February 26, 2017 / 6:23 AM / 9 months ago

Malaysia rolls out red carpet as Saudi king kicks off Asia tour

KUALA LUMPUR/DUBAI (Reuters) - Malaysia welcomed Saudi Arabia’s King Salman on Sunday for the start of a rare, month-long Asian tour, where the monarch will build ties and seek to draw more investments to the oil-rich gulf nation.

Saudi Arabia's King Salman meets with ministers next to Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak at the Parliament House in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia February 26, 2017. REUTERS/Edgar Su

The visit is the first by a Saudi king to Malaysia in more than a decade, as the Arab nation courts Asian investors for the sale of a 5 percent stake in state firm Aramco in 2018, expected to be the world’s biggest IPO.

Malaysian state television on Sunday showed live footage of the octogenarian king descending from his plane on an escalator flown in with his delegation. He was received by Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak before being whisked away in a heavily guarded convoy for a state ceremony at Malaysia’s parliament grounds.

The leader was greeted in parliament with a 21-gun salute, local media reported.

King Salman also plans to visit Indonesia, Brunei, Japan, China, the Maldives and Jordan “to meet with the leaders of those countries to discuss bilateral relations and regional and international issues of common concern,” a royal court statement carried on Saudi Arabia’s state media SPA reported.

Government sources with knowledge of the visit said a 600-strong delegation will accompany the king on his four-day visit to Malaysia, where cooperation on energy developments will be on the agenda.

State oil firm Petroliam Nasional Bhd (Petronas) and Saudi Aramco will sign an agreement on Tuesday to collaborate in Malaysia’s Refinery and Petrochemical Integrated Development (RAPID) project, a boost for the Southeast Asian economy which has been reeling under weak global oil prices.

An honour guard waits for the arrival of Saudi Arabia's King Salman at the Parliament House in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia February 26, 2017. REUTERS/Edgar Su

Relations between the two countries have been in the spotlight over the last two years after Saudi Arabia was dragged into a multi-billion dollar corruption scandal at Malaysian state fund 1MDB, founded by Najib.

Najib has denied any wrongdoing in the money-laundering case which is now being investigated by several countries including the U.S, Switzerland and Singapore.

A Malaysian government inquiry found that nearly $700 million transferred to the Prime Minister’s bank account in 2013 was a donation from the Saudi royal family and most of it was returned.

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The last time a Saudi king visited Malaysia was in 2006, when King Abdullah, King Salman’s half-brother and predecessor, flew in with a 300-member delegation.

“Saudi Arabian investment in Malaysia is expected to create thousands of jobs and we are proud that Malaysian firms have been chosen to undertake projects at some of the most prestigious locations in Saudi Arabia,” Najib said in a statement on Friday.

Besides travelling with his own private escalator, King Salman has also flown in two personal cars. His entourage has also completely booked out three luxury hotels in Kuala Lumpur for the duration of the visit.

After Malaysia, the King is expected to travel to Jakarta and Bali in Indonesia from March 1-9 with an even larger entourage of 1,500 people, followed by a trip to Japan from March 12 to 14, officials in those countries said.

King Salman is expected to spend the last two weeks of March on holiday in the Maldives, according to a Maldives diplomat. Local newspaper Mihaaru reported that three resorts have been reserved for his stay.

Additional reporting by William Maclean in DUBAI; Editing by Praveen Menon and Lincoln Feast

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