Wednesday 31 August 2011

Wikileaks: US cables portray Taib as 'highly corrupt'

Sarawak Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud and his relatives are widely thought to extract a percentage from most major commercial contracts - including those for logging - awarded in the state, the US State Department was told in a confidential cable.

According to Mark D Clark, then political section chief of US embassy in Kuala Lumpur, “the Sarawak state government remains highly corrupt and firmly in the hands of its chief minister”.

NONE“The US$82 million (RM300 million) state assembly building now under construction serves as perhaps the most obvious and extreme example of the self-enrichment of the state's chief minister and other senior government officials,” wrote Clark in an Oct 13, 2006 cable released last week by controversial whistleblower website Wikileaks.

In another leaked cable three years later, the US embassy reported that the Taib government “doles out timber-cutting permits while patrolling the under-developed state using 14 helicopters, and his family's companies control much of the economy.”

This cable was based on a visit by the embassy's political counselor to Sarawak on October 12-14, 2009.

NONEThe political counselor also reported that he was received by then deputy chief minister George Chan (right) “at his newly built mansion next to Kuching's most exclusive golf course”.

“Chan said that since the March 2008 general election, the federal government has been 'pouring millions of ringgit' for development into the state,” said the leaked cable dated Nov 2, 2009.

“He described the allocation as a form of 'gratitude' to the Sarawak state government for 'delivering the seats to secure the BN's majority at the federal level'."

The US embassy official also met with PKR operative Baharuddin Moksin, who lamented the opposition's inability to reach voters.

“(Baharuddin) Moksin said that even when the opposition parties managed to rent a helicopter during the Batang Ai district of Sarawak by-election in April, the state government refused to give their helicopter landing rights.

“Baharuddin explained that in Sarawak only three companies, Chahaya Mata Sarawak (which locals jokingly claim stands for 'Chief Minister's Sons'), Naim Cendera Holdings and Titanium Management Berhad, all associated with the chief minister's family, are the only
'big players in the state',” reported the cable.

“All major contracts and a significant portion of land to be converted to palm oil plantations (including on indigenous 'customary rights lands' that the state government has refused to recognise) are given to these three companies.”

FBI told to cut ties with Taib's family

The released of the diplomatic missives came in the wake of a campaign by NGOs to pressure the US government's Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to cut its ties with Taib's family.

FBI refuses to meet anti-Taib corruption campaignersSwiss-based Bruno Manser Fund (BMF) and San-Francisco-based Borneo Project have written to FBI director Robert Mueller to suspend the agency's rental contracts for the Abraham Lincoln Building in Seattle that houses the FBI's Seattle Division headquarters.

The building is owned by Wallyson's Inc, which is linked to Taib's family.

The two NGOs also asked the bureau to ascertain if the Taib family's US investments are in line with the country's anti-money laundering legislation.

"While the fight against public corruption should be one of the FBI's top priorities, it is renting premises from the Taib family, one of South East Asia's largest corruption networks,” lamented BMF last week.

NONE“We are seriously concerned that the FBI appears to be unduly backing the Taib family and its illicit foreign assets."

BMF said the US embassy cables showed that the US government has for years been well-informed on the Taib family's corruption and abuse of power.

“The latest Wikileaks exposures are thus putting the American federal police, the FBI, in an uncomfortable position.”

The NGO also called on the FBI to investigate the Taibs' US corporations for money-laundering and to freeze all their assets in the United States.

Similar demands have been made by a number of NGOs to the governments of Switzerland, Germany and Canada.

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