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Ahad, 18 Ogos 2019

Sarawak State Government Urged To Settle In Awang Tengah/ J C Fong Case To Avoid "Negative Image"

Sarawak Report has viewed evidence suggesting the previous Sarawak State Attorney General (Abdul Razak Tready, who retired in December 2016) may have been subpoenaed to give evidence against the state government to settle a case brought against its Land & Survey Department by official liquidators, who are handling the winding up of a logging and plantation company, Tanjung Tiara.


The company was ruled to be owing a plaintiff RM285 million by the Federal Court in 2009.  However, the Land & Survey Department subsequently attempted to revoke its licence to the original lease granted in 1994, through a Notice to Remedy an alleged Breach or Default, thus rendering the property worthless.

Sarawak’s deputy chief minister, Awang Tengah and the former state attorney general J C Fong have both been implicated in the dispute, in which liquidators have accused the two powerful state officials of conspiring to abuse their authority to thwart the ruling of the Federal court by arranging for the Land & Survey Department to subsequently issue the Notice under S.33 of the Sarawak Land Code.

This notice has prevented the liquidators selling the land unless the so called breach is rectified. The two powerful state officials are alleged to be acting on behalf of their purported business ally, who had lost the court judgements thereby triggering the liquidation of Tanjung Tiara to meet payments owed.

At the start of this month both Awang Tengah and J C Fong threatened defamation action against Sarawak Report for releasing information about the claims made in the case, which they said was ‘sub judice’. Sarawak Report refutes that claim.

It now emerges that the latest liquidators to handle the drawn out case, Messrs Ferrier Hodgson Monteiro & Heng, have taken members of the Land & Survey Department to court on the basis they incorrectly followed the advice of J C Fong and instructions of Awang Tengah’s Resource Management and Planning Department in revoking the licence on false grounds, and who were acting on their own rather than through proper channels.

It is understood that Datuk Tready made clear that the matter was only belatedly referred up to him after the event and his advice had been that proper procedure demanded that the decision in this matter ought to have been taken by the minister of a separate government department entirely, which was the Minister for Land Development, James Masing.

Masing has reportedly disclaimed any knowledge of the Notice issued by Land and Survey Department and confirmed he was not included in the decision making. Sarawak Report has also learnt that Masing himself wrote to the Government Chief Secretary  to carry out a thorough investigation into this matter in 2013.

Following the above, Sarawak Report has seen evidence that Tready himself advised the Land & Survey Department to withdraw its Notice to Remedy, indicating the government could not provide solid evidence there had been a breach or that instructions had been channelled appropriately.

The Land & Survey Department Director at the time, Sajeli bin Kipli, told Tready that the man behind the matter was J C Fong, even though J C Fong had been replaced by Tready as State Attorney General since 2008 and by then was merely an advisor. Fong’s private firm appeared to have an interest in that the owner of Tanjung Tiara was a client and a business colleague of his alleged collaborator Awang Tengah.

Urged To Settle

Given the glaring irregularities and apparent conflicts in the case Datuk Tready has advised several parties and the state government, according to our information, that in his opinion the Land & Survey Department ought to settle the matter by returning the lease to Tanjung Tiara so that the liquidators can proceed to carry out the orders of the Federal Court.

It is believed the former State AG Abdul Razak Tready has made clear he is concerned about being forced to give evidence as a witness in a case that would not reflect well on the state government and which the Land & Survey Department might lose.

Finally, Sarawak Report is aware of a comment by Datuk Tready to the effect that he is concerned that the abuses in this case may not be an isolated incident, but that there might be further similar abuses where proper instructions were not gained through the correct legal channels, as in this case.

Despite these concerns J C Fong is believed to be insisting the Sarawak State Government should defend the case.

Can of Worms

Owning to the decade long wrangle, the unpaid damages awarded by the Federal Court of RM285 million is now calculated to have risen to over RM600 million in terms of interests and further costs.

The case, if it reaches court, is likely to lift the lid on several issues of serious concern over the handling of logging and plantation licences under Taib Mahmud, which Sarawak Report and native rights lawyers have long referred to.

 

   

   

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Ahad, 28 Julai 2019

Sarawak's J C Fong And Awang Tengah Accused Of Conspiracy To Defraud Over A RM285 Million Court Judgment - EXCLUSIVE

Sarawak Report has viewed a damning legal dossier implicating Sarawak’s previous Planning and Resources Minister and present Deputy Chief Minister, Awang Tengah, and Sarawak’s former State Attorney General and present State Legal Advisor, J C Fong, which includes a police report and statutory declaration by one of Sarawak’s own former official liquidators as well as representations to the MACC and Attorney General.


Assembled by a successful litigant in a land dispute, these statements accuse Awang Tengah, of conspiring to defraud him of hundreds of millions of ringgit awarded by the courts on behalf of that minister’s own business ally, Ha Tiung Noon, who is an ex Director of the company at the heart of the allegations Tanjung Tiara Sdn Bhd.

The complainant (the original owner of Tanjung Tiara) claims Awang Tengah enlisted the support of Governor Taib Mahmud’s long-time legal advisor, the former State Attorney General J C Fong, as the key architect of the fraud. Fong’s former firm Reddi & Co were subsequently hired to represent Ha Tiung Noon.

Central to the allegation is what is deemed to be a fraudulent back-dated contract, together with a forged official stamp, apparently drawn up with the assistance of J C Fong, in order to obstruct the court ordered liquidation and sale of Tanjung Tiara (to pay the debts owed to the complainant) and to provide an excuse for the Land Registry to rescind its plantation licence granted in 1994.

Both J C Fong and Awang Tengah are accused of abusing their public positions and dragging senior state officials into the plan. Alleged minutes sent by J C Fong to Awang Tengah commented on a meeting between the two men to outline a plan of action to thwart the court order by forfeiting the licence, and those minutes are referred to in a subsequent letter from a senior Miri Land & Survey Department official back to Awang Tengah, reporting that a decision had duly been made to threaten forfeiture of the licence.

Shortly after making a police report about these matters in 2012 the former liquidator, who complained the above actions were illegal, was forcibly relocated from Sarawak to mainland Malaysia.  The liquidator testifies that a detailed statutory declaration he provided to the Kuching police just before the general election in March 2018 has likewise been ignored.

In that statutory declaration the now retired official, Latip Bin Mohammad, accuses the duo of “conspiracy, abuse of power and fraud”:

“Based on my investigation and inquiries throughout these years, one can see very clearly that there was a scheme of conspiracy, fraud and abuse of power motivated by   HTN [Han Tiung Noon] masterminded by DJCF [Datuk J C Fong] with the assistance of Datu Sudarsono Osman [former Director of Land & Survey Department] and Dato Wan Alwi [Permanant Secretary to Resources and Planning & Environment Department] while YB Datuk Amar Awang Tengah Ali Hasan was behind the scene[s] to execute his scheme to forfeit the asset and return it to HTN”


states Latip Bin Mohammad in papers which have now been sent to the MACC and Malaysia’s new Attorney General as part of the filing of a criminal complaint against some of Sarawak’s most powerful players.

Tanjung Tiara Sdn Bhd

Central to the dispute is a 4,856 hectare plantation concession in Niah that was handed out to the businessman and present complainant Tan Yak Soon for a modest premium to the state of just under RM3 million in 1994. Tan also owns other plantations under the company Seatex Sdn Bhd.

As registered in leaked Land Registry documents

The value of the land has, as in all these matters, turned out to be far higher in today’s figures (without taking into account the value of any timber extracted in the first place).

In 2009 two companies owned by Tan (Paragro Sdn Bhd & Southwind Development)  successfully sued his former fellow director and general manager Ha Tiung Noon for RM285 million based on a business dispute.

Ha Tiung Noon was by then the owner of Tanjung Tiara and payment of the debt relied on the sale of the property under the lease, which was by then valued at RM190 million at an open auction conducted at the time (that purchase foundered as the details of the alleged fraud emerged).

Ha appealed the judgement, but it was upheld by both the Appeal and Federal Courts resulting in the appointment of official liquidators to sell the licence and retreive the debt. It was during this period of appeals that the alleged conspiracy is said to have taken place, as Ha approached his alleged business ally Awang Tengah for help and met the minister together with the lawyer J C Fong on 8th February 2011.

