Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Kugan, Insurance and Barry Wain

Posted on February 1, 2010
by grkumar| 18 Comments

Having conveniently been removed as a priority in their agendas for justice, the fate of Kugan, a man brutally murdered in police custody, appears now to be another statistic not simply to government but to that very vocal opposition that conveniently seeks to muster Indian votes at election time.

At the very heart of this group of policy neutral opportunists is one Lim Kit Siang and his larger than life shadow, Anwar Ibrahim. To Kit Siang through his blog (like the Nutgraph) who excise all those who do not agree blindly with their anti Mahathir, anti UMNO (read anti Malay) rhetoric and propaganda, it seems the plight of people like Kugan do not rate highly enough.

Kugan and all like him in their view have no real right. These are but useful props to them in their wider opposition game plan for government.


In the very early 1990’s when Anwar Ibrahim was minister for finance, there was a period when Malaysia’s non banking financial sector, particularly its insurance companies came crashing to a halt. It was the result of years of neglect, fraud and absence of prudential regulatory supervision in that sector.

Amongst these giants of insurance was the behemoth Mercantile Insurance SDN Bhd South East Asia Insurance and MAIKA’s own insurance arm which crashed with billions of ringgit in debts and unfunded liabilities. At the top of these insurers and in an irredemable position was Mercantile SDN Bhd.

Theirs was a scam run then by a group of well organized Chinese businessmen in places like the Kelang Valley, Johore Bahru, Penang and surrounding areas. There they indulged in writing temporary cover notes to the mainly Chinese taxi and truck transport industry as well as other areas of general cover. It was a scam of biblical proportions that lay at the root of their operations.

A cash cow for its operators, not its shareholders who only held speculative paper. The classic smoke for the mirrors placed in their annual reports to inflate their share price and to create the general stampede for shares worth little or nothing at all.

The company booked these unrealized earnings (Earned But Not Received EBNR) in its balance sheet and inflated its annual accounts with the assistance of its auditors and accountants some of the biggest names in the business. Arthur Anderson the accounting giant did at the time for these companies what it also did for Enron Inc in the USA which finally brought both it and Enron undone in the 1990′s.

In doing so it allowed the mountain of unrecoverable unrealizable unfunded liabilities and debt to mushroom as the asset base of its balance sheet. These “audited” reports then served to con the company’s shareholders and the market in the process.

Directors and major shareholders of the company drew huge salaries, fees and perks whilst also in the process quietly disposing of their inflated shares in the company to an unsuspecting secondary market where small investor buyers queued up for worthless shares. Ignorant of their true worth, they bought these worthless shares the directors of Mercantile and others like them sold for very large gains to the selling directors.

At the helm of this scam were some of Malaysia’s and the MCA’s most respectable and high profile businessmen. At least two of these were politicians. None of our investigations show a link to Dr. Mahathir or any of his so called cronies (meaning his family and his relatives). Unless of course one identifies MIC and the MCA and its officers and associates as being Mahathir cronies.

If we did name some of the MP’s and their families engaged in this affair who benefitted out of this fraud which is what it was, the immediate charge would be “but yes they are Barisan people”. Or worse still the charge would be that we are anti Chinese.

The scam itself was not novel. The government should have acted earlier but it did not. Anwar must be asked why. In the end the government of Mahathir had to act and it did. Admittedly his government’s reaction was unconventional and knee jerk. But in fairness Anwar was at the helm at the ministry of finance at the time and ultimate responsibility lay with him as minister.

The insurance and banking sectors were suffering from an image problem and confidence crisis. The government had no choice but to take into consideration public and foreign investor perceptions of the non banking finance sectors condition in Malaysia and pumped into the sector billions of dollars of tax payers money to fuel recovery and to bring liquidity back into the sector.

A Singapore think tank recently commissioned one of its own, the former Asian Wall Street Journal writer Barry Wain, to write a fanciful book about Dr. Mahathir and his faults in office which conveniently overlooked this disaster and others presided over by Singapore’s’ celebrated bum boy in the region, Anwar Ibrahim.

To add insult to injury Lim Kit Siang called for a Royal commission into Wain’s scurrilous claims against Mahathir, whilst conveniently remaining ignorant and silent about his political allies and constituents possible complicity in a murderous and wider scam in insurance.


Insurance theft and fraud on a scale as large as the frauds and thefts Kugan was suspected of being involved in do not run on the whims or actions of a single person. That is plainly impossible. It is organized and requires a great deal of skill and cooperation from both the underwrold and the boards of respectable companies.

Mobsters and organizzed crime czars like Carlo Gambino, Joe Colombo, the Gallo Brothers and Jimmy Gravano, Lansky all knew the immense financial value in these scams if run well. They had all in their time made millions out of such scams in their own turfs.

