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Malaysian tycoon Tan Sri Syed Mokhtar Albukhary is eyeing a takeover of several ports including Northport in a bid to expand his growing logistics empire.
Sources told The Malaysian Insider that Syed Mokhtar was currently in talks with the federal government to take over the country's premier port.
He is understood to also be in talks with the Melaka state government to take over the port in Tanjung Bruas.
The Malaysian Insider also understands that the billionaire has won the race to take over the Ministry of Finance’s Penang Port and has expressed interest in the ports in Kuantan and Kemaman.
Syed Mokhtar’s flagship company, MMC Corp, already controls Johor Port and Port of Tanjung Pelepas.
Apart from his apparent ambitions to gain greater control over the maritime logistics sector, Syed Mokhtar already holds the reins to several other critical sectors including the rice import business through national rice supplier, Bernas, and the gas distribution business through MMC Corp subsidiary, Gas Malaysia.
Other strategic sectors in which Syed Mokhtar has a significant presence include the sugar trade through Tradewinds; the power production business via the nation’s largest independent power producer, Malakoff Corp; and the water treatment sector through Aliran Ihsan Resources.
Syed Mokhtar’s spree made it seem he was “buying up the whole country.” In October, MMC Corp also approached the government in a bid to take over the UEM Group, which is the majority shareholder of North-South Highway concessionaire, PLUS Expressways.
Other businesses that Syed Mokhtar is involved in include banking through Bank Muamalat, the automotive industry through DRB-Hicom, and the airport business through Senai Airport.
MMC Corp is the co-project delivery partner together with Gamuda for the new KL MRT and the consortium is widely tipped to be awarded the tunnelling portion of the system’s construction.
DRB-Hicom also told reporters last September that although it was not actively looking to buy Proton Holdings Berhad, it did not discount the possibility of doing so following speculation that it had been given the nod by the government to acquire the national car maker.
Bank Muamalat was also rumoured last month to be a front-runner to acquire Khazanah’s 32 per cent stake in Pos Malaysia, but bank has since denied that it is bidding for the stake.
Some analysts have expressed concern that his appetite for acquisitions make it appear as though he is “buying up the whole country.”
The tycoon’s growing empire, however, has come at a cost as his companies have racked up a total debt estimated at RM25 billion. The debt levels have, however, been described as still manageable due to the way they are structured.
According to the Northport website, the shipping hub in Klang handles some 60 per cent of the nation’s trade.
Securing Northport would significantly increase Syed Mokhtar’s grip on the maritime logistics sector in Malaysia and several industry observers have expressed reservations over the prospect.
“If he gets Northport, it would decrease competition which could be unhealthy for the industry,” said one port industry veteran.
“But would PNB let it go?” he added, referring to the fact that the listed NCB Holdings, which operates Northport, is a unit of Permodalan Nasional Berhad (PNB).
The Northport website shows PNB as having a 57.1 per cent stake in NCB Holdings with MISC Berhad having 15.7 per cent, the Port Klang Authority having 5.3 per cent and the rest by unidentified shareholders.