Minutes drawn up by J C Fong and sent to Awang Tengah on 10th February 2011 record that Fong had studied the provisions of the original licence granted in 1994 and noted there were certain terms that required a given percentage of the plantable land to be planted by a certain date. He thought that these provisions could be exploited if it could be claimed the company had failed to comply.

Abuse Of Ministerial Power?

The minutes duly record that Ha had claimed verbally at this meeting (without producing any apparent evidence to prove it) that it was indeed the case that the company (of which he himself had been the Director and General Manager at the time) had failed to fulfil those requirements.

Ha claimed that a smaller fraction of the area had been planted than was allowed.  At which point J C Fong advised that the liquidator could be challenged by the Land & Survey Department to fulfil the requirements of the lease within 90 days on pain of having the licence forfeited by the state.

Given the liquidator was in no position to carry out the demand, the plan is alleged to have been to lean on Land & Survey Department officials to thus confiscate the licence and then return it later to Ha without the debt (which had by then risen above RM300 million and is now claimed to exceed half a billion) having been paid.

This advice was then apparently passed on to Awang Tengah’s officials to lobby in favour of, despite the fact that the matter does not come under the purview of his ministry but rather that of the infrastructure and development minister, Deputy Chief Minister James Masing, who later confirmed he was not made aware of these decisions according to the complaint.

A minute sheet sent to Awang Tengah the following month on 24th March by his own permanent secretary at the Planning & Resources Department referred to a decision by his officials based on J C Fong’s advice concluding that a breach had indeed been committed over the lease.

To back up the claims about the inadequate planting it is also alleged that the conspirators, together with Land & Survey officials who were dragged into the matter, falsely claimed there had been a visit conducted to the land the week before and concluded it had not been properly planted.  The complainant says there is no evidence this Land & Survey Department’s highly coincidental visit actually took place and adds the assessment could not have been done in a single day.

Forged Document?

But, far more egregiously, it is claimed J C Fong also advised on the drawing up of a bogus contract with another company which was likewise designed to frustrate the liquidator’s plans to sell the land.

This document was never cited in any of the court hearings about the case and nor was it made available to the liquidators appointed to wind up the company in January 2011. However, it claimed to be an agreement that was signed and stamped months before in October 2010 (between when Ha Tiun Noon lost in the Appeal and then the Federal court).

This agreement contracted a third company called Osun Timber Sdn Bhd (owned by a relative and a business proxy of Ha Tiung Noon) to manage the plantation and purchase palm oil at a fixed very low price for the next 25 years on the stated understanding that in return Osun Timber would complete the alleged ‘inadequate planting’ on the site.

Critically, the contract also contained a penalty of RM50 million if Tanjung Tiara Sdn Bhd pulled out of the deal. The effect of the contract was to dramatically undermine the sale value of the plantation not only because of the crippling termination terms but because of the agreement to sell the product at a mere RM30 per ton when the market price for palm oil at the time was RM500-800 per ton.

There was another apparent motive, which was the agreement stated that only about half the plantable land remained unplanted, handily supporting the claim of a breach of the terms of the lease suggested by J C Fong.

To the contrary, when the Official Receiver visited the following October 2011 he concluded that all the plantable land had in fact long since been planted and there had been no such breach and there was no land left vacant for Osun Timber to plant. He concluded the contract and the claims of the alleged breach were in fact a scam to prevent the sale:

“Based on my observation during our site inspection of TTSB Plantation [Tanjung Tiara on 30.10.11 and after hearing a briefing by Mr Edwin Lau, Plantation Advisor, on the same date, I came to the conclusion that there was/is no plantable area remained unplanted except steep hills and rocky areas which are unplantable.
No complaint was made by any party regarding the said purported breach except by Ha Tiung Noon, the proprietor himself after TTSB was wound up. The ulterior motive of him reporting the alleged breach to Datuk J C Fong himself is highly suspicious  and illogical because DJCF being the Legal Advisor to the State Attorney-General’s Chambers has nothing to do with Ha Tiung Noon whatsoever”.


The lawyers who have now filed a criminal complaint against J C Fong and Awang Tengah based regarding the so-called ‘Osun document’ say that it was in fact drawn up some time after the date of the 8th of February 2011 meeting between Ha Tiung Noon, Awang Tengah and J C Fong, even though it was back-dated to 26th October 2010 before the final court appeal was lost by Ha.

They say this is proven by the fact that the document cites a Borneo Post article detailing the price of palm oil on the open market which was only published four months later on the very same day as the meeting, 8th February 2011!

Not so clever tell-tale mistake? The documented allegedly stamped and dated 26th October 2010 contained a reference to an article in the Borneo Post that was not published till four months later on February 8th 2011.

Rubber Stamped!

Moreover, the complainant’s legal team point out that the Miri stamping office where the document was supposedly officially recorded say it never stamped such an agreement and nor did any other stamping office.  The stamp has been found to be a fake, they say, using a rubber stamp to forge it while government stamps are made of metal.

Because of the so-called Osun agreement the attempts to liquidate and sell off the property duly failed in 2011.  The liquidator claims that relevant seniors in his department in KL were next pressured by influential players in Sarawak, namely those working for Awang Tengah, to interfere in his management of the case preventing him from making any further deicsions about the sale.

These interferences were against the law and Latip Bin Mohammad states that he was forced to file a complaint and a police report to avoid becoming implicated himself in the wrong doing. However, his whistle-blowing only resulted in him being transfered by his department out of his home state of Sarawak two years before his retirement at the start of 2012.

Land & Survey Department Falls Into Line

With the wheels thus in motion a key letter was next recorded as having been sent by the Director of Sarawak’s Land & Survey Department itself, Datu Sajeli bin Kipli, to the head office of the official receiver in KL on 4th April 2012 duly demanding that the ‘breach’ committed by Tanjung Tiara be remedied in 90 days or the Department would indeed revoke the licence under S.33A of the Sarawak Land Code – just as J C Fong had mapped out on behalf of his client the year before together with Minister Awang Tengah.

Four years later, says Latip bin Mohammad, Sajeli bin Kipli informally confessed to him at a reunion in Sibu in August 2012 that he had been pressured to issue the order by his superiors and that he had it on record that the instruction came from J C Fong:

“He [Sajeili bin Kipli] repeatedly told me that Datuk JC Fong was the mastermind and YB Datuk Amar Awang Tengah Ali Hasan was the person behind the scene”


states Latip about that conversation in the statutory declaration he signed in April 2018 and submitted to the authorities just before the election.  He concludes in damning terms that he believes as a result of his experiences that corruption exists at the highest levels in the state of Sarawak and that the repeated claims by the present chief minister Abang Johari that he is committed to cleaning it up are bogus:

“I do not believe the State government was/is sincere and truthful in achieving zero corruption in the State of Sarawak because so far no actions are taken against them [the alleged conspirators] and all the culprits are still at large. I was misled by the public statements made by our State leaders and MACC to report the fraud and cheating [in his earlier police report]. As a result instead of being rewarded I was transferred, punished and tortured till I lost almost everything…..

The conduct of the senior government officers and minister acting above the law has severely tarnished the credibility and integrity of the State Government and their action taken to fabricate evidence without considering public interest has set a bad example to imply that corruption has already become the culture of Sarawak.
As such they have no fear of any investigation either by the MACC or the police because of their mighty power as the senior government officers and minister. The fact that the State Attorney General is actively defending the suspects for issuing the baseless Notice to Remedy Breach or Default of the alleged breach is clear evidence that the State government led by YAB Datuk Patinggi Abang Haji Abdul Rahman Zohari bin Tun Abang Haji Openg is strongly supporting corrupt practices and abuse of power in the State of Sarawak”


As all Malaysia knows, the present MACC leaders in Sarawak recently announced they have received no new or recent evidence of corruption in the state government since previous investigations, which they announced closed back in 2013.  Perhaps this example escaped these hot shot investigators?

The fact is, that this case represents just one example of how everyone knows Sarawak has been run.  This is just one criminal complaint that has now been made public, so what are the MACC, police and Attorney General’s chambers going to do about it and when will they investigate all the other glaring irregularities associated with the Taib family ‘autonomous kingdom’ supported by his band of loyal henchmen (like J C Fong and Awang Tengah) in East Malaysia?

Sarawak Report is seeking responses but has yet to immediately reach all the parties concerned.

