Sarawak Report has lifted more of the veil of secrecy around Taib’s undeclared wealth by revealing his direct ownership of a large chunk of valuable former state land in the Sibu area.
Taib has always sought to keep his name off all such assets, certainly from the eyes of the public, plainly to avoid inevitable questions about how he could afford such RM100 million properties on his official salary?
However, in the process of confirming his control over this chunk of land in this case the asset was recorded in black and white in last month’s official Sarawak State Gazette, so it is now time to ask the question – what were the circumstances of this acquisition and how did Taib Mahmud afford it?
On the few occasions when he has been forced to account for the wealth of himself and his family Taib has given inconsistent answers, one minute saying it is not he but his family that is rich and the next admitting he also “does business” as he puts it.
For example, in a 2011 recorded interview he claimed that he and his family have only “done business” overseas, in order he said to avoid “being hounded over conflict of interest”. Everyone knows that is not true as the Taibs have a string of businesses in Sarawa.
Indeed Taib later admitted through his authorised biography in 2014 that he did use his position to assist his family, for example in the development of the mega-Sarawak conglomerate CMS, set up by privatising state assets into their own hands.
Look how Taib see-saws over this issue during the course of just one quote from that book, first claiming he only “built up business overseas” and that CMS was his family effort (overturning the earlier claims his family didn’t do Sarawak business) and then admitting CMS “came up” because he wanted a big corporation to be a mother company for smaller companies (that he/his family also owned):
“If I do business, that’s a problem so I am not going to be involved in business and my sons and son-in-law are helping. CMS (Cahya Mata Sarawak) is quite large now. I built up business overseas for the past 35 years and that is why I didn’t want any complications. And CMS came up because I wanted to see a big corporation come up and construction was big. I wanted to have a mother company for smaller companies and so I took Bank Utama so that the loans could become easier for the young companies.” [“Taib — The Visionary”, 2014]
Taib and his family have also contradicted themselves several times over their mysteriously referred to “business overseas”.
During the 2011 interview the then Chief Minister again acknowledged that he as well as his family had “done business outside”, claiming that this was how he became wealthy and suggesting that it was thanks to their clever brains. He then smugly suggested other Sarawakians could not be helped if they lacked his smart wits:
“It’s normal business… my children have gone in their holidays to their own relatives to participate in business outside. I had to do business outside more than 30 years ago. The simple reason is that I don’t want conflict of interest to haunt me all the time. If I do business inside the country people will say I used my influence to enrich myself. We did outside, but of course outside the country if you’ve got talents and some money you really can build good business. But, you don’t have to be corrupt to do this one I call it entrepreneurship. Over 30 years anybody can get rich, if they have something up there, but if you don’t have it there is nothing you can do!” [interview 2011]
Quite apart from insulting ordinary Sarawakians who don’t have powerful uncles in politics, Taib appears not to have grasped that it is not appropriate for a salaried state official to conduct any kind of business whilst representing his people in high office and that any assets and business activities home or abroad ought to be fully declared and then placed in a blind trust.
What’s more those profits ought to have been taxed and the tax declared, so what taxes did Taib pay?
Taib failed to declare what these vaguely referred to foreign businesses are, yet when Sarawak Report reported evidence showed that his daughter Jamilah holds vast assets in Canada thanks to millions of dollars of investment by Taib we were met with angry denials and legal threats.
Jamilah had gone on a massive property buying spree in Ottawa, Canada as a student on behalf of her company Sakto, also directed at the time by her even younger brother Abu Bekir (then studying in the same city) and her uncle – Taib’s brother Onn, who eventually fell out and stopped acting as Taib’s proxy in 2004.
Jamilah kicked off her buying spree with the purchase of 400 flats for several million Canadian dollars and went on into building towerblock offices and hotels, raising loans off the back of substantial down payments including an upfront shareholder loan of $4.5 million the very first year in business in 1983.
Sarawak Report, together with the Bruno Manser Fund, obtained several early records of the company which revealed access to enormous sums of further capital at a time that other investors were struggling to find cash. By the end of the decade in 1993 Jamilah’s company had CAN$40 million in assets backed by over $25 million in interest free ‘shareholder loans’.
In case one imagined none of this owed to Daddy, take a look at the quotes from Abu Bekir from that authorised biography:
“..even when we were 18 years old studying in Canada, my father said ‘okay, I want to explain to you how to get into the real estate business’. So … between 1980 till 1982, the market was quite depressed and a lot of people couldn’t maintain their loans. So he went to look [at] all the buildings first and we find out which bank was financing what and we take over the loan and they (the banks) would approve of such an idea because rather than to auction the place they would rather someone else took over the responsibility. We did and actually it was like god sent. It was actually very easy because you’re buying things at such a huge discount and the banks are backing you up. “[Abu Bekir from Taib authorised biography – 2014]
But was the money really “God sent” and was Taib so especially clever to have so much money at a time when other investors were suffering from a major economic downturn?
When Sarawak Report reported that Sakto owed its sucess to millions from Taib Mahmud it was attacked by aggressive legal action spearheaded by Jamilah’s husband Sean Murray on behalf of himself and the Taibs. The Murray family had spent years, as Sarawak Report demonstrated, providing a cover story that it was their family which had built up Sakto as their ‘family firm’.
