Melbourne property inflated, bribery involved, says The Age on Mara deal

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KUALA LUMPUR (June 29): Vendors for Dudley International House in Melbourne have admitted in a sworn testimony that they inflated the price of the property, rubbishing claims by Majlis Amanah Rakyat (Mara) that it paid lower than the market rate for the property, The Age said.

The Australian paper's regional editor and journalist told The Malaysian Insider the evidence they obtained in exposing the transaction proved "beyond reasonable doubt" that price inflation and bribery took place involving Malaysian officials.

"The assertion that the property price wasn't inflated is false. The vendors admitted in a sworn testimony in court that the price was inflated from AS$17.8 million to AS$22.5 million," journalist Nick McKenzie (pic) told The Malaysian Insider in an email yesterday.

McKenzie said the paper also have in its possession, "false invoices" to prove that a bribe was indeed paid.

"This paperwork can all be provided to Malaysian authorities. It is already in the hands of the Australian federal police," he said.

This comes just as PKR secretary-general Rafizi Ramli promised to reveal more evidence on the deal in a press conference today.

The Age previously reported that the property was bought by Mara's subsidiary Mara Inc for RM63.5 million although it was valued at RM51 million at the time of purchase. The difference, it said, was pocketed as kickbacks for senior Mara officials.

Mara chairman Tan Sri Annuar Musa in a recent interview had said the property was valued at RM71 million at the time of the purchase.

In his first press conference after the controversial Melbourne purchase was highlighted by the Australian daily, Annuar said the purchase was approved by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, but later denied the PM explicitly approved the buy.

Najib later said the purchase was approved by the Economic Council (EC), which he chairs.

In a subsequent interview with RTM a few days later, Annuar said Mara did not lose any money over the deal as the market value was higher than the purchase price.

"If we had known that the property was valued at RM51 million as reported by the media, we would have bargained for a lower price," he reportedly said.

"We are not losing money, we are making money," he added.

But that claim was also rubbished by The Age and Sydney Morning Herald's Asia-Pacific editor John Garnaut.

"Whatever valuation that a paid consultant put on this property is irrelevant to the point of the story, which is that Mara officials were caught arranging a 20% 'kickback' on the deal," he told The Malaysian Insider.

"They stole A$4.75 million in Malaysian government money, taxpayer money, and we documented this theft beyond any reasonable doubt. Is Mara arguing that the agency's officials could have gotten away with stealing more?"

Rural and Regional Development Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal had also joined in the fray, saying the purchase had followed procedures and also denied The Age's expose.

Shafie was Mara chairman when the deal went through in 2013.

Mara is currently investigating the purchase "internally" while Australian police had been swift in conducting raids in several properties and collecting evidence about the transaction.