Staff writerMalaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, currently in Japan for a five-day visit, reiterated his criticism of hedge funds Friday and called on the international community to work out some form of measures to control their activities.In a joint interview with The Japan Times and other media at a Tokyo hotel, Mahathir accused hedge funds of “depreciating currencies at their own will and according to what they wish.” The Malaysian ringgit, for example, has suffered a 60 percent devaluation, he said.Mahathir, who will serve as host for a meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Kuala Lumpur in November, said, “We would like to bring this (issue of controlling hedge funds’ activities) up in the APEC meeting.”To make such controls effective, Mahathir conceded, the International Monetary Fund must support them, after first winning the consent of countries such as the United States, which control the body. But he went on to say, “We may be in the minority. But the world is coming to recognize that hedge funds are very damaging to the world economy.”Responding to media reports that some leaders may not attend the APEC meeting because of the arrest of former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, Mahathir said, “I cannot complain if they don’t want to come. It’s their right not to attend the meeting.”The current Asian economic crisis started with the collapse of the Thai baht in July 1997 and is hitting hard the whole region, including Mahathir’s own country. “It is not fair to destroy the economies of countries which have taken many years to build up because they (hedge funds) want money for themselves,” he said.Pointing out that hedge funds operate with a lack of transparency, he said, “At the moment, currency trading is totally hidden from the rest of the world. You don’t know who is trading, how much money they have and what they are doing.”One possible way to control hedge funds is to limit the amount of money operated by them to about 20 times their capital, he said. At present, they are borrowing 50 to 60 times their capital, he said.Calling a $30 billion aid package announced by Japan for ailing Asian economies “very important” and “very good,” Mahathir said that since most Asian countries need money in the midst of the crisis, “the $30 billion will go a long way to resolving the problems.”The Malaysian leader defended the foreign currency controls introduced by his government in September, saying that their main thrust is to require that dollars brought into the country are exchanged into the Malaysian currency. “Investors can bring any amount of money into the country. They can take out any profits in foreign currencies,” he said.”Generally speaking, one month of the controls has brought the results we expected,” he said, explaining that foreign reserves went up by more than $1 billion, share prices have gone up and businesses need no cost for hedging.
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