This was the conflicting claim now made by the London top libel lawyer Mishcon de Reya who denied that Taib had funded his daughter’s business:
“Sakto, Sakti and Ridgeford are not and have never been funded by Mr Taib Mahmud….Should this allegation be made, our clients will sue you without further notice”. [legal letter from London lawyers Mishcon de Reya, January 2011]
Sarawak Report refused to retract its remarks, given the evidence, and the billionaire family failed to proceed with their legal action.
Three months later in March Taib was producing a different story about Jamilah’s income sources in a a second recorded interview made prior to the state election admitting that despite those legal threats Sarawak Report had been entirely correct as he had supported his daughter’s investments, referring to a ‘gratuity’ apparently received upon retiring from his role as a federal minister in 1981
“It started 20 to 30 years ago. I gave money to my daughter because I was resigning from Federal Government. I got a gratuity and gave some money to her to start a new business, it thrived… It is a property development company… It got successful and from successful they go to do business in London”. [Taib 22/03/2011 http://realsarawak.
Good for Jamilah,
However, one simple question has to be what sum was this ‘gratuity’ allegedly received by Taib received when he retired as a federal minister in 1981 that he was able to pass on $4.5 million Canadian dollars to his daughter, who was already being expensively educated along with her brothers in Canada and the United States?
On top of that Princess Jamilah (as she was known at college owing to her ostentatious wealth) seemed to find enough left over from her allowance to buy her then boyfriend Sean Murray an open top red Mercedes sports car as well.
Despite this change of narrative by Taib the public were soon treated to yet another U-turn in the story just a few months later, this time coming from Jamilah’s husband Sean Murray, whose family has been so fond of claiming that the company Sakti had been set up by his own father a generation earlier.
This is what Sean (Hisham) Murray told a Canadian TV station 6 months later in December of that same year:
“Jamilah Murray has some passive investments in Malaysia, but Sakto and Sakti, and Sean Murray do not. On the question of whether any of that money has been used to fund Sakto projects in Canada or Sakti in the U.S., the answer is no” [Global TV Canada]
Who is lying, the then Chief Minister or his son in law Sean and cousin Chris?
And what about the further enormous ‘shareholder loans’ that came in to support Sakto’s next big property purchases over the following decade, including a $20 million interest free loan provided to Jamilah from none other than the Hong Kong company Ridgfold Properties, sister company to Regent Star Limited cited for receiving kickbacks from Japanese shipping companies who were given a monopoly on exporting logs from Sarawak?
The Swiss Bruno Manser Fund revealed that the $20 million loan was extended by a collection of family members, including Taib’s now deceased wife Jamilah as well as two Taib companies, Richfold in Hongkong and Sogo Holding, based in Jersey.
It must have been a big gratuity indeed.
On the other hand, Taib has come up with a separate very different excuse in recent years, cited in his official biography, altering the long established narrative of how Taib the son of a carpenter had won a Columbo scholarship provided by his father’s employer Shell to study in Australia.
The original narrative glossed over the role of his politically influential uncle and focused on the poverty of Taib’s family:
This was all changed in the 2014 biography where Taib was quoted saying in fact his family was not poor, but were well-off given they worked for Shell!
“Am I supposed to be poor because I am a Malay and that Sarawak is very poor. That kind of story is easy to create. They didn’t know that I have been working for over 50 years and I came from Miri and we are not poor people we were with Shell. How do I get money … or that must be because I cheat on a lot of things when I was in KL and suddenly when I became a Minister, I am very rich. I did not respond because I know I am innocent and maybe there could be one or two small things which could have been an oversight due to technicalities”
How many carpenters with Shell in the 50s/60s were able to leave their ten children millions to invest abroad one wonders and how much did this super-carpenter pay in tax? This is particularly because earlier in the book Taib had played up his hardships as a youth:
“… in Adelaide, Australia. Aside from his scholarship, he would in order to increase his income, he would work in the morning as a postman, he also worked in a bar, and whatever other ways there were because he had to go back because of his responsibility towards his family, his siblings, for his mother and then there are the people that he loved and cared about, and he had his duty for that.”
[Daughter Hanifah quoted in Taib’s biography – 2014]
Sarawak Report is left confused by these ever changing stories and wonders what the “one or two small things which could have been an oversight” that are preventing Taib from answering questions might be?
Having been threatened with aggressive libel action for asking entirely reasonable questions about these matters in the public interest, we believe this portal and the people of Sarawak are due some clear and straight answers instead of so much conflicting nonsense, together with threatening denials followed by partial admissions and changing narratives.
At this very moment the Taib family in Canada are continuing to pursue libel action against BMF in Switzerland, in which they are demanding that every single thing the NGO has said about them should be taken down and pulped. This is despite the fact that Taib himself and his son have now admitted that at least some of what was once denied is true.
Failing appropriate and immediate transparency and the publicising of a proper tax audit, the Sarawak authorities and federal ivestigators will be punished by Sarawakians if they continue to fail to take action and investigate over this matter and the missing billions from the state.