Clinton Heaps Praises On Malaysia,
Says Country Is Hope For Future

(From Bernama of December 05, 2008)

KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 5 (Bernama) -- Former US president Bill Clinton today heaped praises on Malaysia, saying that the world would be a better place if it emulated the country's harmony and social tolerance.
"Malaysia is the model that there is hope for the future. The people here who are from varied races, religions and all sorts of background have learned to work together and stay together. This is what the world should be like," he said, adding that memories of this "remarkable nation will forever be in my mind".
The 42nd US president, who governed from 1992-2000, said this at the first BC Sekhar Memorial Lecture entitled, "Embracing our Common Humanity".
The BC Sekhar Memorial Lecture series is the brainchild of Datuk Vinod Sekhar, the youngest son of BC Sekhar. One of the aims of the Sekhar Foundation, the philanthropic organisation set up by Vinod, is to foster greater mutual understanding among the peoples of the world.
The late BC Sekhar, fondly known as Mr Natural Rubber, dedicated his life to rubber research and development in the country. He also strongly advocated the rights of rubber plantation smallholders and workers and was actively involved in the international price-stabilisation scheme for rubber. He received the Ramon Magsaysay Award for government service in 1973.
Clinton said Malaysia had made a remarkable beginning and although there were some political conflicts in the country, it knew how to keep this in check for the good of the nation.
"Political conflicts are good. Nobody is right all the time. It is healthy when you disagree. Hillary (Rodham Clinton) and I have arguments now and then. But there is a proper line between order and disagreement," Clinton, who is on his first visit to Malaysia, told a packed audience at the KL Convention Centre.
Citing an example, Clinton said during his visit to the Bird Park here this morning, Muslim women in headscarves came up to him and shook hands, asking him how he was and telling him that he was welcome to Malaysia.
"It was a good feeling. If only every country could have this atmosphere. Economy, religion and even science tell us that we human beings do not have a choice but to live together and if we could do just that, we would have a better world to live in," he said.
Touching on the current global economic crisis, he said it only showed that countries of the world were very much interdependent and even a superpower like the US could not "get away from other nations".
"The world now has to change the way it thinks. The definition of success must be changed from a win-lose situation to a win-win situation. We must be prepared to embrace others," he added.
He said Malaysia should look at the things it did right during the 1997-1998 global economic crisis and although there was nothing wrong in the nation's economy then, it was still affected by the crisis and this reflected how much the world was interdependent.
Touching on the election of Barack Obama as the 44th US president, Clinton said the election of America's first African American president reflected the diversity of the nation.
"Life is more interesting. The election of Obama is a statement on its own. The US would be on the right side of history. It would be good for all, not only Americans but also the world at large," he added.
Clinton said he hoped that the new administration would undertake its global obligations in all fields and see that "wealthy nations reach out to the poorer nations of the world". -- BERNAMA

Bill Clinton Speech in Malaysia Irks Investors

By DON VAN NATTA Jr. (From The New York Times of December 05, 2008)

