Sarawak PKR calls for an open investigation against lawyers involved in Global Witness' exposé.
KUCHING: A new concern is emerging in Sarawak over lawyers who aid their clients to circumvent the law and abet in the illicit outflow of billions of ringgit annually ‘through’ Singapore.
According to reports, Malaysia has the third largest illicit outflow of funds. Between 2001 -2010 Malaysia lost RM285 billion and many here have long believed that the bulk of this came from Taib.
Taib and his 20-member family are collectively said to be worth RM64 billion, wealth which another international NGO, Bruno Manser Fund (BMF) claims was derived from “plundering the state during his three decades as Chief Minister of Sarawak”.
The Global Witness’ video interview of two lawyers – Kuching-based Alvin Chong and Huang Lung Ong from Sibu – gives one an idea of how deals were inked, funds siphoned out of the country and the extend of Taib’s crony practice.
The 16-minute video, excerpts of which were aired over Al Jazeera earlier this week, has gone viral and its content has stumped the nation.
Pointing this out, Sarawak PKR has called for the matter to be “investigated openly”.
State chief Baru Bian said: “The revelation is shocking in its candour and explicitness and on behalf of all right minded citizens of the state of Sarawak, I call upon the authorities to investigate this matter immediately and openly.
“Lawyers are shown to have revealed many practices that may have breached the laws of the country. This video shows lawyers who purportedly assisted in the creating of instruments and mechanisms to effect such alleged malpractices.”
In the video Global Witness had posed as a foreign investor seeking to buy land for oil palm plantations in Sarawak.
According to the London-based NGO, they had followed procedure and had approached the Regional Corridor Development Authority (RECODA), a government body charged with receiving foreign investment last year.
During a meeting in March 2012, they were directed to certain members of the Taib family who were looking to sell their company which was licensed to log and clear land for plantations.
The land belonged to Taib’s cousins, who were the daughters of former Sarawak Chief Minister Rahman Yakub.
In the ensuing interviews, caught by a hidden camera, the women detailed how the sale process would be handled, how the natives will be dealt with while the lawyers disclosed how taxes could be avoided and how ‘personal kickbacks’ was allegedly to be paid to Taib.
But Taib has questioned the authenticity of the video and accused the London-based organisation of trying to frame him.
“They are trying to frame people like me with evidence from (just) anybody … with evidence that can be interpreted (either way),” a frazzled Taib was reportde to have said on Tuesday, adding that his estranged ties with Rahman and family meant “that cousin cannot be my most trusted”.
Irrespective of Taib’s allegations against Global Witness, the pandora box on Taib’s extensive wealth and its origins has once again fallen open.
Last year BMF launched a global campaign to freeze Taib’s assets abroad. They’ve also enlisted the support of conservationists and environmentalists locally and abroad to put the squeeze on Taib and his crony logging companies.
Bian said the Rahman sisters’ explainations and Chong’s casual disclosure of how to dodge taxes and keep the 51 percent shareholdings which by law should be held by Malaysians merely underscored what was rumoured.
“Tellingly, they explain that it ‘has been done before’, making clear this is a common practice that is losing Sarawak billions (ringgit) a year and explains Malaysia’s status as the world third highest country for capital flight,” he said.
Bian was also affronted by ‘disgust’ expressed by Taib family members in regards to the natives and native customary rights (NCR) land.
In the video, the natives were described as squatters because the land belonged to the government.
“They said natives were squatters. This candid statement, if true, is not only legally questionable, but also morally despicable as she dismisses indigenous folk as squatters living on state land.
Meanwhile the Advocates Association of Sarawak reportedly said that it would “view the tape to establish breach of legal ethics.”
Said its president Khairil Azmi said: “If there is a breach of ethics, we will lodge a complaint with the inquiry committee which is an independent body.”