Monday, December 12, 2011

Taib’s ‘clever’ daughter sits on 80 companies

Clare Rewcastle Brown | December 12, 2011


Taib Mahmud and his family own shares and directorship in 330 companies in Sarawak.
Last week, the Bruno Manser Fund (BMF) published some truly astonishing research.

The fund, which works to defend Sarawak’s rainforest and its peoples from devastation and criminal exploitation, has been examining the company ownership of the family of the Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud.

Earlier this year, Taib went on record claiming that his hugely wealthy family does not do business in Sarawak because he wants to avoid accusations of corruption and conflict of interest.

Acknowledging the huge wealth of his children and his siblings, he came up with the explanation that each and every one of them is exceptionally clever and that they had gone “outside the country” to earn their money, so he could avoid “being hounded” over “using my influence to enrich myself”.

The BMF research, which is based on official company records in Malaysia and abroad, demonstrates that these claims of the chief minister are simply untrue.

In fact, they amount to the most enormous lie. The chief minister and his family, it turns out, have stakes in over 330 companies in Sarawak, acting as directors in many of them.

These stakes are worth huge amounts of money. The share value of the Taib family alone in just 14 of these Sarawak-based companies amounts to RM4.6 billion.

This sum is clearly just a fraction of the families overall wealth, since it does not include the vast property assets abroad, the rest of the Malaysian assets and their 80 or so other companies worldwide.

‘Passive ownership’

Even as this information was released in Malaysia, the Taibs were facing separate questions in Canada.

Canada’s Global TV’s 16 X 9 programme produced a major exposé last weekend on Taib’s daughter Jamilah Taib Murray’s businesses in Ottawa and questioned whether they had benefited from the money made out of Sarawak.

Jamilah and her husband Sean (who acts as manager for numerous Taib family businesses) brought in lawyers to claim this was not so.

They did admit that Jamilah’s businesses (including the property company Sakto) were started with money given by Taib.

They also acknowledged that Taib’s brother Onn was an original director in the company alongside Jamilah and Abu Bekir, when they were mere students.

However, Jamilah intriguingly claimed that her business in Canada does not invest in any of the wealth she makes back in Sarawak.

In fact, she explained that her role in Sarawak is merely that of a “passive investor”.

‘Passive investor’

What are we to make of this extraordinary statement, that contradicts her own father’s description of the situation?

Taib painted a picture of his clever children who had actively made themselves rich through their “entrepreneurship”.

He even promoted a recorded interview with himself, entitled “Jamilah is rich because she is good”

So what does her lawyer mean by passive investor?

Her father said that she is a thrusting and active businesswoman.

But, could the truth be that Jamilah is just the investor in name and that she is holding those shares as a proxy for her father?

What is certain is that we are talking about a very serious investment indeed. The BMF research showed that Jamilah alone has stakes in well over 80 companies based in Sarawak. She is a director of many of them.

Indeed, along with her sister Hanifah (who equally owns a mass of companies and shares), Jamilah owns the largest stake in Sarawak’s biggest company CMS.

Given that CMS and all of Jamilah’s companies have benefited overwhelmingly from the contracts and permits from Taib, could Jamilah’s “passive ownership” in fact mean that she is merely a name on a piece of paper to disguise her father’s “exploitation of his influence to enrich himself”?

Exploiting Sarawak

Jamilah’s lawyers further claimed that her husband Sean (Hisham) has no interests at all in Sarawak.

We ask, therefore, why is Murray constantly trying to pick up business there from the state government?

For example, a recent investigation in Sarawak Report showed that Murray is a director of the company Premier Cottage (alongside Jamilah’s sister Hanifah), which was recently awarded a pivotal status in Taib’s pet Kuching Isthmus project. This would appear to be a pretty active role.

The shareholder of Premier Cottage is a mysterious foreign outfit called Pioneer City Enterprises.

Why are we not being told who is the beneficial owner of Pioneer City Enterprises, which Murray is so clearly linked to?

And if he is so anxious to keep out of Sarawak, how is it that Murray’s companies are behind the much-touted yet-to-be-built Kuching Tower project?

It turned out that the whole project management of that enterprise has been handed to Sakto-related companies working out of Murray’s Ottawa offices.

So, if the role of Jamilah and Murray is so passive in Sarawak, then who is the real mover and shaker in these major construction enterprises?

More questions than answers

Indeed, every time Taib and his family attempt to answer the glaring questions about the source of their wealth and the nature of their businesses in Sarawak, they raise even more questions in everyone’s minds.

And there is really only one convincing answer that makes perfect sense, which is that Taib is indeed corruptly exploiting his influence to do business and enrich himself in Sarawak – and that he is using his family in a clumsy way to conceal it!

Meanwhile, nothing could have illustrated better how little the people are getting from this form of government than a recent attempt to promote Taib by the Borneo Post.

After 30 years of the chief minister’s so-called “progress and development”, a period in which he has destroyed the forest and planted a million hectares of oil palm, Barisan Nasional’s latest big gesture to the Sarawak’s rural poor is plastic rain-water tubs!

In return for their priceless wood and their land, is this really all they get as a pre-election offering?

Taib’s “passive investment” in his people is the really shocking story here and he deserves no dividends at the coming polls.

Clare Rewcastle Brown is the founder-editor of SarawakReport and an FMT columnist.