For nine months Sarawak Report has been looking for Farok Majeed, last heard of working out of Sydney for the Chief Minister’s brother Onn Mahmud. We have been unable to trace Mr Majeed since he disappeared in the middle of a court case in which he was suing Onn Mahmud for over $15 million Australian Dollars.
Our previous report detailed how Farok was billing Onn Mahmud for “development and management” work on Australia’s most expensive ever penthouse deal. The court case also detailed numerous other property dealings relating to Onn Mahmud, but the case lapsed after Majeed disappeared.
The Australian Judge, Justice Brereton, of the Supreme Court New South Wales, suspended proceedings in a ruling on January 31st 2008 on the basis that Mr Majeed had failed to appear at this and a previous hearing on December 13th 2007. He made plain, however, that the litigant had recently been in touch with his office before that date:
“Although, on 15 November, Mr Majeed provided a folder filed that day containing affidavit evidence in response to the motion, and also the draft Statement of Claim to which I have referred, he has provided nothing since. Nothing has been heard of him by my chambers since then”. [Justice Brereton 31/01/08]
In the light of this non-appearance Brereton reversed a judgement that had previously been made awarding Majeed $2,212,615 in damages against Onn Mahmud for unpaid work by Majeed’s construction company Australasia Pacific.
He also required that Majeed pay Mahmud’s legal expenses pending a judgement in any future hearing. It would be nice to have evidence from Mr Mahmud that he received these payments. The case was adjourned to February 2008, but there is no evidence that Farok Majeed took his litigation any further.
The kick-back scandal and Farok’s evidence about Onn’s wealth
Farok Majeed’s case against Onn Mahmud came at a particularly sensitive time for the Chief Minister’s brother. Japanese newspapers had started to report that their tax authorities were prosecuting Japanese shipping companies for paying millions of dollars of undeclared timber kickbacks to a company in Hong Kong fronted by Onn’s personal secretary, Kin Kwok Shea.
The company, Regent Star, operated out of the same office as a sister Mahmud company called Richfold, of which Onn was the key Shareholder. During the period of these kickbacks Onn was acting as the Director and shareholder of the company Achipeligo, which had been given the licencing authority over all timber exports from Sarawak by Onn’s own brother, the Chief Minister Taib Mahmud. The Japanese shipping companies explained that they would encounter ‘difficulties’ in getting their export licences from Achipeligo until money had been paid to Regent Star!
The properties cited in Farok’s court depositions
Farok Majeed’s court case, originally filed in September 2006, makes plain that he had been engaged by Onn to work on a number of expensive property developments in Sydney. These are detailed in the public court documents, along with details of Onn Mahmud’s own exclusive homes apartments in Singapore and Sydney. Farok describes his attempts to deliver his court summons to Onn’s various residences, thereby providing their addresses. He also names a number of property companies owned by Onn, his wife, son and daughter.
Firstly, Majeed cites 1902 Peach Gardens as the Onn family flat in Singapore. This is a duplex penthouse apartment, highly spacious for the crowded city, which Sarawak Report photographed complete with its swimming pool. A next door similar apartment has been advertised for over $7 million Singapore Dollars in recent months. The estate agents boast that the guarded property:
“boasts facilities like a swimming pool, a wading pool, tennis courts, squash courts, a playground, a clubhouse, BBQ pits, 24-hour security and a covered car park”.
However, the grandeur of Peach Gardens pales into insignificance compared to Onn Mahmud’s family home address at 26 Carrara Road, Vaucluse, Western Australia, where Majeed also tried to serve his summons. Put simply it is one of the smartest houses in the most expensive street in Sydney. Complete with a cliff tip swimming pool looking out over a marine reserve, the residence commands a magnificent view over Sydney Harbour. Houses in Carrara Road have consistently achieved the highest prices of any residential area in Sydney, with one mansion selling last year for $27 million Australian Dollars in the midst of the property recession.
Vast property wealth the product of timber corruption?
Protesters are now demanding that the Taib family properties in Australia, the US, Canada, the UK and elsewhere should be investigated as products of Sarawak’s massive timber corruption. There are a number of demonstrations planned in Australia next week, beginning with Sydney on Monday. Onn Mahmud’s intimate connections with Sarawak’s timber trade kickbacks surely make his properties a primary target for any such investigation.
Consider the documented facts, which are that in 1983 Onn and his wife invested just RM 2.00 ringgit of share capital into a company Achi Jaya Corporation Sdn Bhd. It was the Achi Jaya subsidiary, Achipelago Shipping, which Taib in an act of blatant nepotism, appointed to take charge of issuing timber shipping permits from Sarawak.
After just a few years in this role, amidst the scandalous information about kickbacks, we can demonstrate that the couple had gone from modest means to ownership of a staggering international property portfolio. We have identified properties in North America, Sarawak, Malaysia and now, thanks to Farok Majeed’s information, some of Australia’s plum residential buildings.
Farok Majeed’s court papers show he had also tried to catch up with Onn to serve his papers at his hotel in Kuala Lumpur. This was The Coronade, a massive inner-city high-rise block was sold last year for RM 93 million. Onn in known to have re-invested in the fashionable 5 Star seaside resort at Langkawi.
The Coronade Group was part of what appears to be an attempt by Onn to go into business as a hotelier and property speculator in Australia and the Far East. As already reported by us, Onn was already one of the founding Directors and
Shareholders of both the Taib North American property ventures, Sakti in the US and Sakto in Ottawa, Canada, which between them now command a property portfolio worth hundreds of millions of US dollars. At this time in the 1980s and 90s Onn was also acting as a key Director for Taib’s family business CMS. Insiders make clear that, although Onn Mahmud has now distanced himself from the Chief Minister, he made his original fortune at the time when he was acting as Taib’s closest confidant and business proxy.
