides agreed to negotiate over the missing funds over the next several years.
1MDB also agreed to pay IPIC $1.2 billion it separately owed for a loan and other money due by the end of the year.
Starting in Malaysia, a scandal involving the 1MDB fund set up by Prime Minister Najib Razak now involves at least 10 countries, including the U.S. This animation shows how money allegedly misappropriated from 1MDB moved through global wealth centers before being used to buy real estate, art, and other assets around the world, including in New York and Beverley Hills. Illustration: Oliver Osborne for The Wall Street Journal. (Originally published Jan. 12, 2017)
In 2015, 1MDB rushed to announce its deal to sell the Bandar Malaysia land so Prime Minister Najib could include it in a New Year’s message, said a person familiar with the matter.
“Now it’s time for us to await the outcomes of the inquiries into the company to take note of any lessons that need to be learned and to move on together in a constructive manner,” Mr. Najib said at the time.
Soon after, China Railway said in a regulatory filing that the total price the consortium would pay would be 5.28 billion ringgit—considerably less than the number 1MDB gave initially. The lower price accounted for the consortium’s agreement to take over Bandar Malaysia’s obligations, including a 2.4 billion ringgit Islamic bond and costs of relocating police and military facilities on the site to a new location.
The 484-acre plot on the site of an old air force base on the edge of Kuala Lumpur was intended to become a mixed shopping, residential and entertainment center. China Railway Engineering was interested in the deal because the Bandar site was planned to be the terminus of a proposed high-speed rail line to Singapore.