   

   

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Ahad, 14 Julai 2019

1MDB Probe Closes In On Sarawak

Back last year Sarawak Report predicted the 1MDB scandal had only just begun to show its impact on the world of finance.  Since then of course Goldman Sachs has felt the pain as investigations have reached into the top of the bank, which now faces criminal charges and demands of billions in damages. BSI has been closed, Falcon Bank and its former Swiss CEO is under criminal investigation and numerous others have been fined and censured.


Now, this week it has emerged that formal investigations have also begun in America into the conduct of the already beleaguered Deutsche Bank, one of 1MDB’s key bankers that was directly involved in transfering billions of dollars to the ‘joint venture’ partner PetroSaudi (most of the money was diverted into Najib’s fixer, Jho Low’s Coutts Bank account in Zurich).

It was also Deutsche Bank that moved to raise another billion for the fund as it struggled to repay debts in 2014 – based on alleged collateral held at BSI Bank Singapore that turned out merely to be worthless ‘units’.  After Sarawak Report exposed the misinformation about the so-called Brazen Sky account Deutsche Bank pulled out early from the loan.

A former Goldman Sach’s employee of Deutsche Bank in KL at the time has now been widely cited as having been questioned about the matter. Tan Boon Kee was previously a colleague of Goldman’s indicted South East Asia boss Tim Leissner who is now awaiting sentence before moving to Deutsche Bank, which she has also now left.

However, there is further history at Deutsche Bank that is likely to connect to this affair because it was from Deutsche Bank also that Leissner recruited Roger Ng (pictured above leaving court in New York) back in 2005 thanks to his reputation as a banker well connected to the powerful players of Malaysia and a history of successful bond deals.

Roger Ng worked closely with Leissner in connecting Goldman first to the Terengganu Investment Authority and then to the bonds raised by 1MDB, which were largely plundered immediately after being raised ostensibly for public investment purposes. He was arrested in KL and then extradited to the US earlier in the year to assist with the money laundering investigations. Roger Ng is also reported as having been close to Ms Tan  Boon Kee:

Tan has also been questioned about her links with former Goldman Sachs Group Inc. banker Roger Ng, according to the people. Ng, who has been interviewed by authorities, introduced Low to Tan, a Goldman Sachs alumnus who joined Deutsche Bank in 2013 and became one of the lead bankers on the 1MDB account, the people said. [Bloomberg]


Roger Ng’s connections with Deutsche Bank may very well lead to an examination of the bank’s other activities in Malaysia, in particular extraordinary close ties with the company owned by the family of the Governor of Sarawak, Taib Mahmud, which Sarawak Report and others have long since queried.

The bank and CMS are the joint dominant share holders of the major investment fund Kenanga Holdings. Deutsche Bank also acts as a trustee for Sogo Holdings, the Jersey based off-shore company that acts as the secret (until exposed by Sarawak Report) parent company behind Taib family properties in North America and probably elsewhere.

Deutsche Bank has failed to answer why it entered into such arrangements with blatantly wealthy politically exposed persons such as the Taibs.

And if Roger Ng’s trail of activities were to be followed Sarawak Report has also repeatedly highlighted another Sarawak connection built during his time at Goldman Sachs, namely the 2011 Labuan bond deal raised for the State of Sarawak ostensibly to fund its massive industrialisation plans under SCORE.

Years before Goldman was making lucrative profits out of the corrupt 1MDB bonds the bank was already setting a pattern with the so-called Equisar bond for Sarawak, criticised at the time for being every bit as secretive, unaccounted for and profitable for the bank:

As Goldman looks to replace those [US] profits it could certainly do far worse than the trade it privately completed just over a week ago for an investment company owned by the state of Sarawak in Malaysia. The sole books deal for Equisar must have turned rival Asia-based DCM originators and structurers green with envy.
Goldman’s fees on the US$800m three-tranche 15-year are rumoured to be anywhere from 1.25% to 1.75%. That’s a US$10m–$14m payday from one deal, the kind of wedge it might take a rival bond house more than two dozen standard G3 syndicated bonds to bring in – and there’s also the possibility of a juicy follow-on commission to be earned from Equisar.
According to the offering circular, proceeds from the offer may be invested in “eligible investments” comprising infrastructure projects in Sarawak or “an investment in any US dollar-denominated note, fund or other instrument arranged by Goldman Sachs International or its affiliate under which the issuer will receive periodic payment(s)”.
[Reuters]


Soon state government critics were levelling very similar complaints about lack of clarity in how all this and other money had been spent that one was to hear from later critics of 1MDB.

As the DAP opposition leader YB Chong has made clear almost half the entire state budget is now apparently dedicated to funding this and other secretive loans raised by the state government with no accountability provided under the category of ‘Contributions To Approved Agencies Trust Fund’.

Earlier this year court proceedings (levied against him by the state government which accused him of defaming it by raising such matters) finally enabled Chong as an elected representative of the people to gain crucial information about how half the state’s public money has been spent.  He has identified five such loans raised by the government in the name of state owned companies Sarawak Capital Assets, SSG Capital Resources, SGOS Capital Holdings, Equisar and Aquasar – all Malaysian limited companies.

Respectively these companies had raised USD350m, USD800m. USD800m, USD800m and RM1.5bn according to the information finally prized out by Chong and it is costing the local taxpayer around one and a half billion a year to pay the interest on these loans even though there has been no record of where these companies have spent the money.

There is now allegedly proper probe being conducted by the MACC under the new government that ought to shed light on this extraordinary sector of the Sarawak State budget that has remained unaccounted for despite eating up over half the entire annual spending of the state.

The story of Sarawak’s bondsand the role played by these two major banks in the murky finances of the state threaten to be every bit as scandalous as 1MDB, for which doing business with the Taibs would have certainly provided a handy training ground.

 

   

   

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Sabtu, 6 Julai 2019

Time To Investigate Abu Bekir's 'Payments In Kind'

More details on the mysterious hand outs of huge areas of the Sarawak land mass to the son of the former chief minister and present governor are coming to light as Sarawak Report reviews leaked documentation and public records. The MACC should take things further with a full investigation.


Sarawak Report has now identified at least 20 companies linked to Abu Bekir and his business partner Chris Chung which received at least 50 thousand hectares of land at nominal rates mainly in the period 2008-2010.

Payments in kind to a raft of companies linked to Abu Bekir

See more concessions:

These long leases were provided at nominal pepper corn rates and listed as being ‘Payments in Kind’ in the Land Registry.  They were cited as being released for conversion into oil palm (therefore providing the opportunity for lucrative logging as part of the ‘biomass clearance’ implied in the concessions).  A further two thousand hectares of prime urban development land was also handed over in the same way.

Dodgy Bridge Contracts

Reports at the time suggested that these offers of land were made as part payment of a budget over-run by the CM’s son’s company, Titanium Management, on a huge series of bridge-building contracts offered by his father’s state government, which he failed to complete but nevertheless demanded almost double the original contract price for in payment.

Why the decision was made to offer all these contracts to this one rookie company that was 59% owned by Abu Bekir with Chung as the other main partner (plus a former director of public works, Michael Ting) ought surely to be explored, particularly in the light of the disappointing outcome.

The decision to then offer land in lieu of RM250 million allegedly outstanding on this payment to the value of what the opposition party DAP conservatively calculated as being worth at least a billion ringgit also merits scrutiny.

In short: how was the budget allowed to get so out of control? Why did the state agree to meet Titanium’s increased demands, despite the uncompleted contract? And why was a chunk of the excess payment made in valuable land concessions conservatively calculated as being worth at least four times in price?

Get Out Clause?

Under the previous corrupted BN federal government, investigators tasked with examining the extraordinary and outrageous hand-outs of concessions and contracts to Taib’s family, of which this is just one example, concluded that an interpretation of legislation that requires ministers to absent themselves from voting on measures where they hold a personal interest meant law enforcers could not question these donations because Taib had left the room to allow his juniors to vote them through.

The reformed, post GE14 MACC ought to re-visit these extraordinary conclusions and pass details of the situation to the AG’s office for a better determination on that law!

Meanwhile, Sarawak Report has made some other observations that highlight further the extraordinary conflicts of interest and lack of due process involved in these hand-outs to Abu Bekir.  Take for example the case of the Radiant Lagoon concession involving a chunk of 4,5oo hectares of heavily wooded land bordering on the Mulu World Heritage Site.