Plantations – the RM 930,000,000 sale!
In this context we should not forget Mahmud’s plantation business, which also spread beyond Sarawak into investments in Malaysia and abroad. In a current example Onn is seeking to cash in on a 30,000 acre plantaion that he is esitmating at RM 31 million per acrea. The is a sum of roughly RM 930,000,000 million ringgit rhat he stands to make.
People may recall that we reported earlier this week that natives in Taib’s constituency in Balingian are being offered just RM 250 per acre for their native customary rights lands by plantation owners. Taib their local MP clearly has little interest in protecting them from such exploitation.
It is perhaps relevant to understanding the business connections between Onn Mahmud and Farok Majeed to know that Majeed is known by insiders to have been originally involved in organising land acquisitions for Taib Mahmud in Sarawak. Majeed was known to be a specialist in NCR (native customary rights) land deals, say sources who were extremely close to the family.
More property in Australia
However, in 2007 Majeed was suing Onn for work that he alleged he performed on helping with development projects in Australia. One of the projects named in the case is the ’boutique hotel’ that Onn still owns called the Valentine on George Street, opened by the Sultan of Kedah in 2007.
The development of the Valentine and its two associated restaurants, which are owned and Directed by Onn’s wife, sister and daughter, developed a high profile. However, it was not the kind of high profile that is welcomed. Donmastry, the company developing the property was even cited in the Australian Parliament after a series of scandals were reported in the press. There had been pickets by unpaid workers and MP Jan Burnswood had this to say in condemnation of Donmastry:
“ I want to place some remarks on the record about a development company in Sydney known as Donmastry Pty Ltd.. On Christmas Eve last year a builder employed by Donmastry went bust and did not pay a large number of small sub-contract companies that had been working on his site in the city.
The company was also developing another restaurant on the corner of George and Valentine streets, Sydney. That site was a death trap and was appallingly unsafe. Unlawful workers were engaged as cheap labour and it was riddled with tax rorts and workers compensation fraud”.[Jan Burnswood]
The publicity was mainly focused on attacking a shareholder and director James Nasmi, however the majority shareholders of the company are in fact Onn Mahmud’s wife, daughter and sister-in-law (see excerpt from Australian Company Records on Donmastry below showing the number of shares held by Nazmi and the Onns in Donmastry).
Majeed sued the Mahmud family for the expenses incurred in taking Nasmi to court over the matter, according to his deposition to the court .
Onn has made a clear recent attempt to disassociate himself from these various property enterprises, in which he originally held a stake through his company Kesuma holdings. He dissolved Kesuma Holdings in early 2009. However, the continuing ownership of the companies by his own wife, daughter and sister in law, all based at his home in Carrara Road offers painfully little disguise!
The most expensive penthouse ever sold in Sydney!
However, there is another stunning property investment that Farok also refers to in his court case. This property also caught the attention of the newspapers when the penthouse flat in the development, known as Ten Wylde Street in the fashionable downtown harbour area of Potts Point, alone sold for a record-breaking $20 million Australian Dollars in 2008!
The penthouse is just one of a series of flats in the re-development that, thanks toFarok’s court case ,we know Onn Mahmud was heavily involved with. The development was of an old service apartment building and it would appear from the court case that Onn had bought the block and was re-furbishing it for sale as top quality flats.
Alternatively, it is possible that he himself was the ‘mystery buyer’ behind the record-breatking $20 million penthouse purchase, which interestingly eventually fell through. The Australian authorities should clearly by now conclude that there is a case to investigate, as to whether the products of timber corruption in Sarawak have provided such serious buying power in their property markets!
So what happened to Farok?
We would also like to investigate this matter further and to find out what assets belong to the other property companies referred to in Farok Majeed’s court documents.
However, despite our efforts we have not been able to trace Farok Majeed. We do know that he was made a bankrupt at some stage, so we assume he did not succeed in claiming a satisfactory settlement from the Mahmuds. However all his work places and academic links which have been listed have informed us that they no longer know his whereabouts.
Farok Majeed was the founder and Chairman of a Singapore association of building renovators called RADAC. However, although he authored an address used in its 2010 report no one at RADAC has been able to inform Sarawak Report of the whereabouts of their boss. Shortly after we began enquiries RADAC replaced Majeed as their Chairman.
“We know it sounds strange” the new Chairman, Jonny See, told us in October “but we have no idea how to contact Farok Majeed”.
Staff at RADAC told us they had not heard from Majeed for many months.
Likewise, another organisation associated with Farok, the US based Construction Dispute Resolution Services, first told us that Farok was an “active” member of the group and forwarded our messages. However, his colleagues later admitted that they have not heard from him “for about two years”.
We enquired at his former University of Sydney department where, until we contacted them, Farok was still listed as a member of the teaching staff. His Professor told us that he has not seen or heard from Farok for some considerable while.
Finally, we enquired of Mr Majeed’s bankruptcy lawyers as to the whereabouts of their former client. However, they too have said that they are no longer able to trace him through their contact details. His companies are closed and he is no longer registered at any address and a Private Detective Agency in Australia has also been unable to discover him. Perhaps he has moved back to Malaysia? Perhaps he has hidden himself, which would be unusual for an individual in the property consultancy business?
Perhaps Mr Majeed will hear of the article and contact us, since we believe he can give us extensive information about the Mahmud family’s property wealth, which people in Sarawak are entitled to know about? Alternatively, perhaps Mr Onn Mahmud can give us the information we are looking for? Perhaps he can tell us what happened to his former business partner and then legal adversary Farok Majeed?