An environmental activism group named after a Swiss man who vanished in Sarawak in 2005 during a mission to defend an indigenous tribe from loggers has urged Malaysian authorities to freeze the assets of the late former Sarawak governor Taib Mahmud.

The Basel-based non-profit Bruno Manser Funds (BMF) was founded in 1991 by the Swiss rainforest campaigner and human-rights activist of the same name. It has spent years campaigning against Taib’s logging activities in Sarawak’s rainforest and wants Malaysia to reopen a probe into his wealth.

Taib, who died on Wednesday aged 87, had said over the years that the drive to establish vast palm oil plantations and infrastructure schemes was necessary for the renewal of the state on Borneo island.

Conservationists and forest dwellers say, however, that Taib’s economic measures caused millions of acres of rainforest to be wiped out, causing irreversible damage to Sarawak’s pristine natural environment.

In the process, the projects greatly boosted the fortunes of the vastly wealthy politician, who was estimated by the Bloomberg Billionaires Index to have assets worth over US$1 billion in the early 2010s.

In a statement, BMF Executive Director Lukas Straumann urges the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) to immediately freeze Taib’s personal bank accounts and other assets before his family members could appropriate them.

“We call on the MACC to reopen its investigation into Taib assets, which was closed in 2016 for political reasons”, Straumann said.

The Malaysian authorities need to get to the bottom of the “enormous wealth” of Taib and his family, Straumann added.

In 1999, Manser flew a motorised glider above Taib’s residence as part of a publicity stunt to highlight the governor’s environmentally devastating policies, which led to the arrest of the Swiss and subsequent deportation back to his country.

Manser returned in 2005 to Sarawak, where he disappeared and was later presumed dead.

The unresolved mystery has led to multiple speculations on his whereabouts – that he went into hiding with the indigenous nomadic Penan tribe which he had made his life mission to protect; was being imprisoned by Sarawak authorities, died as a result of natural dangers he faced in the jungle or was murdered by the loggers he opposed.

Between 1990 and 2009, Sarawak saw massive deforestation due to the conversion of forested areas into palm plantations, according to a joint study by a group of Malaysian and Japanese researchers and the Sarawak Forestry Department.

The forest shrank by half a million hectares in 2009 from 6 million hectares in 1990, the study showed. The period overlapped with the years of Taib’s stewardship of the state government.

Taib became Chief Minister of Malaysia’s largest subdivision in 1981 and stayed in office for 33 years until 2014 when he was promoted to the governor’s office, a move seen as shielding the ageing politician from legal repercussions.

His ascension to the office meant he was legally on par with that of the sultans in other states of Malaysia, which effectively granted him immunity.

Amid longstanding speculation over his poor health, Taib was relieved from the governorship in late January.

His two sons have been embroiled in a legal suit against his widow Raghad Kurdi Taib involving the transfer of shares held by Taib in the conglomerate Cahaya Mata Sarawak (CMS) to her. In their lawsuit, the brothers questioned the authenticity of Taib’s signature on documents transferring ownership of his shares to Raghad.

On February 6, MACC chief Azam Baki said the commission had investigated Taib in previous years and that the Attorney General’s Chamber decided not to pursue the matter thereafter.

“The case has been forwarded to the Attorney General’s Chamber, and [they] have ordered no further action,” Azam said in a forum in Kuching, Sarawak.

Azam’s comments were in response to a media query on claims made by his predecessor Mohd Shukri Abdull in 2018 that the MACC had opened 15 investigation papers on Taib.

BMF said CMS – Sarawak’s largest state-owned company – benefited from public contracts worth over 4.9 billion ringgit (US $1.4 billion), and this sum has been in the hands of Taib’s closest family members since the early 1990s.

Such deals were against Sarawak’s constitution, which barred the state’s Chief Minister and Governor from personal benefit in commercial enterprises, BMF added.

Source : SCMP

In Malaysia, money squabbles cast long shadow over death of Sarawak’s ex-governor Taib Mahmud

The last few weeks of the life of Taib Mahmud, 87, who dominated Sarawak’s business and politics for over three decades, were a chaotic whirl of accusations and acrimony after claims he was taken from hospital in Kuching by his wife against doctor’s orders – and later sent to Kuala Lumpur where he died on Wednesday.

In death, the rancour between Taib’s younger Syrian wife – accused of moving the ailing Taib – and his two sons will only likely deepen as they continue a court dispute over his vast wealth.

But on Wednesday morning, a tearful Raghad Kurdi Taib and her husband’s four children appeared to have set aside their differences for Taib’s wake at the national mosque.

There, alongside members of Taib’s extended family, they received a long line of national and state leaders who arrived to pay their last respects.

Taib was accorded a state funeral, his casket placed on a pedestal and draped in the Malaysian flag, surrounded by vigil guards.

The former Sarawak governor’s body was later flown back to Kuching, where the state government will arrange for a second wake at his residence before burial on Thursday.

Taib’s death followed a frantic final few weeks in the life of a wealthy fief who helmed Sarawak for decades with shrewd, ruthless politicking and a network of business connections.

