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Thursday, April 28, 2011

Musa-linked money laundering still on HK radar

A Sabah businessman who was arrested at the Chek Lap Kok airport in Hong Kong carrying S$16 million in cash has yet to explain why he was doing so.

KUALA LUMPUR: Hong Kong anti-corruption authorities are still hot on the trail of a money laundering operation linked to Sabah Chief Minister Musa Aman.

Almost three years after the arrest of a Sabah businessman, Michael Chia, Hong Kong’s Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) said the case was still open.

Chia, who is said to be a proxy for Musa, was in August 2008 detained at the Chek Lap Kok Airport in Hong Kong.

He was carrying a bag allegedly containing S$16 million in cash.

The arrest and subsequent revelations on the eve of the Permatang Pauh by-election stunned Sabahans.

The August 2008 by-election saw PKR de facto leader Anwar Ibrahim return to Parliament after a decade-long absence.

Rumours have it that the matter was quickly hushed up after Musa agreed to help then prime minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi with election funds.

Chia had also subsequently issued denials over reports of money-laundering activities and allegations that he was a proxy for Musa.

But at no point since has he clarified what he was doing with S$16 million in cash.

Chia has since been released on bail.

Yesterday ICAC in an official reply to a query from FMT regarding the outcome of investigations said: “We don’t comment on operational matters.”

Acting chief press information officer Alan Tse declined to answer further questions posed by FMT relating to the case.

Monitoring inflow

On Nov 5, 2008, three ICAC officers arrived in Kota Kinabalu seeking information on the background of Chia, a Sandakan businessman, as well as a senior lawyer and a top state leader.

They left on Nov 7 after gathering documents and seeking the help of Malaysia’s ACA or Anti-Corruption Agency (now Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission or MACC) to meet witnesses.

According to sources, the ICAC probe is focused on several hundred million ringgit purportedly found in the bank account of a Sabah lawyer allegedly holding it as trustee for a top Sabah politician.

The ICAC, it was revealed, had been monitoring the inflow of large amounts of monies from Sabah to the account in the Special Administrative Region for the past three to four years.

The ACA investigations director at the time, Mohd Shukri Abdul, confirmed at a press conference on Nov 7 that the ICAC had sought help from the ACA on the case.

He said that the ACA was providing assistance to the ICAC officers in gathering documents and meeting witnesses under the Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters Act (MACMA).

Shukri said that ACA itself was not conducting any investigations into the matter.

Declining to reveal the specific nature of the ICAC probe, Shukri said: “We cannot reveal details as it is their investigations.”

Shortly after the revelation, PKR Youth head Shamsul Iskandar Mohd Akin had lodged a report with the ICAC in Hong Kong, providing evidence that Chia and four others were the nominees of Musa.

He also stated that the money was obtained illegally and named several banks where the money was held in trust and urged the authorities to freeze them.

Denied links

According to sources, senior lawyer Richard Barnes was among those who was picked up and flown to Kuala Lumpur where he was questioned by the MACC.

Sources said officers from the commission also took boxes of documents from the lawyer’s office and Barnes was believed to have been detained for more than five days.

Denying any link to reports of money laundering and links to Musa, Chia had reportedly said: “I have no business or political dealings with the chief minister and I am not his nominee.”

Musa has also denied any association or financial dealings with Chia.

“I would like to stress here that I have no political and financial connection with this person,” he had told the local media at the time.

“He’s not my nominee and I have no nominee,” he said.

Musa, when asked if he knew Chia, said: “I know him and as a chief minister of Sabah, I meet a lot of friends and I have many friends.”

Musa’s denial prompted the DAP to lodge a report at the Dang Wangi police station in Kuala Lumpur calling for investigations to clear the air over the reports.

“It does not matter if Musa has denied his involvement; the police and the ACA should proceed with the investigations against him,” DAP adviser Lim Kit Siang said.

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