The practice continues to run well in Europe, Australia and the major Asian Tiger economies and provides rich pickings for the brave. (Yes indeed Fortune favours the Brave).


In Malaysia and other south east Asian countries, Interpol claims the Chinese as always run the structures, the organizations and control the practice whilst in Malaysia at least of the last 2 decades, the Chinese have been fortunate enough to find a large enough pool of desperate young Indians willing to do their dirty work for them in this field.


Mainly Chinese run property syndicates have been purchasing rubber estates when prices were depressed for real estate development. They obtain government permits with ease bribing officials, eject the Indian labourer population without notice (much like Lim Eng Guan did in Penang recently).

The labourers in these plantations are generally people who have for decades lived in isolation from urban Malaysia and have depended on the income from rubber in these plantations to survive. Forcing them into exile into a life they are not accustomed to unprotected and ill equipped to live in a highly urban environment has always been a recipe for disaster. Not to the Chinese run gangs.

Forced evictions like these have helped create a desperate environment, abreeding ground for toughies amongst them like Kugan to do anything to survive. Many are without education or training, the result of years of nglect by government and their own community leaders.

Kugan was, according to material we have come across, one such candidate. A suspected bit player in a ring who was both trusted and skilful in his work. He knew the players. That means he knew the identity of everyone in the ring and became a danger to those at the top if caught. And caught he was in the end.


Cars stolen by professional auto theft gangs are quickly and professionally disassembled within Kuala Lumpur and its precincts in professionally equipped auto workshops for the purpose. This is a multi billion dollar industry efficiently run by its operators at every level. Timing and discretion are critical to its success.

Parts and components of luxury cars which in sum total fetch more than the completely assembled vehicle on the open and black markets is the prize. Not the assembled vehicle as popular legend would have one believe. Luxury cars such as the Mercedez, BMW, Lexus and other well known brands are expensive for their replacement parts.

“Accidents” are often according to our source staged by “cowboys” who drive uninsured second hand vehicles crash them into these luxury vehicles which creates an immediate demand for a replacement part such as a guard, side panel, grille or fully assembled door.

In terms of dollars the replacement costs and cost of labour make it prohibitive. The offenders cannot pay. A good stolen second hand part suddenly becomes a valuable commodity.

Not all owners of luxury vehicles go to a recommended service centre or agent for a replacement part, for spares or for service. Owing to this practice in Asia, the second hand parts market has become a multi billion dollar industry fully finance by the poorly regulated insurance sector. Entry barriers to the insurance auto scam industry are low.

The chances of getting caught and prosecuted in a high end operation is, even lower where police protection is involved. The returns are significantly higher than that of most other legitimate businesses such as taxi driving, the assembly line, the petrol pump, fruit vegetable or other groceries operations and general labour. In fact the penalties are relatively insignificant although the returns and risks higher when compared to that of drug peddling.


A number of large Malaysian general insurance companies with foreign underwriter agreements have been actively participating in these scams either willingly, through neglect or ignorance of the deception and fraud being perpetrated by their executives. At least that’s their story when discovered and caught out.

We are not at liberty to name the three main players in the auto theft scam market in Malaysia as supplied to us by our source. However it is fair to say that the cooking of books in Malaysia’s insurance and banking sector is legend that it has become a conduit for black money, a convenient hole for Australian and European financial institutions to channel funds through in a number of schemes designed to fill in deficits temporarily when their compliance audits fall due (for a fee of course).


A car goes missing, it gets sold on the open market within hours or days through a network of workshops to customers. The pay offs are settled by the larger operators to the low level hackers like Kugan immediately in cash when a stolen car is delivered to a recommened workshop for disassembly successfully.

The insurance company receives its claim from the “victim” and processes it relatively quickly (depending on who the insurance agent is who makes the application). A code is sent with the claim to the insurers claims department which an operative within the insurance company must recognize as an “approved” job for the claim to be processed favourably. It is then processed without too much fuss. Any loose ends are quickly dealt within a “team”.

At the end of the month, the head of the “team” within the insurance company has his commissions settled into accounts such as their credit cards or mortgages by the scam operators. In many instances cash is still used.

In the alternative a child’s education fees abroad is paid for from a separate account controlled by the syndicate. Typically this is done from a charitable foundation registered in the Cayman Islands, Labuan or somewhere else in Asia like Hong Kong. So far so good. The level of sophistication is much higher than space here would permit for fuller description.

Nothing seems terribly complicated. It occurs every day. People torch their vehicles for insurance money. Insurance executives are pressured (and some willingly) to reduce claims paid on legitimate policies by up to half of the entitlement to a policy holder, especially during times of emotional distress such as when a person dies or has had an accident and is on life support in hospital.

