Thursday, June 10, 2021

Man behind free vaccines offer has history of unfulfilled pledges

Vinod Balachandra Sekhar has been in the news over heavily publicised announcements of huge donations by his company for charitable works around the world, many of which never panned out.

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Questions have been raised over offers of free vaccine from the private sector, amid conflicting claims by a business group and the minister in charge of the Covid-19 vaccination programme, Khairy Jamaluddin.

This comes as Petra Group insists that its offer to procure 200,000 doses of Sinovac vaccine from China is genuine, a day after Khairy revealed that no such purchase had been made based on checks with the supplier and Pharmaniaga, the drug company authorised to distribute vaccines in Malaysia.

The group said it held a discussion with Khairy yesterday, hours after the minister denied allegations by the company that authorities had snubbed the offer.

“We explained to Khairy that in our correspondences to the government, we disclosed that we are able to bring in the vaccines directly and were seeking guidance on the correct means and appropriate channels to do so,” the group’s spokesman William Stevenson said, although he stopped short of confirming if the vaccines had already been procured.

Earlier, Stevenson claimed the company had sourced “200,000 vials as part of our national service”, as quoted on a website operated by the Petra Group.

MalaysiaNow could not independently confirm if the free vaccines offer from Petra Group was genuine or non-existant as Khairy had said yesterday.

Vinod Balachandra Sekhar receives a shot of Covid-19 vaccine on May 5. Photo: Facebook

The key person behind the company, businessman Vinod Balachandra Sekhar, has a history of making heavily publicised announcements of sponsorship without fulfilling them.

At least two such announcements of donations remain unfulfilled, according to an investigation by MalaysiaNow.

Vinod, who has made no secret of his support for PKR leader Anwar Ibrahim’s prime ministerial ambitions, has been in the news due to heavily publicised announcements of huge donations by his company for charitable works around the world, from a football club in Singapore to a pledge to construct a medical faculty building for one of Scotland’s oldest universities.

In 2010, Scottish daily The Scotsman reported that Vinod had yet to “hand over a penny” to the University of St Andrews for its new medical school despite his pledge to donate £8 million.

The daily noted that Vinod’s pledge to the university was announced “with great fanfare” by him at a press conference held in Kuala Lumpur in 2008, adding that the amount was to have been “the biggest donation ever made to a Scottish university, a philanthropic gesture that would signify a new era of partnership between Scotland and Malaysia”.

“The university eventually turned to other donations and funds to complete the state-of-the-art 45m medical and biological sciences building, which will be formally opened next month,” The Scotsman reported.

When contacted by MalaysiaNow, a spokesman for the University of St Andrews said: “As yet, no funds have been received.”

MalaysiaNow has sighted documents showing that the university has been given shares in Vinod’s Green Rubber Global Ltd, a company involved in the business of recycling rubber waste.

The value of the shares, however, could not be ascertained.

In 2008, meanwhile, Vinod pledged to help children affected by poverty and conflict in Africa.

He pledged £2.5 million towards that purpose to Hopes and Homes for Children, a British charity, but this was never fulfilled.

“Hope and Homes for Children never received the donation, unfortunately,” a spokesman for the charity body confirmed to MalaysiaNow by email.

Closer to home and more recently, Vinod signed an agreement for the sponsorship of a football club in Singapore.

Documents dated 2017 seen by MalaysiaNow showed that Petra Group was to pay a total of S$150,000 in jersey sponsorship to the Hougang United Football Club.

MalaysiaNow could not confirm if the sponsorship was followed through, and is awaiting a response from the club.

Vinod, 52, is the son of the late BC Sekhar, the man credited with modernising Malaysia’s rubber industry.

On his company website, he is described as among the pioneer Malaysians “to venture into the former Soviet Union after its breakup”.

Among other “contributions” mentioned is to “the globalisation of education and the education of children” for which he was made the first and youngest Asian fellow of Kappa Delta Pi, a US-based international Honors Society for Education, at the age of 23.

The website further claims that the World Economic Forum had placed him among its top three “New Asian Leaders”.

At the age of 40, it said Vinod received the Global Green Award from “Global Green USA for Green Rubber”.

“He was the youngest, only Asian, and third ever non-American, after President Mikhail Gorbachev and Giorgio Armani, to receive the award,” the website added.

But unlike his father, Vinod has found himself embroiled in several financial controversies.

In 2005, the High Court declared him bankrupt over debts to several companies totalling RM12.38 million.

A check with the Department of Insolvency showed that he was recently cleared of his bankruptcy status.

In a 2019 interview with news channel Astro Awani, he praised his “friends” in the Pakatan Harapan government, defending them against criticism of slow reforms.

“The work they do is enormous. You must understand, the mess left behind was far more significant than any of us thought. It’s taking a lot of time to fix it. I think they’re getting there,” he said.

While it is not suggested that this donor will not keep to the current pledge of free vaccines, their past record is a matter of public interest now that they have involved themselves in the nation’s all-important vaccination programme.

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