Although the supposed ‘Payments in Kind’ were justified under the guise of a settlement with Titanium Management, 59% owned by Abu Bekir, Radiant Lagoon was in fact 99% owned by Abu Bekir.  Therefore, the alleged repayment was essentially being made to a different entity than the party the state allegedly owed money to with the money going straight into the son of the CM’s pocket.  How come?

There have in fact been numerous fluctuations of declared directorships and shareholdings over the years between these two men and Michale Ting, relating to the plethora of companies based at the so called Titanium Tower headquarters in Kuching, which bears all the hallmarks of a nominee arrangement. The reasons for these changes of declared ownerhip and the evidence of purchases and payments ought to be examined by the tax authorities at the very least.

Indeed, just this January Abu Bekir surrendered his shares and directorship of Titanium Management itself, handing apparent ownership over to the other two men. Already by 2018 he had apparently downsized his shareholding to a 50/50 arrangement with Chung, then in January Ting acquired Abu Bekir’s half as Taib’s son apparently exited from the scene altogether. Rich pickings for a former salaried director of public works!

59% Shareholding for Abu Bekir back in 2011

Flipping shares?

RM471 per hectare!

Another extraordinary feature of all these land deals with Abu Bekir is that in each case the plantation concessions were valued at a mere RM471 per hectare, no matter what the condition of the land or where it was.

How much work therefore did the state valuers put into considering the actual value of the land before they so eagerly signed it over to the then chief minister’s son at what was a plainly ludicrously undervalued uniform rate, especially given the precious hoards of uncut timber that were apparently not even counted in the deal?

Critics have further pointed out numerous other sweeteners and concessions offered to Abu Bekir relating to these concessions, including the lengthening of the leases beyond the normal period to give plenty of time for the CM’s son to deal with the enormous bounty.  After all, the state was also at the same time forcing other huge contracts and concessions on the over-burdened young man, who not only owns a chunck of the giant CMS but also controls Sarawak Cable (the recipient of all the cabling contracts from the state’s hydro-electric projects) and numerous other public construction projects as well as aviation and telecommunications contracts to touch on just a sample of the Taib family economic interests in the state.

Abu Bekir is now trying to pretend to the courts, who have insisted he pay maintainance to his former wife, that he is not the wealthy man she has made him out to be. In fact, he wants to pay her nothing at all and has so far succeeded in not shelling out a single ringgit.

The MACC have a duty not only to this abandoned lady, but also to the public of Sarawak to conduct a full and thorough investigation into Abu Bekir’s handouts from his father’s administration, before moving on to all the other myriad contracts and concessions offered to the rest of this octopus of a family that has illegally wrapped its tentacles around the Sarawak economy for decades.

Pretending like Najib’s former AG that investigations have been completed (in exactly 24 hours) and ‘there has been no wrong-doing’ is likely to bring the same result for all concerned as it did for Najib and his colleagues when it gets to the next election.

   

   

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Selasa, 2 Julai 2019

PAS And UMNO Bid To Concoct Rules And Religion To Suit Themselves - COMMENT

The jaw-dropping behaviour and statements by politicians from PAS and UMNO in recent days and weeks provide a useful eye-opener (for anyone who might still need it) as to the sort of government Malaysians would be treated to with them back in charge.


The self-proclaimed religious party, PAS which now admits it was secretly in cahoots with Najib before the last election, whilst pretending otherwise, has already astonished the world with a series of outrageous self-justifications.  This includes the claim by president Hadi Awang that Islam permits party leaders to lie (about a recording admitting they received money from UMNO) if it benefitted the party’s political aspirations.

Hadi then proceeded to lie again about the terms of the settlement of its libel claim against Sarawak Report (for telling the truth about those payments) and denied PAS had agreed to pay the legal costs of its aborted action.

PAS leaders went one better today and made up another shocking and apparently bogus ‘Islamic’ claim when they pronounced that according to religion MPs should not be expected to declare their assets:

Islam does not allow the declaration of wealth as this would raise security concerns, says PAS deputy president Datuk Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man [Malay Mail]


Really?

As Malaysians were still choking over that one a whole group of the party’s new UMNO buddies also came out of the woodwork today resisting the same requirement that they should declare their worth, which is of course a key measure under the new government to prevent corruption.

Why focus on the country’s leaders when they could be bullying lowly civil servants about such matters instead, demanded one Sarawak flunky of Abdul Taib Mahmud?  This was a disgraceful ‘witchhunt’ he went on to claim.

Apparently, politicians should be allowed to be massively corrupt and accumulate vast riches without the electors who put them into office being made aware of this tasty information.  Other former BN characters have raced to join in on the complaints.

Don’t let them game the system – they want back in control

It is a reminder of the sort of government Malaysians would now be suffering under, manned by multi-millionaire kleptocrats and supported by phoney men of religion, making up bogus doctrine to justify thefts from the people, were UMNO and PAS back in charge.

The defiance of norms of behaviour and indeed the basic rules has continued apace with this bunch. Perhaps, given the enormity of the charges and evidence they are faced with, they see little choice, apart from pleading guilty.

Yet the brass neck reveals an arrogance born out of years of being able to get away with anything. Former PM Najib, for example, is being tried for dozens of gross crimes and yet the man has not even had the decency to surrender up his seat to at least spare parliament and his constituents their blushes. Guilty or not, in any respectable democracy a man formally charged with such crimes would step down from parliament until the matter had been settled in court.

However, the UMNO tradition is to put the man first and public interest second, it seems.

Not only has the ‘honourable’ member for Pahang not stepped down, but he had the audacity to petition the court to give him days out of his time consuming and hugely expensive trial to go to parliament to debate this very matter of whether wealth (his his case alleged vast and illegally acquired wealth) should be declared.

Thankfully, the court denied such a ludicrous request. However, time and again this filthy rich fellow (who claimed he could not fund bail and yet funds more than ten barristers on his team) has managed to obstruct and delay the conduct of this trial as his various lawyers cook up excuses day after day to slow things down.

Najib does not want to ever go to jail, of course. However, what is amazing at least to international observers is how a man charged with such obnoxious crimes has not been kept inside on remand in the first place?  The answer appears to be because of his purportedly stolen riches, which have enabled him to find that bail money after all.

It gets worse. Even if Najib were to be eventually found guilty by the court (which would appear inevitable given the power of the evidence so far) he apparently expects to be allowed to wander around free on bail, pending two more rounds of appeals.

That was the old way in UMNO Malaysia.  A poor mother stealing food for a child would definitely have to appeal from behind bars.  However,  the criminally rich expect to mark bail using what has been judged to be stolen money.

If Guilty, Both Rich And Poor Should Be Jailed Not Bailed

 

New Malaysia should make clear that justice should be the same for all – people should be remanded according to their alleged crimes and not according to their pockets and if found guilty jailed not bailed.

In no sensible democracy on earth could such an outrageous concession be allowed for someone convicted of monstrous thefts walk free. Yet, in Malaysia ordinary folk can languish in jail for years waiting for their trials to be completed, whilst those found guilty of abusing the trust of the people and stealing in public office are apparently expected to be able to do just that.

The appeals process is there to pick up on potential miscarriages of justice.  However, if found guilty that person ought appeal from jail and not  abuse the process (using stolen money) to continue to create disruption, buy propaganda and cheerleaders, posture as politicians and even make up religious doctrines to justify themselves, instead of taking punishment well-deserved.

It’s exactly what these UMNO/PAS leaders will do, if they can get away with it. It’s their last chance saloon, so of course they will act like dangerous bandits in a shoot out.

Look how Najib’s fellow operator, ex-Deputy PM Zahid Hamidi, has reacted to the piling on of further charges of corruption on his part. Far from allowing the forces of law and order to do their part he has grabbed back the leadership of the party, hoping to blast his way out of the bunker he is in with whatever amunition he can muster.

Malaysia has changed its leadership with the foremost aim of restoring law and order, yet still too much of the past remains and these political throw backs and manufacturers of false doctrines of religion are taking full advantage. Treat these dangerous and desperate folk too lightly and they will only too readily regain hope of evading the law and regaining their status, by whatever means.

If they are allowed to get away with it, Malaysia will be treated to worse even than before. Government by crooks considered above the law, aided and abetted by self-appointed prelates, making mockery of a fine religion as they concoct doctrines on the spur of the moment, as and when it suits them.

