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Thursday, February 27, 2014

New graft allegations surface against Taib


Fresh allegations of corruption against Abdul Taib Mahmud have surfaced, a day before he is slated to resign as chief minister of Sarawak.

The veteran politician, who has been hounded by a slew of allegations throughout his 33-year reign as chief minister, is expected to assume the post of Sarawak governor.

The latest allegations surround a company linked to his son Mahmud Abdul Bekir, that was purportedly used as a conduit to receive up to RM6.6 million in commissions for a waste disposal project involving a state government joint venture with a German firm.

The accusations were made by rights group Global Witness in London based on several documents in its possession, including an agreement between Sarawak Capital Sdn Bhd and Trienekens GmbH which is based in Viersen, Germany.

Taib's eldest son Abdul Bekir (above) and his estranged wife Shahnaz Abdul Majid are among the directors of Sarawak Capital. Both signed the agreement with Trienekens GmbH which outlined the RM6.6 million payment.

The agreement between Sarawak Capital and Trienekens GmbH was signed after the latter entered into a joint venture with the state government to establish Sarawak Waste Management Sdn Bhd to undertake an integrated waste management system project in 1998.

Five payments

Sarawak Capital was to serve as Trienekens' consultant and was to be paid RM6.6 million in five installments - the first following the signing of a contract with the state government, and further 20 percent payments after the Kuching, Sibu, Bintulu and Miri local governments respectively consent to a takeover of their waste disposal works.








The contract stipulates that Trienekens was to engage Sarawak Capital as an "exclusive consultant and advisor to assist TG [Trienekens] in the achievement of its responsibilities and obligations in the JVC [joint venture company]".

Global Witness said that its legal experts regard this contract as a "sham agreement" because Sarawak Capital has no binding contractual obligations in terms of scope of work.

"Instead it lists a range of activities whereby Sarawak Capital only 'agrees to offer' services. Furthermore, payment is tied to Trienekens' proportion of equity in the joint venture rather than being calculated by the nature of the consultancy services (e.g. time costs, lists of personnel etc).

"And there are no standard termination clauses as would be found in normal consultancy agreements. The only significant binding contractual obligation in the agreement relates to payments due to Sarawak Capital from Trienekens," added Global Witness.

Global Witness CEO Tom Pickens said that the agreement "bears all the hallmarks of a thinly disguised kickback" that does not appear to commit Sarawak Capital to perform any functions and does not make commercial sense.

London law firm Mishcon de Reya, representing Taib and Abdul Bekir, was contacted by Global Witness over their allegation, to which they responded: "The particular contract that you appear to refer to was not executed in the terms that you imply".

The firm described the five payments as "contractual milestones" and that some of it did not happen, thus the full RM6.6 million fee was not paid.

Conflict of interest

According to the Trienekens (Malaysia) Sdn Bhd website, the company currently operates in the Bintulu and Kuching areas alone, meaning only three of the five "contractual milestones" were met.

"Sarawak Capital was a regulated financial advisor and provided genuine commercial services to Trienekens, including conducting feasibility studies, assisting with the operations on the ground and assisting Trienekens to establish itself to its best advantage…

"The agreement you refer to is not a sham agreement nor is it evidence of corruption or of 'kickbacks' whether disguised or otherwise," the law firm was quoted as saying in Global Witness' press release.

However, Global Witness said that they have seen many instances where similar deals were struck to oblige foreign investors to make payments to politically connected individuals or companies as a condition of doing business.
          
Global Witness said it had contacted Trienekens and Sarawak Capital for their response, but none had been received at the time of writing.

As for Taib's role in the whole affair, Global Witness said that memorandum of understanding to establish Sarawak Waste Management Sdn Bhd was signed on behalf of the Sarawak government by then state secretary Hamid Bugo.

Strangely, Global Witness said, the MOU contained Abdul Bekir's signature as a witness to the deal.

"While it is standard that the state secretary, on behalf of his boss the chief minister, would represent the government in such a deal, it is very unclear why the son of the chief minister would be witnessing a multi-million dollar agreement between the government and a foreign firm.

"The fact that such large fees were paid to Taib’s son’s company as part of that agreement appears to be a conflict of interest," said Pickens.

Malaysiakini has written to Trienekens (Malaysia) for a response to these allegations but efforts to contact Sarawak Capital have been futile.

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