Family members of Malaysia’s embattled former finance minister Daim Zainuddin are beneficiaries of a multimillion-dollar trust with investments in U.K. and U.S. real estate, documents obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists reveal.
The new findings come amid an ongoing investigation by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission in response to Pandora Papers revelations linking Daim and others in his inner circle to offshore entities worth at least $31 million.
The MACC announced in December that it was investigating the 85-year-old under the country’s abuse of power and money laundering laws, and confirmed that the agency had seized a skyscraper in Kuala Lumpur as part of the probe. Daim has repeatedly denied wrongdoing.
Now leaked records from a Cayman Islands financial services firm reveal that Daim’s youngest sons, Amin and Amir, and his wife Naimah Khalid are also the beneficiaries of a trust that held assets worth $52.5 million as recently as 2020.
Financial statements show that Daim’s wife created ZA Star Trust in 2010, and that the trust had investments in three British Virgin Islands companies. Two of those companies own two properties in London, including an eight-floor office building near St. Paul’s Cathedral acquired in 2014 for $50.8 million, according to U.K.’s property register. The third BVI company indirectly owns shares in nine entities registered in Delaware and Massachusetts that were used to invest in hotels, parking lots, and other commercial and residential property, the leaked records reveal.
The trust’s financial statements also show that the trust received a $47 million loan from another entity called Adam Zeta Trust. The files don’t state the owner of Adam Zeta Trust or when the loan was made.
Lawyers representing Daim and his family did not respond to comment requests from Malaysiakini and ICIJ.
In leaked compliance documents, officers at Genesis Trust & Corporate Services Ltd., the Cayman provider that administered the trust, listed the clients as “high risk” due to their connection with Daim, who served as Malaysia’s finance minister from 1984 to 1991 and from 1999 to 2001.
Genesis, which was acquired by Jersey-based firm Highvern in 2022, is one of 135 trust companies active in the Cayman Islands, a jurisdiction that until recently faced heightened scrutiny from international watchdogs for “deficiencies” in its anti-money laundering system.
Highvern did not respond to ICIJ’s comment requests.
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Daim family-owned skyscraper seized
Daim Zainuddin, dubbed by local media “the godfather of corporate Malaysia,” is a politician and businessman who made his fortune in the banking and property development sectors.
The newly uncovered details about the ZA Star Trust build on reporting by Malaysiakini as part of ICIJ’s 2021 Pandora Papers investigation, which exposed the offshore dealings of more than 330 politicians and public officials worldwide.
The leaked Pandora Papers records linked Daim, his two sons, his wife and a business associate to three trusts and several offshore companies, including some that own high-end properties in London.
When confronted by Malaysiakini in 2021, Daim denied wrongdoing and said that he had always paid taxes on his investments and properties. “I’ve retired from business for some time already, and trusts are part of estate planning,” he said.
In response to the revelations, last year the MACC launched the probe into Daim’s offshore wealth, citing suspicions that it may be linked to the alleged misappropriation of $480 million in state funds dating back to the 1990s. Daim has rejected the allegations.
The anti-corruption agency later froze around $8 million in bank accounts belonging to Daim and some of his associates, Malaysiakini reported.
In a statement last month, the agency said it had ordered Daim to declare all his assets held in Malaysia and overseas. After he failed to comply with the request, officials seized the Ilham Tower, a 60-story skyscraper owned by the Daim family in Kuala Lumpur’s financial hub.
The agency also clarified that it “has never raised or issued any official statement accusing [Daim] of having committed any wrongdoing.”
The former finance minister has called the investigation into his family assets a “political witch hunt” and has challenged the probe’s legitimacy in Malaysia’s high court. The court said it will rule on March 4 on Daim’s request to declare MACC’s actions unlawful, local media reported.
Update, Jan. 19, 2024: Following publication, Naimah Khalid issued a statement through her lawyer criticizing the report as “tantamount to character assassination under guise of reportage.”
“We have made no secret of the fact that we own assets abroad,” she said in the statement.
“These were the product of legitimate business and investment activities, going back long before Daim joined politics in 1984.”