MALAYSIA Tanah Tumpah Darahku


Thursday, February 29, 2024

Anwar must insist on probe into Taib’s massive wealth


On Mar 19, 2013, following an exposé on Abdul Taib Mahmud, who died last week, PKR leader Anwar Ibrahim urged then-prime minister Najib Abdul Razak to investigate serious corruption allegations against the then-Sarawak chief minister.

“If Najib has backbone and courage, it is impossible for him to stay silent on this,” he said at a press conference in Kuala Lumpur.

He argued that the information and evidence adduced in the Global Witness exposé were so compelling that it called for action.

The MACC investigated Taib but he was cleared despite strong video evidence from international NGO Global Witness. The MACC chief then, and now, is appointed by the prime minister and holds office at his pleasure.

After the poor showing of BN in the 2008 polls, it needed the states of Sarawak and Sabah, especially the former, to bolster its position as the ruling party. The strongman in Sarawak was Taib. It was pretty much him until almost his recent death with no one daring to go against him.

Now, Anwar has a chance to reopen investigations into Taib’s wealth, even if it is after his death. He has talked extensively about how a select few have plundered the nation’s wealth and emphasised that none of them is above the law.

Anwar (left) and Taib, January 2023.

Taib may be dead now but there were scores of people who were likely to have been complicit with him, especially in the logging industry with various estimates putting a figure of 95 percent of Sarawak’s forests logged, with much of it taking place during Taib’s long 33-year reign as Sarawak’s chief minister from 1981 to 2014.

After he stepped down as chief minister, he became Sarawak’s governor, enjoying extensive powers and privilege. Nominally, the governor appoints the chief minister and the state cabinet. Taib was considered to be holding onto power even after he stepped down as chief minister.

Taib’s predecessor as chief minister from 1970 to 1981 was his uncle - Abdul Rahman Yaakub - who later, like Taib, became Sarawak governor. They infamously fought one another, apparently over timber concessions, but made up later.

When Taib stepped down as chief minister in 2014, his replacement was Adenan Satem, a former aide and a Taib loyalist. According to a report, they were very close, went back a long time, and were law students together in Adelaide. Adenan was also once married to Taib’s sister.

Politician with incisive intellect

When Adenan died in January 2017, Abang Johari Abang Openg, another Taib loyalist, who openly speaks about his debt of gratitude to Taib, and who teared up while speaking about Taib’s death, became chief minister.

Abang Johari Abang Openg

Abang Johari’s father, Abang Openg, was a former governor of Sarawak, illustrating the closely linked relations between people at the top, as well as the widespread influence of connected, rich families. For decades they have controlled Sarawak’s resources.

Malaysiakini reported on the comprehensive expose by Global Witness in 2013. The damning part was contained in a video which showed Taib’s extended family members, a timber tycoon, and a lawyer discussing how deals can be arranged in detail.

The Global Witness video, using hidden video cameras and posing questions to some of Taib’s relatives who were stated to be his cousins, showed how the entire process was orchestrated. The people involved were clearly identifiable in the video.

First, land containing timber in the thousands of acres, obtained at nominal prices, was offered at several thousand ringgit per acre, making huge profits for Taib’s relatives whose companies held this land.

Then, a timber tycoon explained how he needed a licence to export logs and timber from Sarawak. In return for this export licence, he then paid a percentage of export proceeds to nominated persons. According to reports, Sarawak was for some years the largest exporter of logs and timber in the world.

A lawyer then explained how he could structure a deal which would overcome the requirement to have 51 percent Malaysian ownership of the company which purchases the concession by getting a native person who is not well-educated as a nominee and will do all this for a few thousand ringgit.

To avoid paying high taxes on the extraordinary gains, the lawyer suggested two transactions - one at a lower price and the other at a full price. The full price would be paid in Singapore and the tax will be paid only on the lower price.

The 16-minute video outlined simply and comprehensively how the deals were structured and is worth watching. It identified all those interviewed clearly and with no doubt whatsoever.

Estimated RM73 billion

My back-of-the-envelop calculations show a lot of money is involved. From land allocation itself, billions can be made - it involves millions of acres. Sarawak covers some 48,000 square miles or roughly 31 million acres (12.5 million hectares).

Let’s say half of this was involved in land allocation over the decades (the Taib and other closely related families have held power for at least 45 years) and an average price of RM4,000 per acre was paid. That alone amounts to a stupendous RM62 billion (31 million x 4000/2).

And then, what about the percentage of turnover that they received from export licences? If we assume RM5 billion worth of timber and logs exported per year over the last 45 years, that amounts to RM225 billion (45 X 5). Five percent of that as a kickback for export licences would amount to over RM11 billion.

Adding this figure to the RM62 billion from land allocation, we have a figure of around RM73 billion, which could amount to one of the biggest sources of corrupt money in Malaysia, a clear example of what Anwar terms as massive stealing from the people.

It is difficult to understand why no one was charged after the video. The only answer to that is the political consequences - if action had been taken against those involved, the Sarawakian politicians, mostly beholden to Taib, would have withdrawn their support and the federal government would have fallen or been weakened.

Now, Anwar, in the seat of the most powerful, if he decides to take action in Sarawak, he may face disastrous consequences. The question is, how can he take action against this elite group without having his position as PM jeopardised? - Mkini

P GUNASEGARAM says grand theft and kleptocracy must stop if we are to succeed as a nation. Who will stop them?

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of MMKtT.

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