Mr. Clinton spoke before nearly 3,000 people in Kuala Lumpur at the invitation of Vinod Sekhar, a Malaysian businessman whose foundation paid Mr. Clinton $200,000, according to several people with knowledge of the fee. The figure is on the lower end of the scale that Mr. Clinton usually commands for his speeches.
“You should be proud of this man,” Mr. Clinton told the audience, pointing at Mr. Sekhar, the 40-year-old chief executive of the Petra Group, a privately held rubber technology company.
But several angry investors in Britain and Malaysia say they disagree with the former president’s glowing assessment of Mr. Sekhar, whose company has suffered a rough few weeks.
“I believe he is using Bill Clinton — this is what he does,” said Abdul Azim Zabidi, a former board member of the Petra Group who claims Mr. Sekhar broke numerous promises to him and still owes him $100,000. “He just wants to get new investors.”
Another investor, the actor Bruce Willis, recently settled a lawsuit with Petra over the return of $900,000. The company called it a “misunderstanding.”
And this week, after a 10-year partnership, a member of the Malaysian royal family quit as Petra’s chairman, saying he was tired of the many “surprises” during his affiliation with the company.
“Enough is enough,” the former chairman said.
Mr. Sekhar declined to comment. A spokesman for the Petra Group, Andrew Murray-Watson, said that Mr. Zabidi’s assertion that he was still owed money was “utter rubbish,” and that the Clinton event was held as a memorial for Mr. Sekhar’s late father, a scientist who invented an environmentally sound way to recycle tires.
“The idea that Vinod organized this event purely for public relations purposes is frankly ludicrous, and insulting to the memory of his father,” Mr. Murray-Watson said.
Officials with the Obama transition team said they did not vet Mr. Sekhar’s background before Mr. Clinton’s speech. The speech was one of the last Mr. Clinton will deliver without being reviewed by a State Department ethics panel, a requirement he has agreed to follow if Mrs. Clinton is confirmed by the Senate as secretary of state. Mr. Clinton also agreed to have his fees from business dealings and foreign speeches reviewed by the White House Counsel’s Office, if necessary.
When Mrs. Clinton emerged as the leading contender for secretary of state, questions were raised about whether she could work as the nation’s chief diplomat while Mr. Clinton continued to pursue his global business dealings and foreign speechmaking. In a bid to erase worries about conflicts of interest, the former president agreed to every request made by the Obama transition team.
“If she is going to be secretary of state, and I operate globally and I have people who contribute to these efforts globally,” Mr. Clinton told CNN this week, “I think that it’s important to make it totally transparent.”
Since leaving the White House, Mr. Clinton has traveled the world fighting AIDS, malaria and other maladies. Since its formation in 1997, the Clinton Foundation has raised more than $500 million to build a presidential library and finance charitable programs.
This week, he hosted the Clinton Global Initiative Asia meeting in Hong Kong. It will be the last such meeting for some time; under the terms of his agreement with the Obama transition team, Mr. Clinton agreed to no longer host those meetings overseas.
His decision to accept the invitation of Mr. Sekhar, who has made contributions to the Clinton Global Initiative, surprised several Petra Group investors, who say Mr. Sekhar was using his association with Mr. Clinton to attract new investment. It was Mr. Clinton’s first visit to Malaysia.
Barrie Clapham, a British investor who says he put £300,000 into Mr. Sekhar’s company in 2003 and lent him an additional £170,000, now says he blames himself for failing to recognize that Mr. Sekhar is “a man of straw.”
“He’s very flamboyant,” Mr. Clapham said. “People think this guy is a real mover and shaker, and he keeps lending credibility to himself through association with the right people.”
Despite what Mr. Clapham called Mr. Sekhar’s veneer of wealth, he said, “I learned later that the house he lived in was rented.”
“Everything was rented,” Mr. Clapham added.
He says he has been asking Mr. Sekhar for the return of his money since 2003, but has received only £30,000 of the £470,000 he says he is owed. “He told me he was a man of honor, and he would honor it,” Mr. Clapham said. “I have been pressing him ever since.”
Mr. Murray-Watson said that Mr. Clapham had agreed to invest a large sum in the company, but that “as far as the company is concerned, he did not fulfill that obligation.”
“He remains a shareholder,” Mr. Murray-Watson said, “and negotiations are ongoing that the company expects will lead to a satisfactory outcome for all parties.”
This week, Mr. Sekhar’s partner, Tunku Imran Tuanku Ja’afar, the prince from the Negri Sembilan royal household, announced he was ending his decade-long affiliation with Mr. Sekhar by resigning as chairman of the Petra Group and a director of its affiliated companies.
“I have received many surprises during my tenure with the group,” he said in a statement, citing the lawsuit involving Mr. Willis as “just one, and unfortunately the most high profile.”
He said the lawsuit caused “embarrassment to my family, particularly to my royal parents.”
Although Mr. Murray-Watson acknowledged that the company had had a difficult few weeks, he said its future was bright.
“Petra Group companies are trading well in a difficult economic environment,” he said, pointing to “a recently signed, groundbreaking deal with Timberland” to make shoe soles out of recycled materials manufactured by the company.
The Petra Group, he said, “is set for record global growth over the next 12 months.”
Mr. Clinton promoted the Petra Group’s new deal on Friday, telling the audience, “One of the biggest rubber shoes and boots manufacturers, Timberland, is replacing the soles of its shoes it makes with this man’s green rubber technology.”
Mr. Clinton often praises companies that pay him to speak. In 2001, he received $125,000 from an Illinois management consulting company called International Profit Associates. It was later revealed that the Illinois attorney general was investigating accusations of deceptive marketing tactics by the company.
After a start-up Web search site named Accoona donated $700,000 worth of stock to his foundation, Mr. Clinton praised the company at a corporate event in December 2004.
“I hope you all get rich,” he told Accoona executives, “but, remember, you are doing something good for humanity as well.”

Alex Yong contributed reporting from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and Peter Baker from Chicago.


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