Malaysia Police Hunt Contract Killers After Banker’s Death

Malaysian police are hunting three suspected contract killers after Hussain Ahmad Najadi, the 75-year-old founder of AMMB Holdings Bhd., was shot dead in Kuala Lumpur yesterday after a business meeting at a temple.

The Bahrain-born businessman was gunned down near a parking lot outside the Kuan Yin Temple while walking with Cheong Mei Kuen, his 49-year-old Malaysian wife, Kuala Lumpur Police Chief Mohmad Salleh told reporters in the capital today. The couple had gone to meet someone about a property deal, he said.

Najadi pioneered business links between the Southeast Asian nation and the Middle East, founding Arab-Malaysian Development Bank Bhd. in 1975 with 55 percent Malaysian and 45 percent Arab interests, according to the bank’s website. He was no longer involved with the lender, which changed its name to AMMB in 1983 and is the country’s fifth-biggest by market value, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Police have “identified the shooter and another two people who were with him through CCTV camera pictures from the temple and surrounding area,” and have about seven witnesses, Salleh said. The parking lot where they were shot reopened to the public today, though police patrol cars remained in the area.

Najadi died at the scene, while his wife suffered a hand injury and is being treated in a hospital, said Salleh. After firing four shots, the three suspects escaped in a taxi with a fake license plate, he said.

Activist, Millionaire

Gun ownership in Malaysia is restricted, and holders are required to carry licenses. Voters cited crime and social problems as their biggest concern after the economy in a survey of 1,018 people conducted in December by the Merdeka Center for Opinion Research.

R. Sri Sanjeevan, the 29-year-old chairman of Malaysia’s crime watchdog group MyWatch, is recovering in a hospital following surgery to remove a bullet after being shot on July 27, the New Straits Times reported today, without citing a motive. Sosilawati Lawiya, a cosmetics millionaire, was murdered three years ago.

Prime Minister Najib Razak, whose coalition returned to power with a reduced majority in May, has made fighting crime a policy priority under a government transformation program started in 2010.

“We cannot allow the situation to persist,” Najib told reporters today in Putrajaya, outside of Kuala Lumpur, speaking of the two cases and another recent shooting. “Immediate and serious action must be taken by the authorities to bring back public peace and confidence. It is up to the police to ask from the government what they require.”

Innovation Legacy

AMMB Chairman Azman Hashim expressed condolences to the family, the bank said in an e-mailed statement today. Najadi sold his stake in the bank to Azman in 1982 and has not held any position or interest in the lender since, a company spokesman said in a texted statement to Bloomberg News, asking not to be identified due to company policy.

The lender’s shares closed unchanged at 7.94 ringgit in Kuala Lumpur today.

Najadi “left behind a legacy of innovation which Azman Hashim carries through,” said Johari Low Abdullah, Najadi’s former auditor, who helped run the bank in its early days as executive director. He was “charismatic and presented himself well,” said Johari in a phone interview.

Najadi was the son of a fruit and vegetable seller, according to his autobiography “The Sea and the Hills,” published last year. He left school at 15, beginning his path out of poverty as an apprentice with Bahrain Petroleum Co., before moving to study and work in the West, starting out with a stint in a Mercedes factory in then West Germany, the book says.

Kuwait Adviser

Najadi became a financial adviser to Sheikh Jaber Al-Ahmad Al-Jabir Al-Sabahm, Kuwait’s then finance and oil minister and future emir, in the 1960s. In 1973 he founded investment bank Arab Investments for Asia Kuwait, known as AIAK Group, with friends, according to the book.

He used that holding company to form Arab Malaysian Development Bank in Kuala Lumpur and later the Arab Asian Bank in Bahrain, according to the autobiography.

Pascal Najadi, his son and strategic adviser at AIAK, was out of the country and unavailable for comment when phoned at his office in Kuala Lumpur today, an assistant said.

“What drives me into these ventures is the idea of bringing people and cultures closer,” Najadi wrote in the final chapter of his autobiography.