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The GREATEST heist in Malaysian history

August 3, 2018

When we took back what’s OURS from the British


31 August 1957 is perhaps one of the biggest dates in our history. Who can forget the iconic image of Tunku announcing to his countrymen that we were no longer bound by the British chains?

You can practically hear the words ‘Merdeka!’ from this photo. Image from Tourism Malaysia

But putting all that patriotism aside, truth is that despite officially gaining independence from the British, we were never really that independent from them in the decades after. See, despite being our own country, most of the local economy and land was still owned by the British, and all that profit and income made by hardworking Malayans still went to the deep pockets of the now former colonialists.

“As late as 1970, it is estimated that over 60% of Malaysian corporate assets were still owned by foreigners, and of that non-Malaysian stake two-thirds remained British-controlled,” – Professor Shakila Yacob, in Unfinished Business of Malaysia’s Decolonisation

So by the time a certain Dr Mahathir came to be our Prime Minister, in order for him to carry out his dream of a well-developed Malaysia, he knew he had to do something pretty drastic to ensure we kept what was ours.

The Prime Minister who decided to STEAL what was stolen

When Mahathir became the country’s fourth Prime Minister, people knew he was different, as he wasn’t exactly the same as his British-loving predecessors. The Prime Ministers before him – Tunku Abdul Rahman, Abdul Razak and Hussein Onn – all came from the upper class and studied in the UK. Mahathir meanwhile didn’t have this kind of upper class privilege, nor does he drink or smoke, and he doesn’t spend time playing golf.

Does anyone know which other former PM loves golf? Image from The Washington Post

As such, Mahathir had no issues going all out against the British.

He made claims such as that the British had exploited the Chinese for their own economic gain but at the same time, neglected the Malays. By the time Margaret Thatcher came about, even more bad diplomacy between Malaysia and Britain occurred such as Britain raising tuition fees for students which affected up to 13,000 Malaysian students. Mahathir retaliated of course, announcing a ‘Buy British Last‘ policy, making it harder for British imports. But he had his eyes on an even bigger prize: Guthrie.

Probably not what he told the British

Guthrie at the time was the biggest and oldest British-owned plantation company. It made big breakthroughs during the first few years post-independence as Tunku was quite okay with working with the British and getting them to invest in then-Malaya.

However, this meant that British companies owned a lot of the land here, and the profits gained off these lands ended up in the UK. As for Guthrie, despite the Permodalan Nasional Berhand (PNB) having 25% of shares in Guthrie, PNB wasn’t even given a seat on the board of directors.

When Mahathir became PM, he saw Guthrie as a huge problem, and thus he made the decision to take back what is rightfully Malaysia’s. Of course, he couldn’t do it himself, and recruited a few extra hands to help him out.

The first was Tun Ismail Mohamed Ali, a former Governor of Bank Negara and the then-chairman of PNB. It probably also helped that he was also Dr M’s brother in law. The second was Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim. Yeah, that Khalid Ibrahim.

The three of them would begin preparations for an attack on Guthrie which would go down in Malaysian history as one of the most important ever.

A story so good, it should be a movie …

Mahathir, Khalid and Ismail carried out the biggest and baddest ‘Dawn Raid’ in history

If you remember what a ‘dawn raid’ is because you paid attention in your economics class, congratulations, that makes one of us.

But for those who aren’t stock brokers, a dawn raid is basically when Company A buys up huge amounts of Company B’s shares the moment the stock market opens. Doing so lets Company A take over Company B at a much lower value compared to offering them a formal takeover bid – assuming Company B realises their stocks are being bought too late of course.

This is pretty much how our three heroes in this story took back what’s ours: Guthrie.

Newspapers celebrating the return of Guthrie. Image from

Ismail Ali and Khalid Ibrahim were the ones who did the dirty work.

The moment the London stock exchange opened – about 4pm here – the two of them, representing PNB, began a huge process of buying up as many shares from Guthrie as quickly and as secretly as possible to avoid alerting Guthrie’s men in London. There were a lot of shares though, and so they raked in the help of Genting Berhad, Bank Simpanan Nasional and Malaysia-Kuwaiti Bank to help them buy out Guthrie, all working together for some good ol’ patriotic capitalism.

How we imagine what Ismail Ali and Khalid Ibrahim looked like during the raid

Malaysia wasn’t alone during the dawn raid too. In London, the company N. M. Rothschild & Sons managed to get M&G Investment to sell off their shares to the Malaysians, while the brokering agency Rowe & Pitman ensured that the transaction of shares went thru without a hassle.

By the time the markets had to stop trading, PNB and the others had managed to get hold of 47% of Guthrie. By the end of the week, they had 51% and within three months, the whole of Guthrie was Malaysia’s again.

To add salt to their wounds, the Chairman of the British Guthrie only found out his company had been taken over thru the radio. And perhaps adding even more salt, Khalid Ibrahim, who later became chairman of Guthrie, sold the British half of Guthrie back to them, making their takeover of Guthrie pretty much completely free!

The Malaysian Guthrie. Image from Konsensus Bebas

Eventually, the Malaysianised Guthrie company was merged with Sime Darby, and the name ‘Guthrie’ is no longer around. But bring up the topic of ‘Guthrie’ to anyone old enough to remember the event, and they’ll probably say …

It may have been just a company, but symbolically it meant much, much more

In a time where politics divides everyone everywhere, it’s perhaps nice to look back and reflect on the events which managed to bring us together as a nation regardless of race, religion and ideologies. The dawn raid on Guthrie happens to be one of these events, not only because it was a huge win for a nation that just began developing, but also because it was a huge slap in the face to the colonisers of the past that were still exploiting Malaysia despite our independence.

It’s a story that’s so good and so inspiring that, believe it or not, a movie is set to be made about it! Yep, you read that right. Bront Palarae is set to direct a dramatisation of the Dawn Raid, and we’re already placing our money on movie-goers singing the Negaraku once the movie is over. This isn’t a sponsored post btw, but Bront, if you’re reading this, we don’t mind if you wanna sponsor us la. Altho, judging by your need to crowdfund the movie, you probably need the money – readers can pitch in to the movie here.


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