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Something fishy when govt allows 'pro-Israeli' firm into money-making MAHB, says Mahathir

The former prime minister says it makes no sense for Malaysia Airports to sell its shares to outsiders when it is making profits.

3 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

Dr Mahathir Mohamad has questioned the sale of Malaysia Airports Berhad (MAHB) shares to a company owned by controversial US fund manager BlackRock, saying he does not understand why a company that has made half a billion ringgit in profits had to do so.

"Not many companies make that kind of profit. Why do you want to sell 30% to an American company that supports Israel?" the former leader said, as the Anwar Ibrahim-led government appears determined to go ahead with the deal despite growing protests from pro-Palestinian groups.

"I don't understand it," he said, adding that there was something suspicious about the plan.

His remarks are the latest in a series of criticisms and condemnations of Putrajaya's decision to give Global Infrastructure Partners (GIP), a company owned by BlackRock, a 30% stake in a consortium to manage MAHB, alongside the government's investment arm Khazanah Nasional and the Employees Provident Fund (EPF), both entities under the jurisdiction of the finance ministry led by Anwar.

Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

BlackRock's well-documented role in strengthening the Israeli economy, as well as its extensive investments in the US arms industry, have made the company a target of pro-Palestinian groups who accuse it of profiting from genocide.

Among the companies BlackRock invests in are McDonald's and Starbucks, both of which are the target of a global boycott of Western companies accused of colluding with the Zionist regime.

BlackRock also invests in Lockheed Martin, holding a 7.4% stake in the defence contractor, which is also accused of "complicity in genocide" for its role in arming the Israeli military.

In February, MAHB reported a net profit of RM543.2 million for the financial year ending Dec 31, 2023. This is a huge jump from the previous year, when the company made a profit of RM187.2 million, and also higher than the profit it made in 2019 before the Covid-19 pandemic paralysed the aviation sector worldwide.

“We have worked hard to deliver value to our stakeholders in the past year. Amidst improved operating conditions we have managed to deliver improved financial performance, and we are making good progress in our airport modernisation, digitalisation and commercial rejuvenation programmes," its acting group CEO Mohamed Rastam Shahrom had said.

Anwar has so far dismissed the protests against GIP's involvement, instead accusing the opposition of "incitement".

The BlackRock issue has emerged as one of Anwar's greatest challenges since his appointment to the top post,and comes against a backdrop of claims that he is more friendly with the US and Israel, with critics citing past statements including his interview with the Wall Street Journal in 2012 which quoted him as saying that he would "support all efforts to protect the security of the state of Israel".

London-based academic and expert on the Palestinian conflict Azzam Tamimi expressed surprise at the deal with BlackRock in a recent dialogue programme with BDS Malaysia.

"The least that the Malaysians can do for Palestine is to boycott companies, firms, or institutions that aid Israel in its genocide against the Palestinians. Short of this, How can one call themselves supporters? Supporters in what sense?" he said.

Meanwhile, pro-Palestinian activists have gathered civil society leaders, social media influencers, politicians and NGOs at a forum to protest against the plan.

The "Tolak BlackRock" forum today will feature speakers such as former health minister-turned-podcast personality Khairy Jamaluddin, former Kedah menteri besar Mukhriz Mahathir, former foreign minister Saifuddin Abdullah, president of the local chapter of Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) Nazari Ismail, Malaysian Consultative Council of Islamic Organisation chairman Azmi Abdul Hamid.