On February 3, his cross-country journey for treatment began amid allegations that he had been forcibly removed from a hospital in Kuching in Sarawak by Raghad, flanked by security and butlers.

Raghad has vehemently denied the allegations, saying on her Instagram on Monday she “would never undertake uninformed action to jeopardise” Taib’s well-being.

Her account is awash with posts of her and Taib at state banquets and hosting VIP guests including sultan of Brunei and Malaysia’s former king, and spending time together as a couple.

“I am who I am because of you. We may have our challenges, our stumbles and our disagreements, but as long as we are still together and love one another … #happyweddinganniversary to us,” she said in a post to celebrate their wedding anniversary.

Raghad is currently embroiled in a lawsuit brought by Taib’s two sons, Mahmud Abu Bekir and Sulaiman Abdul Rahman, over the patriarch’s wealth.

The men are seeking to stop the transfer of shares to her held by their father in Cahaya Mata Sarawak (CMS), a sprawling conglomerate founded during his earlier three-decade rule as Sarawak chief minister.

In their lawsuit, the brothers questioned the authenticity of Taib’s signature on documents transferring ownership of the shares to Raghad.

But as grief and condolences poured out, some were quick to raise a reminder of the alleged excesses of Taib’s long rule of Sarawak, which last year had a gross domestic product US$30.5 billion, according to state government data, from under US$1 billion in 1981 when Taib first took over as chief minister.

In reply to a condolence message by Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim on social media platform X, a netizen wrote: “Return the rightful assets to the people of Sarawak.”

Taib was widely seen as the chief architect of Sarawak’s economic rise. His supporters credited him for leveraging the state’s abundant land and natural resources to develop a strong base of commodity and agriculture exports such as natural gas and black pepper, while also driving a successful global tourism campaign.

Environmental and rights groups, however, have said economic expansion came at the expense of native communities and vast swathes of pristine forest cover that were mowed down to feed a burgeoning timber industry, expansion of oil palm plantations and multibillion-dollar dam projects.

While some will remember him as one of Sarawak’s founding fathers, the fact that he was in power for so long would have raised questions as to how he was able to sustain himself, said Adib Zalkapli, a Malaysia director with political risk consultancy BowerGroupAsia.

“The opposition campaign against him in his last decade in power as the chief minister had focused on his alleged abuse of power and corruption; naturally these accusations will not be forgotten,” Adib said.

Critics have long accused Taib of abusing his position as chief minister to enrich himself and his family, allegedly amassing billions of dollars in wealth and assets through nepotism while arranging for lopsided deals that fed the political elites.

Erstwhile rivals in the Democratic Action Party – which has since chummed up with Taib’s long-ruling Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu (PBB) under Anwar’s unity government – had in 2018 called for fresh probes into “many reports and allegations” of corruption linked to Taib during his time in power.

His eldest son Mahmud is the deputy group chairman of CMS – which has interests spanning construction and infrastructure development to IT – while Sulaiman is group managing director of the firm.

No one has so far been able to reliably measure the extent of Taib’s wealth. But a bitter divorce between Mahmud and his ex-wife gave a fleeting glimpse into the vast sums they have amassed.

Mahmud had in 2014 told the sharia High Court that he had bought a Ferrari Modena worth 950,000 ringgit (US$198,000) for his son when he was just eight years old in 1999, as an asset to provide for his then-wife Shahnaz Abdul Majid and their son when they separated that year.

He said then this was on top of a 2 million ringgit bungalow in an upscale neighbourhood in the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur, three luxury cars worth a total of 2.1 million ringgit and a 10,000 ringgit monthly allowance.

Shahnaz, the sister of Malaysian jazz queen Sheila Majid, had filed for a 400 million ringgit (US$83.5 million) divorce settlement, claiming that Mahmud had amassed assets worth 1 billion ringgit domestically, along with US$700 million in assets overseas.

Mahmud had denied the claim as “lies, distortions and misrepresentations”.

The sharia court later ordered Mahmud to pay a 30 million ringgit settlement.

Taib married a 29-year-old Raghad in 2010, a year after his Polish-born first wife Laila died of cancer at 68.

Little is known about Raghad, who was a former air hostess, according to earlier media reports, and has two sons from a previous marriage. Through her marriage to Taib, she and her sons gained Malaysian citizenship.

She was also granted voting rights and native status – which allows direct ownership of limited native land in Sarawak – sparking outrage among activists fighting against strict state regulations that they say make it difficult for natives to inherit ancestral land.

The Taib family history is filled with domestic dramas played out in public.

In his first few years in power, Taib – who took over as chief minister from his uncle in 1981 – had to fend off his uncle’s attempts to topple him amid a deepening rift between their two camps in the PBB.

The feud blew up in 1985 after Taib removed his uncle from the post of governor, leading to an attempted political coup two years later.

Taib pre-empted the coup by calling for snap state polls, which he won by a slim majority – a position that was later strengthened by a string of defections from his uncle’s camp.

Political analyst James Chin said Taib’s death marked the end of an era, but one that will not be soon forgotten.

“History will not be kind,” Chin said in a post on X.

Source : SCMP

Subscribe To Our Telegram Channel :
The Coverage Malaysia