Kuala Lumpur – Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad aired his opinions on the AirAsia probe and said that payments received for a high-value transaction could not be perceived as a bribe.
Dr Mahathir, replying to questions by reporters on February 6, Thursday, said that the exchange of cash for a high-priced order between supplier and buyer is an offset that commonly occurs in business transactions.
The Prime Minister shared his perspective on the controversial offset that occurred as a sponsorship deal between Malaysia’s AirAsia and its sole plane supplier Airbus.
According to the UK’s Serious Fraud Office (SFO), the executives of AirAsia received an amount of US$50 million by the European aircraft manufacturer in exchange for an order of 135 aircraft.
AirAsia is Airbus’ biggest customer for the A321neo single-aisle aircraft which is currently available on 274 planes.
AirAsia co-founders Tony Fernandes and Kamarudin Meranum are now rocked with the bribery scandal because prosecutors at the UK SFO noted that the money was listed as a sponsorship deal to a sports team owned by Fernandes and Meranun.
According to a StraitsTimes report, the sports company in question was the Caterham Formula One team which is currently inoperative. Caterham F1 was also sponsored improperly back in 2012 by Airbus’ then-parent company, the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company (EADS), reported CNA.
Both executives have denied the allegations and decided to step down from their roles for at least two months while investigations are in motion.
“Usually, when we buy parts, we request for an offset. Unless the money goes straight into their pockets, then it is bribery,” noted the Prime Minister. “If there is another purpose, it is an offset, but I cannot decide on this matter,” he added.
He also gave an example based on his role as a government leader, “Often when governments buy equipment, we always ask for an offset … If we can get something because we buy something at a high price, why can’t we accept it?”
Although it is unclear why Dr Mahathir decided to comment on the allegations, government officials and lawyers engaged with the investigations, such as the country’s stock market regulators and the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC), shared that the Prime Minister’s perspective on the matter revolves around government practices which usually does not operate on the same terms as private enterprises who are liable to public shareholders.
According to Malaysian government officials, regulatory agencies could now go back to allegations involving AirAsia’s corrupt business practices in the past that were not investigated. -/TISG