Wednesday 15 June 2011

More countries to investigate Taib?

ANTIDOTE The Bruno Manser Fund (BMF) expects more nations to launch corruption investigations against Sarawak Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud, following those of the Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority (Finma) and Malaysian Anti-Corruption Agency (MACC).
“In particular, we are hoping that the governments of Canada, Australia, the UK and the US will start investigating Taib family assets in their countries,” the Swiss NGO has told the international press.

azlanThe BMF has collected detailed financial information on 49 companies it says are owned by Taib's family in eight countries, including the four mentioned in its press statement, as well as Malaysia, Hong Kong, Jersey and the British Virgin Islands. All have signed the United Nations Convention Against Corruption, thereby promising to collaborate to investigate illicit funds.

“The announcement of MACC's probe into the source of Taib's assets is long overdue,” said BMF executive director Lukas Straumann.
“We are expecting the graft probe to be a fully-fledged enquiry leading to the criminal prosecution of Taib and his helpers, not just a window-dressing exercise.
“We are willing to share with MACC all the information we have collected on Taib's corruption over the years and are inviting the MACC's investigation team to visit our offices in Basel, Switzerland.”
Malaysian civil society groups, including the Movement for Change Sarawak and Transparency International Malaysia, have urged the
azlanMACC to unveil details of its graft investigations into Taib's family. But the MACC has stonewalled, without providing any reasons.
Sarawak PKR leader Baru Bian has said the MACC would never prosecute Taib while the BN remains in power.
The BMF honours Bruno Manser an iconoclastic Swiss environmentalist. He ran a highly visible campaign against clear-felling of rainforests and human rights violations against the Penan and other forest dwellers in Sarawak.
On April 8, the Swiss President, Micheline Calmy-Rey, wrote to the BMF, saying: “I would like to thank you for your commitment against corruption. The fight against corruption and the restitution of potentates' embezzled funds to the respective countries is also of great concern to the Swiss government.
“We have read your precise description of the situation of Abdul Taib Mahmud and his entourage as well as their relations with Switzerland with great interest. As Finma plays a central role in the fight against money-laundering, we have forwarded your letter to them.”

Last month, Finma announced investigations into Taib's assets in Switzerland. Taib has enjoyed warm relations with Swiss businesses in the past. The BMF singled out one Swiss bank, UBS, for mention, as “lead manager for a US$350 million (RM1.06 billion) transaction by the state-owned Sarawak Corporate Sukuk in Labuan, Malaysia's offshore financial centre.”

Assets freeze unlikely
However, Calmy-Rey remarked that any move to seize Taib's assets might be fruitless. She told the BMF such an action aims to prevent “potentially unlawfully acquired assets or stolen public funds” from being withdrawn, so that foreign governments can then request judicial assistance from the Swiss government.
“As long as the persons concerned are in power, the necessary requests for judicial assistance are hardly likely to be submitted. Without any prospect of a judicial examination of the potentially criminal origin of such assets, however, it makes little sense to freeze them,” she noted. 

azlanCalmy-Rey's argument appears to contradict the actions taken by the Swiss government to impound the funds of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and his inner circle in February, the first time the Swiss have ever frozen the assets of a politician still in power.
A shift in international opinion led to the freezing of assets of deposed autocrats Ben Ali in Tunisia, Mubarak in Egypt, and finally Gaddafi while still clinging on to power in Libya.
Opponents of Taib's three decades of rule will hope that other countries will announce investigations into the BMF's carefully documented financial paper trail of Taib's fortune. This would add to their clamour to repatriate Taib's overseas assets, estimated to be worth billions of ringgit.

Malaysian premier Najib Abdul Razak has an uneasy relationship with Taib, and has been ratcheting up the pressure on Taib to retire. Najib himself is facing the prospect of an uncomfortable French judicial probe into a RM4.1 billion Scorpene submarine deal struck while he was defence minister. 

Najib and Taib need each other to survive, with a crucial national election looming. Taib remains a kingmaker, holding a pivotal bloc of parliamentary seats, and is expected to deliver BN between 20 and 24 MPs out of 31 in Sarawak. Most political commentators see the MACC “probe” as little more than a cudgel used by Najib to keep Taib in line.
Both Najib and Taib remain under threat from a strong internal political threat from Pakatan Rakyat, and from an international financial scandal.
Namuhyiddin yassin and najib and umnojib also faces the prospect of being challenged by his deputy, Muhyiddin Yassin, if BN does not recover lost ground in the upcoming election.
“Taib appears to be hedging his bets by fostering closer relations with Muhyiddin to ease some of Najib's pressure on him to step down,” Sarawak PKR information chief See Chee How told Malaysiakini.
If Finma or other international investigators reveal impropriety in the accumulation of Taib's wealth, Najib and Taib's unsettled political alliance will come under worse, and possibly unbearable, strain. One or the other would almost certainly be unseated.

KERUAH USIT is a human rights activist - 'anak Sarawak, bangsa Malaysia'. This weekly column is an effort to provide a voice for marginalised Malaysians. Keruah Usit can be contacted at

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