A kleptocracy and theocracy would be rolled into a toxic compact for the benefit of themselves and abuse of everyone else.

   

   

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Rabu, 26 Jun 2019

Sarawak's Timber Industry Is Finished Says Devastating Secret Assessment

Sarawak Report has acquired details of a secret report, recently commissioned from a leading global consultancy, advising the state government that a radically changed approach is needed to manage its once resource rich economy, thanks to the careless and greedy destruction of previously luxuriant forests.


The findings make grave reading, painting a scenario whereby bad management and greed have exhausted one of the key income streams for the state, namely its natural resources, whilst much-trumpeted ‘industrialisation and modernisation’ drives have largely failed in the hands of family companies linked to politicians and their cronies.

The report explains the backdrop to remarks by Malaysia’s finance minister, Lim Guan Eng, last week, who shocked many in Kuching by predicting that Sarawak could find itself bankrupt within three years based on the present state of its finances.

In refuting that judgement the present Sarawak chief minister, Abang Johari tellingly made no reference to the state’s timber industry, its vast palm oil plantations or the million of hectares given over to so-called industrial timber (fast growing foreign species criticising for rapidly exhausting the soil base).

Nor did Abang Johari refer to the supposed income generating potential of the string of mega-dams which the state has continued to borrow billions of ringgit to finance on the dubious expectation of making the money back out of industrial development.

Instead, the chief minister claimed that the state will rely on continuing oil revenues to keep it out of debt – a telling admission of the failure of other sources of revenue that ought to be relied on by the state.

Sarawak’s Timber Supply In Free Fall

According to details of the confidential report, which have been made available to federal government ministers as well as state leaders, rampant and unsustainable logging has depleted the available timber supply for mills and exports in Sarawak by over 70% since the year 2000.

The report says it has relied on official statistics to compile the bleak picture, which concludes that the supply will shortly fall futher to 90% (producing just a tenth of the wood supplied in the year 2000).

Edward Miller, Asia-Pacific Regional Campaigns Officer for the Building and Wood Workers’ International (BWI) union concurs:

“Sarawak conducted a ‘firesale’ of its natural resources. They gave it away for a fraction of the real value instead of using the proceeds to invest in decent jobs for Sarawakians and profits were sent into offshore property markets to make capital gains for a select few. Recent levies imposed by the Government and declining revenue from the sector could indicate there’s a growing crisis in the industry. 


he told Sarawak Report.

Plantations Are A Failure

Another headline from the detailed report, prepared as a basis for a forward strategic plan for future forests and plantation management commissioned by the state, is its devastating conclusion that the attempt to convert a million hectares of natural rainforest to so-called industrial plantations (such as the vast Grand Perfect Acacia Plantation, Asia’s largest) has largely failed.

Owing to poor technique on the part of the various family and business cronies who received the concessions from present Governor Taib Mahmud, these plantations are not finacially viable the experts say, despite the immense earth works and greenhouse gases realeased by the exercise. Therefore, little revenue can be expected.

Equally troubling is the report’s assessment of Sarawak’s oil palm plantations, which are described as heavily under-performing owing to poor management and agricultural practices.  Apart from a few exceptions these plantations do not begin to qualify for global sustainability criteria the experts have found.

In a plunging market for palm oil it means that Sarawak’s producers will again struggle to make significant profits against their competitors or produce any significant revenue for the state, according to the experts behind the report.

The blame for this disastrous state of affairs lies wholly and squarely at the door of the present GPS state government, whose ruling figures and families have for the past decades sponsored and benefitted from the rampant destruction of Sarawak’s valuable woodlands.

Top quality timber has been chopped down and shipped out at pepercorn prices to enrich a handful of tax evading companies in a frenzy of landgrabbing and resource corruption, instead of a responsible and careful management of the nation’s precious heritage, which could have restricted logging to sustainable levels and kept prices and revenues high to benefit the people of the state.

Solutions?

The response of the Sarawak State Government to this report earlier this year, Sarawak Report has learned, was to immediately drop all contact with the expert advisors who had delivered such home truths.

A few weeks later a familiar western face reappeared in Kuching in the form of none other than the Norwegian former Sarawak Energy boss and purported hydro-electric expert Torstein Sjotveit (till this point Sarawak’s hydro-electric projects have proved a disastrously expensive failure, whilst lining the pockets of the Taib family thanks to their cement monopolity and control of cabling and construction companies in the state).

Sjotveit has re-invented himself it seems as a plantation expert ready to undertake new ‘reforestation’ projects that plainly represent a further effort to create industrial timber plantations (hugely destructive to the environment and exhausting to the fragile soils of the region).

It seems the gang in charge of Sarawak are finding it hard to change their ways and prefer to stick their heads in the sand and put their trust in the same old fixers, responsible for so much of the existing damage, than look at new ideas and solutions from the experts.

Exciting Alternatives Can Rescue Sarawak’s 11th Hour

There is one last chance to rescue Sarawak’s land and forests, as the report placed before these state leaders clearly laid out. The rejected advice from the global experts was to adopt an exciting alternative land use opportunity to rescue the local economy, thanks to the global anti-climate change agenda and the Paris Agreement between major countries across the world.

Reforestation schemes are now potentially worth billions of dollars in inward investment for regions like Sarawak, which are blessed with fast-growing tropical plants. Ironically, the devastation caused by the logging that did so little to enhance the revenues of the state or the lives of its people, means that there is a vast amount of carbon ready to be captured were these natural forests to be allowed to re-grow.

Those tons of carbon can be measured and costed and paid for via offset schemes funded by global companies and carbon users.

However, the deterrent for kleptocrats is that this is money that would be invested into the public purse rather than private political pockets. Another draw back from the perspective of political plunderers is that certain obvious criteria would have to be met, such as agreements not to cash in on further destruction of forest lands by converting them into yet more unproductive industrial plantations.

The present administration of Sarawak is standing by its determination to implement a staggering further 600 thousand hectares of forest conversion into agricultural plantations, thanks to a slate of dodgy concessions many of which were handed a decade ago to Abu Bekir Taib, son of the present Governor (a free present from his dad).

Far from agreeing to review and freeze those concessions the state government is allowing the firesale logging to accelerate in these areas, whilst they still control the economy of the state.  Which is possibly why the finance minister Lim Guan Eng suggested in his speech last week that with the continuing GPS self-serving plunderers in charge there is very little hope the state can stave off bankruptcy within three years.

More than four decades of their government has proved there is no interest from these kleptocrats in collecting public revenues or developing the economy of the state, just a relentless race to keep on filling their infinitely expanding pockets.

   

   

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Rabu, 19 Jun 2019

Havoc And Destruction - Sarawak's Logging Industry Is Globally Everybody's Loss

Sarawak is home to some of the world’s biggest timber companies, all of them family businesses and closely entwined with the ruling figure in the state, Governor Taib Mahmud.


Given the apparently unrewarding nature of their activities, according to the notoriously low profits and even losses so consistently recorded in official returns, one wonders why these companies bother to continue to ply their trade?

Sarawak’s people have been elbowed out of their lands, threatened with gangsters if they dare protest and left with a monstrous eco-disaster to contend with.  Yet, in return they have received precisely nothing, since owing to the dreadful low profits declared there has been little to give back in taxes to the state.

Yet, despite this tragic ‘lose lose’ situation, these self same companies have doggedly continued over the past decades to rip out every tree they can lay their hands on in Sarawak, whilst  resolutely exporting their signature style of havoc and destruction into every other forested region on the planet.

Everybody’s Loss

And news this week reminds us, it is not just ‘third world’ areas that have proved vulnerable to the loss making extraction of the earth’s living resources by armies of Caterpillar bulldozers owned by these apparently hopeless Sarawakian business ventures.

Take Tasmania, a country of supposedly advanced governance, where the authorities have outraged local environmentalists by investing millions of taxpayers’ dollars in order to subsidise logging by Taib’s family company Ta Ann.  A relative handful of local jobs have thereby been preserved in a sunset industry that is wiping out the island’s remaining unique forests at enormous cost to the public purse.

Neither Tasmanians nor Sarawakians nor Malaysians should hold their breath in hope that somehow all this wreakage will fund the promised ‘development’ that is always used to justify the logging in the first place. It never does.

Yet, despite their failure to turn a taxable income or produce progress, all these Sarawakian logging companies still keep somehow finding the resources to keep on acquiring concessions in just about any corner of the planet that still has standing trees.

