2015-2018: $60 million plundered from Malaysia. “They go Jho Low, I go higher”

after-big-deal-fails-malaysias-axiata-seeks-small-sales_largeThere was a sloppiness to the way Kidron did business, a sloppiness not unlike Kidron himself. He was careful to always dress like ‘a native’ or what he thought was ‘a native’. Yet he had what a native, even the poorest among the masses, would never have: a perpetually rumpled look. “It made him feel he was a maverick, under and above the rules of the game. He could talk big money and yet show that money didn’t mean anything to him in terms of conforming to the norm. Him looking like shit added to his sense of working harder than those who spent time and care in looking the part,” one employee said. “He was never shiny, if you know what I mean.”

The sloppiness may have scared some respectable people off because, according to the prosecutors, towards the end the only kinds of people who were doing deals with Kidron were people who were too polite to say ‘fuck off’ and on balance didn’t mind having a fat white man waiting in their outer office for hours if necessary.

Just what Kidron did in fact for his last Yonder-licenseee deal with Maldives telco Dhiraagu. He spent $40,000 in airfares and hotels to make the $250,000 he desperately needed to stay afloat in Q2 2017. These telcos all suffered Kidron’s bizarre behavior because they, like his employees, had to.

Kidron was more like a buyer than a businessman, imagined himself more like a ‘creative’ than suited his occupation. Buyers work on intuition. If your intuition is bad, you lose the season. Having a buyer’s mentality in business can be devastating. If your intuition is bad, you can lose much more than a year’s profit: You’re dealing with people’s hard-earned money. But Kidron didn’t see things that way. He saw himself as a cross between a messiah and Monty Hall. He thought he couldn’t make a bad deal.

Even after they caught him.

After he burned them for $80 million, Rupert Murdoch and Herb Allen told Kidron this: “get the fuck out of America.  We’re bankrupting you.” He didn’t care. He got them to agree to keep the terms of his absolute failure quiet so he could wheel and deal in South America. Africa. Asia. Anywhere. Everywhere he could. Anywhere where he was still an unknown quantity. 

The prosecutors think Kidron got tangled in his delusions. Who dares put a king in jail? They theorize that he looked back at bankruptcy court and all the judges he’d bamboozled and all the times he’d skated (for the money he lost Allen and Murdoch and the additional $20 million he lost Sony and Warner Music he had to pay back only $3 million) , and convinced himself he wouldn’t go to jail for an extended period no matter what the sentence was. “In Adam Kidron’s mind, the deal is only going to get better the longer he waits,” said the CFO of Axiata, the Malaysian telco he took for $60 million over 2015 to 2018.

In his view he was never wrong. It was always bad luck and other people who messed up his winning plans. Every one of the 18 times his companies failed. Kidron never ever pleaded guilty to his schemers. No bargains. No nothing. 

The reason Kidron turned down all the deals to pay his way out of his debts was ego and greed and the need to not appear a failure to his family. Of course, one day, his girls will know. But by then, he hopes, he’ll be dead.

18 failed companies, starting with his own record ventures, music productions, to TV shows, to Adam Plus, to Urban Box Office, Beyond Oblivion, to Boinc, to Yonder Music, all of these added up burned through US$195 million. Of other people’s money. You may say that investors know full well that with every venture there are risks. That they do. But Kidron never intended to provide a return to his investors, he never intended to deliver and follow through with the companies he proposed. All of that money was fuel to 1) pay back enough of his creditors from his previous failed businesses to stay afloat 2) to indulge himself in his fantasies of being a movie director and visionary creative 3) salt away money in an off shore haven. “I’ve made my money in America, sure, but I’ll be buggered if I’m going to pay any tax to the government,” was a frequent Kidron refrain to his accountant.

By his own reckoning, as a man notoriously tight with his own money,  Kidron chose not to share any of his gains with his wife of the time, or his children, or his mother or siblings. They embarrassed him. He felt he embarrassed them. And shame ultimately triumphed over his need to be loved. 

Haiti was looked at. So was St. Thomas, Bermuda and the BVI. As laid back as they are, they were too formal and too ‘proper’ for a shady dealer like him. And too many links back to Britain and America. Puerto Rico though, after decades of financial peril, was on potential economic upturn. During its first term the Obama Administration was making noises about ’51st state’, ‘no state left behind’ and there was a definite sense that prosperity and increased federal funding was around the corner.  So Kidron, a man never to shirk an opportunity where he can play the ‘white man saviour’ among people who would be too grateful for his presence to overlook the fact that he wasn’t actually giving them anything, chose Puerto Rico to park his money. He bought Puerto Rican government bonds which offered 30% and options on land for a city of the future’. He could be what he always secretly wanted to be an ‘urban god’. 

Unfortunately for him, a sure-fire win of a deal in Puerto Rico went belly up in 2015.  The debt burden became so great that the island was unable to pay interest on the bonds it had issued. Isn’t that ironic? The man who owed millions losing millions by investing in sovereign debt? 

He was desperate to find a way out. A way back. All that scheming and dreaming for all those years couldn’t amount to nothing, right?….

The road to Malaysia’s Axiata, the world’s fifth largest telecom operator by numbers of users, opened up….

The loss of the Puerto Rico  made his need to come up with something to save himself even more desperate. Thirty years of hustling to end up with nothing just wasn’t good enough. He sent round ‘Hey, how are you?’ emails to business people he’d met on his travels selling Beyond Oblvion and Boinc 2010-2015. And got a bite from Malaysia.

Malaysia the nationally sanctioned anti-semitic  country. The one with overt hostility to Jews. The one with no diplomatic relations with Israel. They obviously didn’t know Kidron was a Jew. Not at first, anyway. Kidron, the scion of Polish Jews, the son of a famous Jewish Marxist, the brother of a prominent Jewish baroness, hid the fact.

“He had a trump card,” says a prominent Malaysian telco executive at Axiata, who brokered the deal between Kidron’s Yonder Music and Axiata and pocketed a significant commission, “we were a majority state-owned company that had crested. Landlines and feature phones and home broadband had been our bread and butter for decades. We were looking for something new to drive smartphone take up and data consumption. A music app (like Yonder) was felt necessary.” Especially when Axiata’s main competitor in Malaysia, Maxis was in partnership with Spotify.

What about Kidron partnering in a country whose Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad calls Jews “hook-nosed” and is proud to be anti-semitic? “Well, it didn’t bother me,” says the Malay – ostensibly Muslim Axiata Bord member who Kidron befriended, “I studied in America. I had some Jewish friends. Adam may have been a rogue but he was a charming rogue and he made sure to send business to my wife’s advertising agency and got my daughter to sing in a music video with all the top stars.”

Needless to say, Axiata’s disappointment at Yonder Music’s performance across the five-nations it had holdings, eventually led to an examination of this board member’s promotion and backing of Kidron. And once he confessed to his personal motives, he was summarily let go. But the damage had been done.

 

 

 

 

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