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Malaysia gains nothing but trouble from Forest City: Dr M

KUALA LUMPUR — Dr Mahathir Mohamad continued his criticism of Forest City on Tuesday (Jan 17), claiming that the mammoth development project in Johor will leech money and jobs to foreign companies while bringing in hundreds of thousands of immigrants.

Malaysia's former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad. Bloomberg file photo

Malaysia's former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad. Bloomberg file photo

KUALA LUMPUR — Former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad continued his criticism of the Forest City flagship project backed by Johor ruler Sultan Ibrahim Iskandar on Tuesday (Jan 17), claiming that the development will leech money and jobs to foreign companies while bringing in hundreds of thousands of immigrants. 

Dr Mahathir also challenged Forest City to publicly publish documents detailing its transactions and deals, maintaining that he is unafraid of being accused of lese majeste for going against the southern state ruler.

“When foreigners buy land, there is not even an inflow of capital ... Whatever foreign companies earn will be expatriated, and will result in outflow of capital. When the scheme is introduced wherein you can buy property in China and get one flat or house free in Malaysia, no profit will be made in Malaysia, therefore no taxes will be paid to the Malaysian Government,” he claimed in a letter published by English daily The Star.

He said when Forest City and some 60 other developments in the state are completed, there will be more than a million foreigners living there.

“These new places will not become a foreign country, but they will have an inordinate percentage of foreign people. If they stay long enough, they will be entitled to become citizens of Malaysia.” 

His comments came a day after The Star published an interview with Sultan Ibrahim, who reprimanded the former premier over claims that Johor was losing its sovereignty to investors from China. The ruler also accused Dr Mahathir of fearmongering by playing racial politics that he said had no place in the state.

Dr Mahathir had previously claimed that more than 700,000 Chinese nationals will be brought into Forest City, alleging that the Chinese citizens would be given identity cards to enable them to vote in the coming general election.

Forest City is a US$100 billion (S$143 billion) property development by Chinese firm Country Garden. 

The firm has partnered Esplanade Danga 88, an associate company of Kumpulan Prasarana Rakyat Johor (KPRJ), which is the southern state’s investment arm. The largest shareholder of Esplanade Danga 88 is Sultan Ibrahim. 

The 1,386ha Forest City encompasses the development of facilities for business, tourism, hotel, residence, services and others, built on four man-made islands in Iskandar Malaysia. 

Construction began in February last year and about 8,000 apartments have been sold, the company said. 

Dr Mahathir, who was Malaysia’s longest-serving prime minister for 22 years until he stepped down in 2003, said on Tuesday that he was merely quoting international business news outfit Bloomberg over the details of Forest City, which have yet to be challenged or denied.

“I admit I am at a disadvantage here. While people can say what they like about me, and I welcome their freedom to say so, I hope that in responding to His Royal Highness’ challenge I will not be arrested and jailed without trial. If it is with trial, I welcome the arrest,” he said. 

The spat between Dr Mahathir and the Sultan will affect Malay support for the opposition bloc, which is looking to dent ruling United Malays National Organisation’s (Umno) support in Johor, said analysts when responding to queries from TODAY. 

“Muhyiddin (Yassin) must be cringing after Dr Mahathir openly questioned the Sultan,” said Mr Asrul Hadi Abdullah Sani, a director with political risk consultancy BowerGroupAsia in reference to the president of Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM).

The party was set up by Dr Mahathir after he left Umno last year. PPBM is now aligned with the opposition and critics of Prime Minister Najib Razak. 

“This episode will only make it more difficult and harder for the opposition, especially PPBM, to make further inroads into the Umno stronghold of Johor,” added Mr Asrul.

Dr Oh Ei Sun, a senior fellow at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) concurred, saying that Malay voters have high regard for the country’s royal rulers. 

“It would somewhat dent support for him (Dr Mahathir) a bit. But the general election is still some time away, and Malaysians have short memories.” AGENCIES

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