Another ‘advanced’ antipodean nation to have fallen for the plague is of course the 1MDB trust haven of New Zealand.  Just this week it has been reported that a company that originally pleaded innocent to careless practices and mass logging that caused a huge log jam after rains last year has now admitted guilt.

How many New Zealanders realised their remaining wild woods are being ripped out by low grade loggers using dirty and careless practices?  Are they receiving major tax benefits in return?

Sarawak Report understands that as in Tasmania the logging that caused last year’s eco-catastrophe, conducted by two companies, Hikurangi Forest Farms and Ernslaw One, has been criticised as unnecessary, secretive and sub-standard – phenomena folk over in Sarawak are only too familiar with.

When the rains came therefore, vast quantities of felled logs slid into the river causing appalling environmental damage, which is just the sort thing that goes on in Sarawak all the time.

So, perhaps it will come of little surprise to Sarawakians to discover that the ultimate owners of these NZ companies were none other than two more of the big six crony timber companies that dominate the state, Samling owned by the billionaire Yaw family and Rimbunan Hijau owned by another of Taib’s close business partners the Tiong family of Sibu (pillars of the local Methodist Church by all accounts).

According to the NZ investigative portal Pacific Scoop Tiong was:

“..granted 24 consents to buy sensitive land between 2005 and 2017, even though another of his companies has faced accusations of environmental and human rights abuses overseas since 2004.
The Tiong family has been investing in New Zealand for more than 20 years, with more than 90 approved consents to the companies controlled by the family, OIO’s Vanessa Horne said…..Both Samling and the Tiong family’s Rimbunan Hijau were yesterday named as irresponsible palm oil producers in a report published by Greenpeace.” [Pacific Scoop – 18th Sept 2018]


Veteran Sarawak watchers will perhaps be scratching their heads and wondering how the Tiong family set about getting all those sensitive licences over in the remoter areas of New Zealand and likewise how Samling managed to keep its right to log in the region despite having been fined twice for illegal practices.  Maybe Sarawakians who know these companies all too well can offer suggestions as to how these companies found their way around the normal hurdles and regulations?

Meanwhile, countries across the world should be wary of the Sarawakian logging menace that owes its protection to its special Godfather, the Governor of Sarawak. Read the news story below:

Hikurangi Forest Farms pleads guilty over debris damage in Tolaga Bay flooding

An East Coast forestry company has pleaded guilty to causing flood-borne debris damage in Tolaga Bay last year.

Gisborne District Council prosecuted 10 companies after after heavy rain washed piles of logs and debris on to roads and farmland during two storms in June 2018 causing millions of dollars in damage.

Hikurangi Forest Farms entered a not guilty plea in March to discharging contaminants into the environment in breach of its resource consent.

But at an Environment Court hearing in Auckland this morning it changed its plea to guilty.

Two further charges on land use restrictions have been withdrawn.

The company will be sentenced in Gisborne District Court on 1 October.

The remaining nine forestry companies will reappear in court in a few months time.

   

   

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Isnin, 17 Jun 2019

The Truth About Sarawak's 'Forest Cover' - Why Shell Should Think Twice Before Engaging With The Timber Crooks

Looking for all the world like a gruesome bunch of mafia dons, the head honchos of Sarawak dressed casual this weekend and waddled out to some turf to grin for their favourite PR organ, the Borneo Post (owned by the timber barons of KTS) in order to proclaim their belated attempt to get onto the tree planting band-waggon.


The broad face of the mysteriously wealthy deputy chief minister, Awang Tengah dominated the shot (his earlier positions included chairman and director of the Sarawak Timber Industry Development Corporation and minister of Urban Development and Natural Resources). Meanwhile, his boss Abang Johari posed planting a symbolic sapling, described as a native plant but of a ‘fast growing’ kind.  So, what is this all about?

The bulk of the sparsely detailed article was dedicated to boasting the lie that Sarawak has conserved its timber and that some 63% of the state remains ‘forested’.  The more accurate word would be ‘scrubbed’, of which more later.

Also among the posse of suddenly eco-conscious ministers was none other than the ubiquitous, long-term lacky of governor Taib Mahmud, the environment minister Len Talif Salleh, whose previous roles included being the head of Sarawak’s Forestry Department, outed by Sarawak Report for simultaneously acting as the director of companies he himself was permitting to cut down native forests.

What Is The Shell Agenda In Sarawak?

These men are amongst those most culpable for the devastation of Sarawak’s natural forests, yet according to their press promotional this so-called ‘Forest Landscape Restoration Programme’ is to be funded on their behalf by the petroleum giant Shell and a Japanese-Malaysian association. No details were offered as to the nature of this outside support for one of the world’s most notoriously corrupted state governments or what the progamme consists of.

Sadly, one can indeed be certain that these wealthy politicians would never consider, for example, taxing their crony timber and plantation companies to raise the money for much needed environmental regeneration. However, international bodies and corporations should think carefully about stepping in and propping up a criminal regime that has for decades treated the jungle solely in terms of extracting cash.

Such programmes should be conducted transparently at the very least, yet virtually no details have yet emergedabout Shell and Japan’s projected plans to invest in regenerating Sarawak’s forests as the worst bunch of eco-crooks on the planet get set to polish up their ‘eco-credentials’ for the coming state elections.

The concerns are clear. For a start this gesture sits very uncomfortably with an announcement earlier this year by primary industries minister, Teresa Kok, revealing that the present Sarawak State Government has insisted it will be continuing to implement dodgy crony concessions (see the present row over Taib’s son and the Mulu logging) in order to convert a whopping 600 thousand further hectares of forest land to oil palm plantations – something Ms Kok claims she can do nothing about (she has revised her ‘cap’ on deforestation accordingly upwards).

What this means is that on the one hand Johari’s regime is taking in charity money from Shell for regrowing forest, whilst on the other hand it is continuing to tear up massive areas of existing forest elsewhere, releasing hugely harmful greenhouse gases in the process.

Shell’s sustainability bosses will be well aware that much as regeneration of forests is to be supported and encouraged, it is the damage done by the further conversion of existing forests that has to be avoided to combat global warming. Regeneration needs to be matched by pledges against further encroachment.

These concerns raise questions about why Shell, which is seeking to burnish its eco-credentials, is propping up a notoriously destructive and corrupted timber mafia regime in this oil rich state under such a secretive deal that appears to have no such strings attached?

Sarawakians want logging to stop

One of the reasons that Sarawakians voted for Johari’s predecessor back in 2016 (apart from the inevitable vote buying and vote rigging organised by Najib and his local man Bustari on behalf of the BN ‘safe deposit’ state) was because they believed and respected the now departed Adenan Satem and his commitment to END LOGGING as the basis for his stand in that election. The former chief minister went on record with the pledge a number of times:

“I have made some concrete decisions with regard to conservation of our natural resources.. One of the first decsions I made [on assuming office] was no more plantation, no more encroachment or conversion of natural forests. No more. This is to protect our existing forest and forested areas so that nature can run its natural course.  Two, I have also disallowed any more timber licences.. no more logging to be done by professional companies and those licences which expire will not be renewed” [you tube video]


The statement was a confirmation of his early remarks in the UK, shortly after taking office, when he publicly stated to a meeting at the High Commission in London read my lips, no more palm oil and no more logging, no more”.

He did not say 600 thousand hectares more of Sarawak’s forests would be converted to oil palm and that is why people voted for Adenan and his party.

Meanwhile, what everyone in Sarawak also knows is that the vast majority of those areas officially designated as ‘forested’ have been plundered and looted over and over for years in an unregulated timber rush that has destroyed one of the most valuable places on the planet and left few trees of any marketable worth left standing.

The laughable quote from the Sarawak forest department that the state has “planted 634 million trees throughout Sarawak, spanning an area of 528,238 hectares covering hills, swamps and coastal area, in collaboration with various stakeholders” [Borneo Post] fails to mention that the trees in question are plantation trees (foreign imports like the fast-growing but highly damaging acacia).

The statement self-damningly admits to the destruction of hills, swamps and coastal areas to convert the land to such plantations and the ‘stakeholders’ are, of course, the crony plantation companies associated with the regime!

What remains of genuine natural forest is being hoovered up as quickly as the present government can manage, fearful of a crackdown on the booty. This is why Sarawak’s timber giants have exited elsewhere to target the remaining jungles on the planet and it is why downstream timber mills are starting to run out of business.

