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Banking

CIMB's Nazir battles Malaysia’s demons

Nazir Razak has a complicated bio: one of Malaysia’s most talented bankers, architect of CIMB’s expansion into Asean, and brother of besieged prime minister Najib Razak. Despite a clean image, he was dragged into the 1MDB scandal in March, suspended himself from the bank, and was cleared. Now back at work, he discusses the challenges facing his bank, his country and the region.

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Earlier this year Nazir Razak took to Instagram and posted a picture from Game of Thrones, with Tyrion Lannister looking out into fog from the bow of a ship. ‘So what lies ahead?’ Nazir wrote. ‘The parallels with GoT continue. The future terrifies me: I just can’t see how our institutions can recover, how our political atmosphere can become less toxic, how our international reputation can be repaired.’

It’s not the sort of bleak pronouncement one expects from the chairman of one of the country’s most powerful banks, still less from the brother of the prime minister who stewards this increasingly broken country. But in fact, if Nazir had known what did lie ahead, he might have been bleaker still. 

In more than 20 years at CIMB, 15 of them as CEO before becoming chairman in 2014, Nazir has cultivated a reputation as a straight-down-the-line banker, committed to business and professing to shun the politics that come with his family name. Though widely considered clean, he has faced a difficult balancing act, the more so since the 1MDB furore broke out around Malaysia’s sovereign wealth vehicle. 

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