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More questions greet BlackRock's landing at Malaysian airports

An aviation expert joins criticism of the plan to bring in a firm owned by BlackRock amid allegations of war crimes.

4 minute read
BlackRock has been the target of protests over its various investments, ranging from fuels to the arms industry, making the company complicit in war crimes. Photo: CodePink
BlackRock has been the target of protests over its various investments, ranging from fuels to the arms industry, making the company complicit in war crimes. Photo: CodePink

Putrajaya's move to bring in a company owned by controversial global investment firm BlackRock to take part in the management of airports in the country is a first in the Asian region, an aviation expert says as criticism continues on the involvement of the company which is accused of being complicit in Israel's war crimes.

Aviation analyst Shukor Yusof noted that Global Infrastructure Partners (GIP), the US-based airport management group purchased by BlackRock early this year, had been involved in the management of airports in the UK including Gatwick, London City and Edinburgh, as well as Australia's Sydney Airport.

He said he did not see the benefits of GIP coming in as a partner in the restructuring of Malaysia Airports Holding Bhd (MAHB), the government-linked company responsible for managing 39 airports nationwide.

"Maybe GIP thinks MAHB can fill their portfolio in this region and that MAHB needs funds to improve KLIA's performance," said Shukor, referring to the Kuala Lumpur International Airport, one of the assets to be managed by a new consortium backed by Transport Minister Anthony Loke.

Under the plan, the government's investment fund Khazanah Nasional and the Employees Provident Fund (EPF) will be part of a consortium to take over MAHB, of which GIP will hold a 30% share.

It sparked protests due to GIP's direct link to BlackRock, a company that has been the target of anti-Israel protests and whose role in strengthening Israel's economy and its weapons industry has been well documented.

Last week, more than 20 local civil organisations urged Putrajaya to cancel GIP's participation in MAHB, telling the Anwar Ibrahim-led government that its "commendable support for the Palestinian cause will be seen as merely hollow words" if it went ahead with the plan.

Anwar defended the decision and trained his guns on opposition leaders whom he accused of "incitement".

"There is nothing positive from them, only inciting hatred and envy," the prime minister was quoted as saying.

Shukor Yusof
Shukor Yusof

Shukor, who founded Endau Analytics which offers advisory and research services on aviation economics and aircraft/airport financing, said something was not right with the plan.

"From a business point of view, Malaysian airports have difficulty competing with Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea and others. So what is the objective?" he asked, adding that other airports would have been more beneficial for GIP's profits.

An Umno politician described the move as "opening up an opportunity" for the US to control the Melaka Strait from the air.

"Not only that, all airports operated by MAHB throughout the country will be shared with GIP. It is very dangerous to national security," said Mustapha Yaakub, secretary of the Umno Veterans Club.

Analyst Azmi Hassan said GIP's involvement raised two main concerns.

"First, the issue of control over the airport, which is also the country's entry point. Authorising an external company to manage entry control is sensitive.

"Secondly, the involvement of BlackRock with the arms company Lockheed Martin which supplies weapons to Israel for use in its war on Gaza," he said.

Azmi also said that MAHB, with its experience of managing an international airport in Turkey, had local expertise and did not need GIP.

Meanwhile, Shukor said that the privatisation of MAHB would pose problems for national carrier Malaysia Airlines.

He said companies like GIP had no interest in nation building or prioritising the needs of Malaysians, and that its focus would be on profitability.

He also warned of an increase in costs which he said would be borne by airlines and ultimately passed on to passengers.

"In any case, to me the most important thing is whether the airport can deliver the services that airlines need. Without airlines, airports have no business," he said.

Shukor said the recent decline in KLIA's rating, including in the Skytrax ranking which placed it at number 67, was the result of government policies.

"Many changes have taken place in the country and internationally in the 20 years since KLIA was built," said Shukor, referring to the country's largest airport which was opened in 1998 following years of construction that was personally supervised by then prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

UK-based airport rating firm Skytrax had previously placed KLIA in the top 10 of the world's best airports.

The controversy on GIP comes amid what has been perceived as Putrajaya's shift from a policy of zero tolerance towards Israel's military assault, where Malaysia had rejected even remote links with the Zionist state.

BlackRock's involvement in greasing the Israeli war machine is well documented, and its New York headquarters have been the scene of protests by pro-Palestinian groups accusing the company of profiting from genocide.

The ongoing protests at US universities have also targeted BlackRock, with students demanding that their universities stop all dealings with the company due to its involvement in strengthening Israel's military might – used in the bombardment of Gaza that has so far killed at least 30,000 Palestinians, mostly women and children.

Among the companies in which BlackRock has invested is Lockheed Martin, of which it holds a 7.4% stake.

Lockheed Martin, a US-based defence contractor with multi-billion dollar investments in the Israeli arms and aerospace industry, recently made headlines in Malaysia after pro-Palestinian groups protested against its participation in the Defence Services Asia and National Security Asia exhibition in Kuala Lumpur earlier this month.

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