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Monday, June 28, 2010

Delving into the Taib family fortune

THE chief minister of Sarawak officially earns RM20,000 a month, which is simply not enough to support his family's massive property assets.

His family has cultivated a property empire worth hundreds of millions US dollars in countries across the world.

So far, Abdul Taib Mahmud has stood by the line that his entire family are astute businessmen who have managed to amass vast wealth over the years or married into great wealth abroad.taib-property

Sarawakians are entitled to a clear answer, backed by documentary evidence, as to who actually owns the Taib family’s massive property portfolio. A politician such as Taib ought under law to be required to declare all his assets, so that he can be held accountable. However, he does not.

Dubious

Surely this highly dubious contention needs at least to be proven against the far more obvious conclusion that the ultimate ownership of much of this property remains with the Chief Minister, who has amassed a phenomenal fortune at the expense of his people.

The Chief Minister should lay out before the Legislative Assembly proof that he is not the owner or beneficiary of any of his family’s assets and submit to independent financial scrutiny, as is routinely done in countries like the UK. Not to do so would be to admit to the electorate that he is indeed the aged kleptocrat (an old thief who rules) that he is widely considered to be.

In laying out these proofs Taib should first address the questions surrounding Sarawak’s largest business conglomerate CMS. This huge company is largely made up of assets which have been ‘privatised’ from the State, meaning that these assets once belonged to the people.

Revealing details

Yet, according to CMS’s own annual report of 2009, over 85% of the shares of this publicly listed company are now directly owned by the Chief Minister’s closest family members. Given the ‘privatisation’ of the CMS holdings was overseen by Taib in his capacity as combined Finance Minister and Chief Minister during the 1990s and given his family’s almost total acqusition of this publicly listed company, he needs to explain how there could have been no conflict of interest.

This means the Chief Minister must spell out how the "privatisation" of a state company into a personal family possession could have appeared to have been in the public interest, which it is his duty in office to uphold. The profits of CMS now go directly into the Taib family bank accounts instead of the public purse. At current stock market prices the 329,445,840 shares listed in the CMS Annual Report of 2009 are worth 823,614,600 Malaysian Ringgit. This means that CMS alone is worth well over half a billion ringgit to the Taib family.

A Sarawak Report article said the Chief Minister also needs to explain how his wife managed to become the company’s largest shareholder, despite having brought no money to their marriage and having pursued no visible career.

Sarawakians must also be intrigued to know how, according to CMS’s latest Annual Report published March 2010, she has continued to act in this capacity a full year after her sad demise. In Sarawak, clearly, the strangest things can happen!

After Laila, Taib’s sons and daughters are the biggest shareholders in Sarawak’s biggest company. Taib’s oldest son, Mahmud Abu Bekir Taib, who is a director, owns shares directly and indirectly to the value of well in excess of RM100mil (as does his brother Sulaiman Abdul Rahman Taib).

He needs to explain the origin of his great wealth, given the poverty of his father’s family and the fact he had no visible career before being appointed group executive director of CMS in 1995, aged just 32.

Mahmud further needs to show that he is not holding any of those CMS shares in trust for his father.

Aussie investment

Likewise, how did Laila Taib and her quick-witted children manage to acquire shareholdings of A$1.9mil each in Sitehost Pty Limited in Australia back in 1993?

According to official company records Taib’s wife and children, along with an interesting trio of business partners, invested A$10mil overall into the company that owns and manages the Adelaide Hilton Hotel. The three business partners were Ting Sie Ping, Ting Sie Chuong and Ting Sie Huong, the sons of the Sarawak business tycoon Ting Pek Kiing.

The Ting family control massive logging interests and palm oil plantations in Sarawak and have been major constructors on the Bakun Dam.

Their companies rely on the lucrative government contracts and timber licences that Taib controls. Sarawakians have a right to know what proportion of the money laid out in buying the shares in Sitehost Pty Limited was provided by the Ting family.

Abusing a position of political authority in order to award contracts to a business partner is known as "conflict of interest".

It is a very serious form of corruption. The Chief Minister needs to inform his people how his relations with the Ting family in Sitehost Pty Limited can be explained in any other way.

The Taib-Ting relationship

Likewise, back home Taib, in his positions as chief minister, state planning minister and finance minister, has regularly awarded his own family’s company, CMS, huge government contracts behind closed doors and without an open tender.

These contracts are in turn frequently sub-contracted for a fat profit within days.

One example is the new parliament building. It was initially awarded to CMS.

However, CMS then immediately sub-contracted the work for a clear profit of some RM70mil.

Taib must therefore prove that he is not a beneficiary of CMS shares nor the real owner of the Taib assets abroad. More than ever, it is time for transparency.

courtesy of Malaysian Mirror

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