In our first article, we left off at how and why Petros was set-up and revealed the people behind it. In this article, we reveal how Tony Fernandes is in the mix – and how he has profited at the expense of Sarawakians.
With the 14th General Elections on the horizon, everyone was posturing with Najib Razak whom they thought would remain as Malaysia’s prime minister. One of them was Air Asia’s Tony Fernandes. He painted his usually red themed Air Asia aircraft a Barisan Nasional blue complete with the “Hebatkan Negaraku” campaign manifesto on a flight carrying Najib and his entourage from Kota Kinabalu to Kuala Lumpur on 7 May 2018.
Tony Fernandes’ investment vehicle Tune Assets (Air Asia’s parent company) had earlier become part of Najib’s plan to appease the Sarawakian state government and secure as many Parliamentary seats in the state as possible.
This is how they did it. Tune Assets took up a 16.2% stake in Upland Resources, the London Stock Exchange listed company, in early 2018. Upland together with Brooke Dockyard would jointly assess, explore and develop Sarawak’s oil and gas resources with the overseer being PETROS. This move would bypass Petronas and put Sarawak’s oil and gas resources in the hands of Sarawak’s political elite who controlled all three entities through their proxies.
Tune Assets bought approx.72 million Uplands shares at £1 in February 2018, just 90 days before GE14. The shares soared to over £4 on May 4, just 5 days before GE14. Tune, Tony and Kamaruddin Meranun would have made a staggering £216 million (RM1.2 billion approximately) in 90 DAYS to assist Najib Razak and Taib Mahmud. Part of this went to paint his plane.
Of course, Tune Assets was more than just an investor. It planned to be a strategic partner and would be a ready buyer of jet fuel from PETROS for Air Asia’s aircrafts, effectively reducing its dependence on Petronas which it had no control over.
Tune Assets had other plans besides just buying jet fuel at lower prices through Petros.
Air Asia had long been involved in tussles with Malaysia Airports Holding Berhad (MAHB) which managed the country’s 16 airports including Kuching’s international airport and wanted to get out of some of the contracts it had with MAHB.
In November 2017 a company called Citaglobal Airports Sdn Bhd, through its director Norza Zakaria (Rosmah’s protege) and also then chairman of PETROS, had proposed to then prime minister Najib Razak, via a letter dated Nov 24, 2017, the building of a new low-cost terminal. The terminal would be managed and operated by UK-based airport operator Manchester Airports Group Plc.
Citaglobal Airports had suggested to the previous government to transfer 450 acres of land from the Director General of Land and Mines to the Transport Ministry, which will then lease out the land to Citaglobal for a period of 99 years at a nominal fee.
All this changed after 9 May and the reversal of BN’s fortunes became apparent. This made Tony’s job even more difficult, but the opportunistic businessman just lined up the half-filled glasses in a row.
Spurned by Putrajaya, Tony is cosying up to Kuching to throw more goodies. Not long after the elections, the Sarawak government has been seriously looking into establishing its own airline because it wants to have more direct flights from the state to other destinations in the region. Undoubtedly, Sarawak’s Chief Minister Abang Jo would be looking to Air Asia to help him set it up. The backdrop to this announcement at Kuching International Airport was an Air Asia aircraft pained in livery featuring Sarawak, a hornbill and the caption ‘More To Discover’.
As Tony gets closer to Abang Jo, his interactions with Norza Zakaria, another Uplands major shareholder and its ex-Chairman is likely to be more frequent outside of Upland’s boardroom. Norza Zakaria was elected president of the Olympic Council of Malaysia on 5 May 2018, 4 days before the general elections. Tony Fernandes was appointed Chairman of Malaysia Stadium Corporation (PSM), which oversees all stadiums in the country, in September 2018. For them there will be more time to discuss Sarawak’s oil and gas future on and off the pitch.
Look out for the final part of this trilogy on how the Sarawak Oil Grab came together.