It is a daily practice in places like Malaysia. The policy holder in such circumstances are pressured to accept a smaller amount in entitlement and to cover the rest themselves out of their own personal resources.

Heart, kidney, liver and other critical organ defective patients quite often find themselves staring down the barrel of an insurance company fraud in their moment of despair, having to argue with insurance company lawyers about the fine print in their policies whilst on their death beds.

This is no time to argue with the insurance companies who are acutely aware of the vulnerability of their policy holders. And they cash in on it. So here in this market (health or casualty insurance) they make up for those other amounts lost through paying out on theft of motor vehicles and other fraudulent general insurance claims. Get the picture so far?


An audit was ordered on one of the participating (fraud) insurance companies in Malaysia by their Australian underwriting partner. Amongst the audit team a forensic accountant from one of Australia’s premier top 5 firms.

He was accompanied by a former Australian Federal Police officer very well versed in these operations. Needless to say an audit uncovered a number of suspect transactions and irregularities that should have alarmed the company’s own internal auditor and its financial controllers. It did not.

And they provided no answers nor explanations that could have even by the widest stretch of the imagination been considered reasonable let alone professional to their Australian counterparts investigating.

Suspicion began to fall on a group of executives, three in one company alone who took leave without notice when the alarm was raised. At least one who was being investigated took medical leave and could not be contacted for a considerable period of time.

The standards applied to the accounts of the particular insurers were, to say the least according to our sources, substandard and certainly not in compliance with the accepted accounting standards or practices of any reputable accounting body. In that group one would have to include the Malaysian peak professional accounting bodies.

What concerned the auditor from Australia most was the way in which generous and prompt payments were made to car theft claimants (luxury cars mainly) whilst legitimate claims in the health and casualty divisions and other general insurance areas of business were in some cases halved inspite of the underwriters obligations to paying these out in full.

The monies saved or retaineed in these businesses of the insurance companies were being diverted to the other accounts (auto theft) to make up for the deficits there. Again the general fire and theft of auto and other valuable property rated very highly. Smelling a scam of the highest order in a country where consumer rights are trampled on easily, the auditor wired Melbourne for assistance.

Careful not to become a casualty like a colleague in a similar investigation of corruption in Bangkok the late 1990’s an Australian auditor who was assassinated by Chinese Thai gangs for uncovering a similar racket in the building industry there, the auditor sought protection and was kept under constant surveillance whilst the investigative audits progressed slowly in KL.

The Australians together with the aid of some local assistance got Kugan after he was himself fingered by a colleague and then filmed doing a car job. Kugan then began to cooperate but not fully yet. It was here that elements of the Royal Malaysian Police Force who were themselves involved collecting protection from the insurance fraud gang went into action.

Kugan was picked up and tortured (interrogated) unbeknownst to the Australian team, to reveal to the police acting for the syndicates to tell them how much he Kugan knew and how much he Kugan had told the Australian investigators during their more civilzed interrogation o the man with the benefit of evidence they presented him against him.

There was at least one civilian present at the time of Kugan’s interrogation at the police cells. He was neither a policeman, nor official of the insurance companies but an operative of the insurnace scam syndicates. The largest of them.

The Indian police constable accused of administering the beating to Kugan was on the payroll of the individual from the gang present at the time of Kugan’s interrogation. And that Indian police operative was not alone in assaulting and eventually killing Kugan.


Disposing of Kugan was a decision taken at the top once it was discovered the Australians had information about thextent and structure of the car theft operation in Malaysia and the complicity of 3 insurance companies in the scam.

For their part the Australians themselves appear to have been negligent in not providing Kugan and another accomplice fuller protection against personal danger in the circumstances. That failure led directly to Kugan’s death. He was vulnerable and marked since they the Austrlaian investigators had him pulled in for interrogation.

Kugan was exposed by a naieve investigative team who now discovered the extent of the rorts their client’s in Australia and elsewhere were paying for in terms of their reputation and their investment in a country like Malaysia in its insurance sector.


As we conclude this article for the moment, we are aware that a part of the investigation was voluntarily stopped by the Australians. Although a second area of investigation into money laundering continues with the Australian Federal Police investigating the use of insurance companies in Malaysia for fraudulent transaction (internal) to launder the proceeds of crime from Australia and Asia.


What’s more tragic is how the mainly Chinese opposition carry the memory of Teoh Beng Hock (which Teoh deserves) but forgets the rest of those who have in almost identical circumstances met their deaths whilst in police custody.

It is tragic because the parochialism which enters the equation in finding justice for these victims make it harder to achieve those aims when the principles that drive the opposition are so divisive along racial lines. To Lim Kit Siang and Anwar Ibrahim a Chinese death in custody is worth more than a Tamil’s or a Malays. Nothing can be achieved that is just through unjust means and selfishness.

Shelly Bain

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