Sarawak and all well-wishers ought to boot these wasteful brigands out of office and investigate their record. No one should be extending charity to allow them to pose as defenders of the environment!

   

   

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Sabtu, 8 Jun 2019

Cronyism, Kickbacks and An Eco-Catastrophe - The Story Of Murum Dam

One of the Governor of Sarawak’s key political henchmen cum holders of public office made a rare foray into the headlines this week to attack the appointment of a new Malaysian Anti Corruption Commission (MACC) chief, who is expected to break the log jam on corruption cases.


Idris Buang, who has himself combined various public and private offices with political roles, complained that the appointee has been a known member of PKR and would therefore be biased.

Perhaps the assemblyman, who has been linked to a number of high profile controversies is fearful of more active investigations into the Sarawak scene?  For example, Sarawak Report  has received details of one report to the MACC last year, which has yet to be acted on, relating to the clearing of timber worth a billion ringgit from the Murum Dam basin through a contract granted by Sarawak Energy (SEB) while he was on the board.

The irony is that there was virtually no case in terms of energy supply for SEB to build the Murum Dam, which has destroyed huge areas of virgin forest. Bakun itself was just completed and has yet to be put more than half its use as it struggles to find users for its existing electricity.

But according to one of the earliest contractors on the project, the Dutch logging and timber merchant Roel Seugling the construction of Murum was never about hydro-electricity anyway:

“The reason for Murum was not the electricity.  It was 100% about the wood and the access that building the dam gave to 100,000 hectares of virgin jungle behind on the other side. One survey worker said to my face that they would clear that land within ten years because now they can float the logs across the water of the lake.
The only other purpose was the purchase of huge amounts of cement, which was being charged to the project at an outrageous premium by the monopoly holding company CMS [owned by the family of the Sarawak Governor, then chief minister, Taib Mahmud] “


It was Roel Seugling who received the first contract to clear the timber from the dam basin itself, initially an area of 6,500 hectares of prime virgin jungle. In the case of mega-projects like a dam the logging can be described as ‘clearing of biomass and debris” for an infrastructure project rather than ordinary logging, which requires more regulations, Seugling explained as he passed a dossier of documentation to Sarawak Report, including the contract for the logging.

A Billion Ringgit Worth Of Timber

The Dutchman, who has worked some 25 years in East Malaysia, confesses that he was extremely excited by the project, which presented the prospect of enormous riches for his company and backers who raised 5 million euros (RM23m) to equip a full scale operation to take out what was officially calculated would amount to 150,000 tons of logs with a conservative value of RM90 million. In fact, with virgin forest being up to 6 times more abundant than normal logging, he was looking at far greater profits.

Under the contract he agreed that 40% of these projected profits would go to local Penan: needless to say even these conservative amounts were never passed to the native people and he does not believe the tribespeople were informed about the proposed deal:

The figures Roel Suegling used to target investors for the project

However, in a later letter of complaint to subsequent chief minister Adenan Satem, Seugling calculated that the wider contract, which involved the logging of 25,000 hectares of pristine virgin jungle, should have netted him a staggering profit of RM891,000,000 – nearly a billion ringgit:

Extract from a letter Seugling wrote to later cheif minister Adenan Satem explaining how the concession had been worth just under a billion ringgit in projected profits for his company before he was sidelined

Seugling had also written several earlier emails to Taib Mahmud’s office complaining he had been unfairly forced out of the project and describing how he had spent the outlay of over 5 million euros, which he now says he is owed in compensation as bigger fish came in to strong arm him out of the profits:

“Signing money ( hand over to several people ) till so far a don’t tell their names!! Entree fee ( also handed over to several people ) till so far don’t tell their names!!
Over 65 boats all with motor engine
22 Camps ” full ” equipped
Several Toyota high luxe
Home base camp ”
[email from Seugling to Taib Mamhud]


Seugling has openly acknowledged to Sarawak Report that the above mentioned ‘Signing money’ and ‘Entry fee’ were cash bribes for obtaining the contract and he has named who he claims were the key political persons involved.

Seugling wrote Taib several emails, as he considered him as the CM to be the ‘big boss’ behind the Murum project

Cascading Contracts in Sarawak

As Sarawak Report has often had reason to report, sub-contracting is the name of the game in Sarawak, enabling political ‘rent-seekers’ (often in the guise of their wives, children or other relatives) to get a fat slice of the public money before the actual work is given to someone else.

The case of the SEB contract for ‘Clearing Biomass’ for the Murum Dam would appear to be a typical case in point. Idris Buang and his fellow board members apparently signed off the contract to a crony company already identified by Sarawak Report, as a regular recipient of Sarawak projects, namely Sarabrand Sdn Bhd, which was half owned by none other than the local PRS MP for the Murum area at the time, Billy Abit Joo.

Sarabrand awarded the project on to a company owned by the local assemblyman Liwang Lawang

However, the MP was plainly too busy to do the actual work of clearing the area belonging to his constituents, so documents indicate the work was then sub-contracted to a second company named Lio Resources Sdn Bhd.

Company information shows that Lio Resources is in turn owned by the local PRS Assemblyman for the area Liwan Lagang, plus the second shareholder of Sarabrand (local businessman Henry Opang Luhat) and a Kuching councillor named Ujang Himang:

Lio Resources

Like the MP, it appears the Assemblyman was also too busy or unskilled to get down o the business of performing the actual contract, which is where Dutchman Roel Seugling and his long-term business partner in the logging business Yam Chee Yun got their opportunity.

Seugling has explained to Sarawak Report that he and Yam had previously cut down a valuable belian tree concession (logging of belian is of course supposed to be banned) granted to the Assemblyman’s brother in the area, Semut Lagang. The whys and wherefores of timber concessions in Sarawak have, like other public contracts been kept closely under wraps from the public eye, forcing ordinary unconnected folk to rely on leaks such as this one:

Earlier project – Yam and Seugling’s company was called Gunung Makmur Resources

The belian project had ended unhappily however, since the company’s equipment was stolen. As a ‘reward’ Seugling says the logging specialists were told that Yam’s contact in the matter, the well-connected ‘VIP’ Liwan Lagang, would arrange the Murum clearing project to come over to them, in return for an “signing fee” payable in cash of RM780,000.00 plus 20% of final profits.

Raol Seugling has acknowledged to Sarawak Report that he paid the upfront fee (translating to 190,000 euros) through his Dutch ING bank account into a local bank account in Kuching held by his company Asia Ace Resources.  This was removed in cash by his local business partner and then allegedly handed in three amounts to Mr Yam, who claimed that he had passed the cash to the MP. Sarawak Report has sought a response to this claim from Liwan Lagang, but not yet received an immediate reply.

The transaction was registered with ING Bank as being payment for the Murum Contract

The bank was informed that the money was for ‘payment of royalties for the Murum Dam Project’ at the time of the transfer in December 2013, as is detailed in the statement.  A second payment was made of just over 23,000 euros which Seugling acknowledges was to pay off “certain officials’ to the tune of RM100,000 as well. He described this to the bank as “Murum Dam Signing Money”:

Paying various officials

“Problem is Shin Yang is under CM – we can’t argue with them!”

At this point the Dutchman says matters started to go wrong. Logs were soon being ripped out and great quantities had been floated across the rising waters of the dam (eventually the camp belonging to protesting native Penan people was also washed away along with their homes as well).  However, the loggers found they could not remove them from the area because the 70 mile road leading from the dam to Belaga belonged to the logging company Shin Yang.

The Shin Yang managers had viewed the vast piles of lucrative timber and decided to flex their muscles, putting in ‘a complaint’ Seugling was told, to the Forest Department. Until the matter was resolved the logs could not be transported and Shin Yang, whose owners are known to be extremely close to then chief minister Taib Mahmud, was demanding extortionate charges for Lio Resources to be allowed to use the road.

Having received huge sums from their foreign investor it turned out that Lio Resources were not too bothered about defending their position. Seugling at first begged Yam to tell their ‘VIP’ contact Lian Lagang to use his supposed influence with his ‘big boss’ the chief minister to at least repay the huge outlays by Seugling as the financier of the project.  However Yam replied that he and Lio Resources had decided to ‘surrender’ the project.

