Malaysia looks to Pakistan after Indian palm oil controls

Malaysia may expand its palm oil trade with Pakistan following controls imposed by the Indian government on refined palm oil imports. (Shutterstock)
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Updated 13 January 2020

Malaysia looks to Pakistan after Indian palm oil controls

  • India is world’s biggest palm oil importer and in 2018 imported $5.1 billion worth
  • Palm oil restrictions are seen as New Delhi retaliation following Malaysian criticism

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia may expand its palm oil trade with Pakistan following controls imposed by the Indian government on refined palm oil imports. 
“Pakistan is one of Malaysia’s most regular and dependable buyers of local palm oil and products,” Malaysian Primary Industries Minister Teresa Kok said on Sunday.
Kok met Pakistan’s Adviser for Commerce, Textiles, Industry and Production and Investment Abdul Razak Dawood on an official visit to Pakistan.
“In 2018, Pakistan imported 1.16 million metric tons of palm oil from Malaysia valued at RM2.97 billion ($730 million). Avenues were discussed to further expand Malaysian palm oil share in this growing market,” said a statement by the Ministry of Primary Industries in Malaysia on Sunday following the minister’s visit.
India’s Directorate General of Foreign Trade (DGFT) last week announced restrictions on the import of refined palm oil and palm olein, a liquid form of palm oil. Importers will now be required to apply for licenses. 
Indian media reported that while the announcement was “not country-specific, but product-specific,” Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government had “informally” requested palm oil refiners and traders forgo Malaysian palm oil. 
India is the world’s biggest palm oil importer and in 2018 imported $3.8 billion worth of palm oil from Indonesia, and $1.3 billion from Malaysia. The two Southeast Asian countries are the world’s main producers in the palm oil industry.
The Indian import controls came after remarks by Malaysian Prime Minister regarding India’s actions on Kashmir and the new citizenship law last year.
A Malaysian political analyst from the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, Dr. Oh Ei Sun, said that the restriction “doesn’t help to improve bilateral relations” and is seen as New Delhi’s retaliation to a series of remarks made by Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad regarding India’s widely criticized citizenship laws and Kashmir lockdown.
“We speak out our minds and we don’t retract and change,” said the 94-year old leader at a press event in October regarding his UN speech last year calling for a UN resolution on the Jammu and Kashmir conflicts.
He also spoke out against the new citizenship legislation last year during the KL Summit in December, claiming that the new law would “deprive some Muslims of their citizenship.”
Mahathir’s decision to allow controversial Indian preacher Zakir Naik to remain in Malaysia also upset Modi.
“As India is a major buyer of Malaysian refined palm oil, palm oil refining industry will, of course, be significantly affected,” Dr. Oh said, adding that it remains to be seen if the broader crude palm oil-producing industry will be affected.
End.


Morocco’s ‘$65 million’ real-estate swindle

Updated 03 April 2020

Morocco’s ‘$65 million’ real-estate swindle

  • Biggest-ever property scam sparks widespread anger at sector described as ‘hotbed of corruption’

CASABLANCA: “Give us our money,” demands a group of home buyers, standing on land that should by now be finished condos — one of many fictitious projects that together comprise what is described as Morocco’s biggest-ever property scam.

Adverts on state television had promised dream homes at three for the price of two, while brochures boasted of ornately carved wood finishings and copious marble.

But it was all a fantasy — more than 600 million dirhams ($65 million) allegedly disappeared, leaving more than 1,000 buyers out-of-pocket, according to one of the lawyers representing them.

In a country where corruption is endemic, the unprecedented scale of the alleged fraud has generated political waves.

Called upon by deputies to address the issue in Parliament, Prime Minister Saad Eddine El Othmani said the government was absolved of any blame, provoking indignation among defrauded investors who have appealed to King Mohammed VI.

The man accused of being at the forefront of the scheme has been charged and is in detention awaiting trial.

But the vast scam has prompted major questions about alleged negligence and complicity of some Moroccan institutions. 

Mohammed El Ouardi, as head of the Bab Darna group, allegedly received advances for apartments that never made it beyond the drawing board.

BACKGROUND

Sales based solely on paper plans frequently give rise to scandal in Morocco, ranging from apartments that do not match brochures’ promises to major delays in construction.

“The swimming pool would have been just over there,” says would-be apartment owner Soufiane, aged in his 40s, as he points across a building site in the commercial capital Casablanca.

Bab Darna consists of a group of firms that cashed advances from “at least 1,000 victims” who invested in around 15 fictitious real-estate projects in and around Casablanca over a decade, Mourad El Ajouti, one of the lawyers for the investors, said.

The money was allegedly embezzled by cashing “advances ranging from 20 percent” to the full cost of the apartment, he added.

Houria, 49, who works in e-commerce, said “highly persuasive sales agents” proffered a golden opportunity and swayed her into advancing 400,000 dirhams;
20 percent of the cost of a villa.

But the vendor “had neither the title deed nor construction permit,” El Ajouti said; basic requirements lacking in all contracts signed by the investors. Such practices did not prevent Bab Darna from exhibiting with great fanfare at real-estate shows in Casablanca, Paris and Brussels.

“The authorities were not aware (of El Ouardi’s activities)?” asked Houria, dumbfounded.

“Who protected him?“

She, like other victims that AFP spoke to, did not want their full names published.

El Ouardi, 59, is described as a smooth salesman who carved a path through the real-estate jungle.

But in November, with nothing to show for their investments, angry customers went to his home. When cheques for reimbursements that they say he penned personally bounced, their patience finally ran out and they hauled him to the
police station.

He is now awaiting trial with six alleged accomplices, including his finance manager, the notary and sales agents.

A trial date has not yet been set, but the suspects face between 10 and 20 years in prison for fraud or complicity in fraud.

Many of the victims come from Morocco’s diaspora, who number several million and often invest in property back home.

“I left Morocco to escape corruption and nepotism, but these things have entrapped me once more,” lamented another victim Youssef, 36, who lives in Japan and is self-employed.

Sifeddine, an entrepreneur living in Argentina, reserved an apartment thanks to a brochure promoting modern buildings covered in ivy, alongside elegant palm trees shading a turquoise pool.

The TV adverts, broadcast during primetime hours and using famous actors, reassured him.

“El Ouardi received me at his villa and was very persuasive, in front of a notary and agent,” he said. “It was 10 p.m., the sub-municipality’s office was opened specially at his request to sign the contract; he must have greased a lot of palms,” Sifeddine alleged.

Jalal, a salesman in his 40s of dual French-Moroccan nationality, took the plunge in 2018 when he visited a Moroccan real-estate show in Paris.

Bab Darna “had one of the best stands” at the show, known as Smap Immo, he said. He came back to Morocco to sign the deal, and took the presence of a notary and registration of the contract at a sub-municipality office as guarantees of legitimacy.

El Ajouti views the scandal as a collective failure.

“Authorities within the planning ministry, the town council, the urban agency” should all shoulder shares of the blame, he said.

He also criticized officials from the real-estate show, who, he said, should have scrutinized exhibitors’ credibility.

Smap Immo, which rejects it is in any way responsible for the scandal, has also filed a complaint against Bab Darna for fraud and harming the exhibition’s reputation.

Real estate is among the sectors most affected by corruption in Morocco, according to the head of Transparency Maroc, a local anti-graft advocacy group.

The sector is “a hotbed of corruption, conflicts of interest and insider trading between landowners, local authorities and urban agencies,” Ahmed Bernoussi said.