Friday, March 22, 2013

No escape for Taib Mahmud

Kim Quek,22 March 2013

The embarrassingly weak retort by Sarawak Chief Minister Taib Mahmud to the crystal-clear video expose’ of his timber corruption has virtually confirmed his guilt.

Earlier, the London based NGO Global Watch (GW) produced a video that captures the conversation between GW’s undercover investigator and Taib’s first cousins, which stunningly revealed the truth of how Taib and his family make illicit fortunes from illegal disposal of Sarawak’s vast timber land.

The video was posted on YouTube, and featured in global TV network Aljazeera on March 18.

Posing as foreign investor to buy timber land for oil palm plantation, the GW investigator was talking to Fatimah Abdul Rahman and Norlia Abdul Rahman, daughters of Taib’s uncle Abdul Rahman Ya’acob (left), who preceded Taib as Sarawak’s chief minister.

The conversation runs as follows:

Fatimah: Ample Agro belongs to my family, but my sisters, my four elder ones are in the company.  The Land and Survey Department, they are the ones who issue this licence…..Of course it’s from the CM’s directive but I can speak to the CM very easily.
GW: Can you?
Fatimah: Yes.
GW: And you think he will agree?
Fatimah: Yeah, he was the one who gave us the land.  He is my cousin (laughs).  His mother and my father are sister and brother, siblings.  He is my cousin, so it’s quite easy.

Taib has no answer

The two sisters said Ample Agro, a shell company, owns 5,000 hectares of land given by Taib at a nominal sum.  They now propose to sell the company rather than the land and they were shown in the video to have asked for a price of RM4,000 per acre (fetching them a total price of RM50 million).
Among the joint owners are Norah Abdul Rahman who is the MP for Tanjong Manis, and Khatijah Abdul Rahman who is a sister-in-law of Prime Minister Najib Razak.

And what has Taib got to say with regards to his cousins’ claims in the video, when he was cornered by reporters, coming out of a meeting on March 20?

He was shown in a video clip as saying: “Do you know that cousin?  Did you find out what is the relationship between their father and me …….is it friendly or not?  We were fighting at one time. That cousin cannot be my most trusted…..but it’s up to you”.

What Taib implied was that he is in bad terms with his cousins’ family, and hence what his cousins said could have been maliciously conceived and should not therefore be given credibility.

But nothing is further from the truth.

Granted that Taib did cross sword with his uncle Abdul Rahman Ya’acob.  But that was in the eighties, when they clashed over overlapping interests in the award of government contracts and timber concessions.

However, the duo subsequently reconciled, and in a highly publicized event in 2008, they hugged each other, and declared that “blood is thicker than water”.

The fact that the bad blood between the two is already history and  that Rahman’s family have been enjoying the largesse dished out by Taib is manifested in their beneficial interests found in the sprawling business empire of Taib Mahmud.

Another indication of the excellent relationship between the two families is Taib’s personal preference for Rahman’s daughter Norah to stand in the parliamentary constituency of Tanjong Manis in the last general election

In short, Taib has told a blatant lie when he claims his cousins are still estranged from him.  In fact, there is absolutely no reason why his two cousins should vilify him with concocted tales such as these. After all, the ownership and nominal premium paid for the 5,000 Ha land can easily be ascertained in the land registry, and it would be extremely unwise to lie over matter such as these.
The fact that Taib has to resort to such an obviously false defence to shield himself is the clearest indication that he is guilty as charged.

Rogue lawyers

The 16-minute video also shows GW’s seperate conversations with two lawyers that further incriminate Taib over his personal corruption and appalling breaches of law.

One is Alvin Chong (right), lawyer for the businesses of Taib’s family as well as for the Sarawak government; and the other lawyer is Huang Lung Ong who is trying to sell land for his tycoon uncle, Hii Yii Peng, who is a close associate of Taib.

In the conversation with Alvin, the latter amplified on what the sisters had already told GW earlier regarding the illegal methods traditionally used by them to evade property gain tax.

Alvin also outlined a safe but illegal method commonly used by them to beat the government rule that local shareholdings in a company must not be less than 51%.

The other lawyer Huang was trying to sell a 32,000 land for RM230 million owned by Billion Venture, of which his uncle Hii is the majority shareholder.  He told GW point-blank that for the deal to go through, the vendor has to give Taib a personal commission of some 10% of the sales value, which is considered a standard practice.

When Taib was pressed by reporters to comment on these video revelations, he admitted that  he had seen the video, but dismissed it as “naughty” and not credible, and denied that he had any intermediary.

He said: “Could it not be someone trying to promote themselves to become an agent to get favours from me? It has nothing to do with me, right?”

Such irrelevant and vague answer to specific details of corruption, abuse of power and illegal evasion of taxes and statutory requirement explicitly exposed by prominent persons is as good as telling the world 'I  am guilty, so what?'

It is pertinent to note in this respect that lawyer Huang did not deny the veracity of the video conversation. In a phone interview by Malay Mail on March 19, he however described the conversation as mere “coffee shop” talk with the “foreign investor”.  He explained: "I was trapped. I was consulted on legal matters regarding land. I may have uttered some words out of frustration as he (the 'foreign investor') kept on asking me many questions. I was pressured.”

These words speak for themselves as regards the truthfulness of Huang’s revelation of Taib’s corrupt practices.

Last straw for UMNO?

As the corrupt ruler of Sarawak for 32 years, Taib Mahmud is of course no stranger to scandals.

In the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission’s shelves gathering dust, are thousands of pages of reports chronicling Taib’s sins in devouring the world’s richest rainforest to almost extinction, and in carving its vast territories to his family and business cronies for profiteering, at the expense of the desolate indigenous inhabitants.

But Taib has stood unscratched, despite numerous reports lodged against him over the years, protected obviously by his talisman, which is his unbroken record as champion politician delivering complete electoral victory for the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) – election after election.
However, this is extra-ordinary time, and the Global Watch video is an extra-ordinary expose’.

Since the video has gone viral a few days ago, its YouTube posting has attracted close to a million hits, meaning the vivid and irrefutable evidence of Taib’s mega corruption has already been exposed to more than a million homes, and it will continue to spread like wild fire until polling day.

Can Prime Minister Najib Razak afford to do nothing against Taib and allow him to stick out like a sore thumb and a living monument of Barisan Nasional’s corrupt rule in the run up to the coming election?

Wouldn’t  a defiant and unshakeable Taib the Chief Minister symbolize a corrupt BN regime that is unrepentant and unsalvageable?

Would this be the last straw that breaks the camel’s back on UMNO’s half a century of political hegemony?

~ Harakah Daily

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