A series of desperate texts recorded by the Dutchman explain the reasons why Yam and his political contacts were no longer fighting for the contract: “problem is Shin Yang is under CM – we can’t argue with them” ran one of the texts, “VP [Lagang] also suggest to me to give up on this project”:

I have too much information

The Dutchman protested that the Assemblyman and Chief Minister must meet to deal with the situation, threatening he had too much information for them to ignore his plight. However, Yam and his other associates melted away he says and he never heard from them again.

Likewise, several emails to Taib Mahmud were merely passed to the Forestry Department, where they were not answered and Lian Lagang also failed to respond to emails. Seugling says he has a dossier of documented evidence and recordings to substantiate his claim and the project, including numerous film and photographs of the logging his company conducted.

However, he received no support and his Kuching lawyers refused to continue the case once they saw the letters he had writen to Taib Mahmud complaining about Shin Yang’s strong-arm tactics in taking over the timber from the concession.  He has lost his 5 million euros and equipment, as well as the ‘upfront royalty payments’ without compensation.

However, according to Roel Seugling, this billion ringgit project was just the start of the logging made possible by Murum.

“The Shin Yang manager, who pointed a pistol at my colleague across his desk, flew up to the site in a company helicopter to view the situation and that is when I think they decided they would take the timber.

I have one of them on record saying to me that once the water is up on the lake they could float the logs across to their logging road without difficulty. There is 100,000 hectares of virgin forest there and he told me they can clear it within ten years easily. The Murum Dam is 100% about the timber” 


Seugling reaffirmed to Sarawak Report.

Taib’s office passed on these emails naming Liwan Lagang as his intermediary to the Forest Department

Following the election Mr Seugling says he made a full report on this matter to the MACC headquarters in KL, but so far he has received no response on the matter. He hopes the scandal of the Murum Dam timber grab will now receive the attention of KL anti-corruption officials that it deserves.

   

   

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Jumaat, 24 Mei 2019

SEDC Taken For A Ride Or What?

Doing the rounds on social media is a story that has been raising eyebrows in Sarawak.

The public investment vehicle that is supposed to be assisting development in the state, namely the Sarawak Economic Development Corporation (SEDC), has just poured a very substantial sum into the purchase of a cattle farm over in Darwin: way over the valuation and market price, according to Australian media outlets.

This is how ABC’s rural news reported the Aus$20 million (RM58m) purchase:

$20m a big price for floodplains property

The $20 million price tag for Carmor Plains has been met with surprise by some in the Top End cattle industry.
The last time it changed hands, back in 2001, it sold for just $2.8 million.
An industry figure suggested that it would be difficult for SEDC to make a profit from such a large sum paid for a relatively small piece of land.
According to a Malaysian auditor-general’s report in 2015, the SEDC lost $2.8 million between 2009 and 2013 due to high costs and low cattle sales from its [existing] Australian cattle properties.


ABC says it is still awaiting comment from SEDC and the sellers of the property, who apparently used the ranch to entertain the sort of tourists who enjoy hunting and shooting water buffalo, crocodiles and wild pigs.

SEDC have already bought other cattle ranches in the region and lost money on them, observes the article.  So why invest in a yet another Sarawakians are entitled to ask – and for that matter what happened to the grand plans for the so-called ‘Tanjung Manis Halal Hub’, which cleared of tens of millions of dollars worth of valuable timber allegedly to produce beef back home near Bintulu?

And why pay some ten times over the odds for Carmor Plains?

Pro PRS Dayak Daily promoted the purchase in March

State government connected media naturally have promoted the investment, including Dayak Daily which was plainly flown out to Australia in March, along with the Borneo Post, to cover a ceremony to mark the purchase attended by a raft of Sarawak bigwigs, led by the Chief Minister himself.

The promotional reports then gushed fulsomely over the extension of the multi-person, top level delegation’s visit to the existing Rosewood ranch, which the Sarawak media described as ‘award winning’. They did not mention the millions in losses identified by the Australian press.

So, the same state government can hardly blame netizens for being suspicious that the decision-makers behind this SEDC investment must either be chumps for paying so much more than native Australian experts believe they should have in an area where they have already been losing money or possibly even worse?

There is after all an unhealty Malaysian tradition when it comes to ‘investments abroad’ or on behalf of the trusting public.

Take as a starting point how similar Sarawak state management luminaries managed to ‘lose’ pretty much every last cent of the Native Customary Rights Landowners’ fund, namely ASSAR, by investing almost 100% of these folk’s money in loss-making ventures (none of which were scrutinised for basic conflicts of interest).

Serious business for Sarawak’s leading political figures in Australia?

If and when Australia’s ABC do get answers out of SEDC about the details of this purchase, top of the list of things Sarawakians will inevitably want to know, therefore, is whether the agency utilised the now notorious practice of  ‘Special Purpose Vehicles’ to manage the investment, and if so whether that ‘SPV’ was by any chance registered somewhere like Labuan, the Cayman Islands or the BVI – offshore havens, where beneficial ownerships and account details are kept conveniently away from public scrutiny?

Few are likely to feel particularly comforted by mere assurances that the activities of SEDC are being fully audited by top accountancy firms. After all, the nation has been treated this very day to the spectacle of none other than a raid by the MACC on the KL branch of the global accountancy giant Deloitte,related to its now admitted gross and repeated failures to blow the whistle over 1MDB and other major investments (pointed out time and again by the likes of Sarawak Report, but which for years the ‘big four’ accountancy firm doggedly denied).

Paying Over The Odds Or Just Hiding The Money?

Malaysia and indeed Sarawak has been plagued by years of excessive expenditures by public funds on foreign investments, which appear to have been solely motivated by the desire of those in charge to siphon out as much as possible of the wasted millions into their own pockets.

Now Najib has fallen and the investigators have got to work the truth has come tumbling out.

First there were the MARA, Tabung Haji and FELDA scandals, followed by the news that even Bank Negara had been strong armed into paying way over the odds for land by the previous government, ostensibly for investment but in reality to enrich cronies or bail out 1MDB and Najib’s Ministry of Finance.

Most recently Sarawak Report has exposed evidence of millions siphoned out from the Maika Fund, raised on behalf of members by the Malaysian Indian Congress party (MIC).

So, now that Sarawakians have learnt of the open surprise expressed by the Australian media over this latest unlikely purchase using public money, what are they to think?

Unlike so much of Malaysia, Sarawak retains an unreconstructed state government which avoided holding state elections like everywhere else last year. The place is still run by the phenomenally wealthy Taib Mahmud and his cronies and family, who have been ripping off the state blatantly for years.

Everyone now knows what happened with the MARA dodgy investments in Australia – buildings that were purchased at hugely inflated prices, not directly and transparently as one would expect, but through ‘Special Purpose Vehicles’ conveniently hidden from oversight in Panama.

And what did the truth turn out to be in all this?  Well, few were surprised to eventually learn that the actual price paid for the properties in Australia was far lower than advertised…. pretty much the market price in fact. The excess cash had got stuck in those special purpose vehicles … which turned out to just happen to be owned by head honchos of MARA.

Likewise, FELDA’s purchase of London’s Kensington Grand Plaza Hotel way over the market price for £60 million. Investigations by PKR’s Rafizi Rameli revealed that once again those payments of public money were not made directly, so that the money could be traced through the accounts, but through yet another off-shore BVI company, which again turned out to be owned by those in control of FELDA Global Investments.

Investigators have now ascertained that £14 million of that money (some RM75 million) remained in the BVI account, only the remainder was needed to pay for the actual hotel. Numerous other identical scandals involving FELDA and other funds have come to light in recent months following the same patterns of abuse, thanks to the off-shore finance system.

In fact, these straight thefts of public money via foreign property purchases have been a signature scam under BN, so the present Sarawak State Government can hardly condemn the collective scepticism as news of this latest seemingly ‘dud deal’ begins to circulate.

So SEDC should respond immediately with full transparency to put all minds at rest. Why did the fund pay so much more than Australian business experts believe the ranch is worth and how exactly has the money been transferred?

And what was the business logicbehind this purchase?

This is no time for being coy about what ought to be public information about expenditures of public money. Given Sarawak and Malaysia’s sad history of corruption and SEDC’s record of pumping money into projects involving the family and friends of Taib Mahmud, people merely want reassurances from all concerned that no money has gone awry.

Time to broadcast the information and establish that good practice.

Sarawak Report