11:56AM Dec 7, 2011
A Swiss NGO campaigning against corruption in Sarawak, the Bruno Manser Fund, has now fleshed out this assertion. The BMF reports that Taib's family owns US$1.46 billion (RM4.6 billion) in corporate assets in 14 wealthy companies - in Malaysia alone.
According to the BMF, Taib himself, his four children, eight siblings and his first cousin, Abdul Hamed Sepawi, have a stake in 332 Malaysian companies. In the three largest of these companies, the BMF contends, the Taib family owns substantial shares in Cahya Mata Sarawak or CMS (84 percent of net assets of RM2.4 billion), Custodev Sdn Bhd (25 percent of RM1.6 billion) and Ta Ann Holdings Bhd (at least 35 percent of RM1.4 billion).
CMS, popularly known by its nickname ‘Chief Minister's Sons', is a listed conglomerate with construction, cement, steel, property, private education and stockbroking interests. Custodev is a property development company. Ta Ann is a logging and oil palm giant. The BMF also says Taib's family are sole owners of Achi Jaya Holdings, a monopoly holder over log exports, with assets of RM550 million.
These findings contradict Taib's claim that his relatives have grown rich only outside Sarawak, using their entrepreneurship talent.
Taib denied using his family members as his proxies, claiming instead that his relatives are rich because they are "good" and "clever".
"We consider these corporate interests of the Taib family to be illicit assets. There are many clear indications that Taib has abused his public office to build a corruption and fraud-based billion-dollar empire," BMF director Lukas Straumann alleged in a press statement released internationally last weekend.
"We are shocked to see that the Taib family has so shamelessly enriched itself while the people of Sarawak have to struggle with widespread poverty and an appalling lack of infrastructure and government services."
As a yardstick, Taib's recently announced budget estimated a total state revenue of RM4.04 billion in 2012.
The BMF readily admits that the RM4.6 billion figure is an underestimate, saying there are likely to be hidden Malaysian assets, as well as enormous capital flight.
The NGO says its research shows Taib's inner family circle has a stake in 85 companies in 24 countries and offshore jurisdictions worldwide, including Australia, Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands, Brunei, Cambodia, Canada, the Cayman Islands, Fiji, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Jersey, Saudi Arabia, Labuan, New Zealand, China, the Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand, the United Arab Emirates, the UK, the US and Vietnam, and holds "illicit assets worth several billion US dollars".
The BMF has been a constant gadfly in the side of Taib's family, one of Malaysia's richest. It has collaborated with investigative journalists in the anti-graft website Sarawak Report to trace the financial trail of Taib's self-proclaimed fortune. These human rights campaigners have unearthed astonishing statistics from publicly available corporate and stock exchange documents.
Sarawak Report founder Clare Rewcastle-Brown, during an interview on Family Trees, a Canadian prime-time television programme screened last Saturday on Global News, pointed out that investigating Taib's financial network is highly workable, because Taib family members openly own so many companies and such a huge chunk of international real estate.
Despite the wealth of accumulated information available, numerous reports by local human rights actvists to the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) and the Malaysian police have been futile. However, the governments of Switzerland and Germany have begun graft investigations into Taib's family, and Canada and the United Kingdom have expressed concern.
Rewcastle-Brown alleges that Taib, as state minister in charge of land and forestry for some four decades, dealt out vast land parcels and logging licences to family members and cronies. Ta Ann, for instance, has been awarded over 675,000 ha of logging and plantation concessions, an area the size of Negri Sembilan, in three decades.
"I've seen that most of the companies that have received the lands have been companies owned by his siblings and his children and political allies that he needs to keep sweet... mainly, his own family. I've painstakingly researched what I can of many of these contracts," she said.
"It has been possible for me, sitting in London, to go through the company records online and to trace how this money has gone from Sarawak in the early 1980s to Canada."
Taib has admitted giving ‘seed money' to his eldest daughter Jamilah to finance her Canadian property business, Sakto, said to be worth more than US$100 million (RM310 million).
Her Canadian husband and business partner, Sean Murray (left in photo), wrote a letter to the Global News programme, complaining that "Jamilah and I find these statements about ourselves and our business false, highly defamatory and very damaging".
Curiously, though, Taib and his family have all resisted taking the BMF or Sarawak Report to court. Tactics appear to have changed since the lawsuit brought by Taib against Malaysiakini in 2007, after the news portal reported a scandal in alleged kickbacks during timber exports.
The recent flurry of global news items on his family's ostentatious wealth seems to have overwhelmed Taib's lawyers.
Locally, Sarawakian lawmakers attempting to ask questions in Parliament have been stonewalled. Worse still, opposition representatives in the state legislative assembly have had their microphones silenced, and have seen parts of their speeches deleted from the Hansard.
Even so, Taib's family must not place much hope on being able to silence all their growing critics, throughout the world. They may speak softly and carry a big stick, but they may already have drawn too much attention to their wealth.
The BMF concluded its press statement by calling on anti-corruption and anti-money laundering authorities to investigate Taib's family, and urging international companies to shun doing business with the family, for "legal reasons" as well as to protect their reputations.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org