Malaysian Bank Founder’s Assassination Remains a Mystery

A Malaysian appellate court decision to uphold the death sentence for a minor-league gambler and truck driver for murdering Hussain Ahmad Najadi in 2013 leaves open the question of who was behind the payment to the suspect to kill Najadi, the retired founder of Arab-Malaysian Bank.

The shooting was one of a string of murders peripherally connected to the US$4.8 billion collapse of the state-backed 1Malaysia Development Bhd.

The 75-year-old Najadi’s son Pascal, a banking consultant in Moscow, has carried on a five-year campaign charging that his father had been murdered because of his objections to shady banking practices on the part of former Prime Minister Najib Razak, who lost his job in the political earthquake that swept the ruling Barisan Nasional from power 2018, and that Najib’s wife, Rosmah Mansor, had paid RM30 million to a gangster named Lim Yoon Soo to arrange the murder.

On October 16, the Court of Appeal in Kuala Lumpur upheld Koong’s death sentence along with an 18-year prison sentence for attempting to murder Najadi’s wife in the same incident.

“The new Malaysia cannot go forward without a formal investigation of these murders,” Pascal Najadi told Asia Sentinel in a telephone call from Moscow. “The convicted shooter is a key witness. Who paid him? Until this is established, executing him would be a loss of truth."

Lim Yuen Soo, identified by Koon Swee Kang as the alleged mastermind behind the 2013 assassination, was able to escape to China and then to Australia before he was arrested at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in 2015 after two years on the run from an international manhunt, but was mysteriously freed for lack of evidence.

The murder case with Lim’s involvement was never reopened and appears unlikely to be, raising questions whether Lim had friends in Malaysia’s high political circles. Lim was the registered part owner of the Active Force Security Services Sdn Bhd. with the former Malacca Police Chief Mohd Khasni Mohd Nor.

Ambank figured in the 1MDB case because a mysterious US$681 million was deposited in Najib’s personal account in early 2013 and was equally mysteriously withdrawn and sent to a bank in Singapore months later. The money was later alleged to have come from 1MDB funds according to a US Justice Department investigation. Pascal Najadi said his father, who had retired from the bank, had nonetheless objected to irregularities in the banking process.

In two conversations over lunch in Kuala Lumpur, Pascal Najadi said, his father complained about financial irregularities involving the United Malays National Organization prior to his death, refusing to orchestrate a multi-billion ringgit property deal connected to the Kuala Lumpur City Center. On one occasion, Pascal said, he told his son that Najib was “lining his pockets with billions of ringgit with no consideration for the future of the country.”

Despite the Interpol red notice calling for his arrest, Lim apparently was able to travel freely, going into hiding in Australia after the shooting. He reportedly was flying back to Kuala Lumpur from China when airport authorities arrested him.

“Malaysian triad gangs cannot function without Malaysian top politicians,” a source told Asa Sentinel in an email as the investigation unfolded in 2014. “It’s business and vice versa. There is no doubt in my mind that order… came from a top government official to one of the Chinese gang triad bosses who then executed that order well.”

In notes made available to Asia Sentinel, Pascal Najadi charged that his own investigation turned up a Bosnian chef, the chief cook in a Kuala Lumpur nightclub said to be owned by a Chinese mafia figure, who said a huge celebration ensued when Lim Yuen Soon was released. Pascal Najadi recorded the chef as saying Lim had received the RM30 million from “the Fat Lady" – Rosmah – to execute the father. The Bosnian, Najadi said, was frightened enough to leave the country for Indonesia.

The elder Najadi was allegedly lured to the parking lot of a Chinese temple by a gangland figure named Richard Morais, where he was murdered by Koon, according to Pascal Najadi. Although the meeting at the temple was said to have involved a property dispute, Hussain Najadi had nothing to do with such a dispute, his son said.

A witness who was a former Morais associate told Pascal Najadi that Morais had acknowledged that he knew that Najadi would be targeted exiting the meeting. The witness also claimed that police contacts confirmed that senior gangland figures with high political connections in the Chinese establishment had received the cash payment to organize the killing.

“There was no temple deal where my dad was a buyer or representing any other buyer whatsoever,” Pascal Najadi said. “For the record, my late father never told me anything about him knowing Richard Morais who as we understand is a figure in KL in the underworld, serious gangs.”

Morais, Najadi said, “is the mystery. He is a tough gangster and drug dealer. He was not into property. He was at the temple when the assassination happened. Why he has not been cross-examined in connection with this case is an open question.”

Morais’s own brother Kevin, a top official of Malaysia’s attorney general’s office was murdered in gruesome fashion in 2015 after his car was rammed and he was dragged out as he drove to work. He was kidnapped after the collision and ended up in a cement-filled oil drum that had been dumped in a river. His burned car was found elsewhere in a field with the identification numbers erased.

Purely by chance, a CCTV camera along his route picked up the kidnapping and seven men including an army major were arrested for the crime. The 55-year-old Morais had been seconded from the Ministry of Justice to the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission and had been deeply involved in the investigation into 1MDB. It later transpired that Kevin Morais had been a confidential source of Clare Rewcastle Brown, an indefatigable blogger who played a major role in bringing the scandal to light.

Like the case involving Hussain Najadi, Kevin Morais’s murder has never been thoroughly investigated, raising questions over the new Pakatan Harapan coalition’s commitment to justice.