Funny Business in Hong Kong
24 Jun 2011
MACC Investigators have a headache in store for them when they turn to Hong Kong, such is the tangled web of Taib family shareholdings.
However, delving into these business concerns will throw up some intriguing coincidences, as Sarawak Report’s own researches can already demonstrate.
We can also demonstrate how a number of Taib-linked companies are now owned or being managed out of the BVI by one of the Philippine’s top bankers Franciso C Sebastian, who started his career as a Financial Advisor in Hong Kong. We suggest that investigations in Hong Kong hold the key to tracing the early development of Taib’s international web of global investments as the profits from felling Sarawak’s rainforests escaped abroad.
The Shea Kin Kwok connection
The first job that needs doing is to interview Mr Shea Kin Kwok. Shea was long regarded as a mysterious businessman with several links to Taib family companies. However, Sarawak Report has now confirmed that he was in fact the paid secretary to Taib’s brother Onn Mahmud. His job was to manage Achi Jaya company affairs out of Hong Kong, in particular to control the Achi Jaya linked companies into which payments were being made.
This activity became public in April 2007, when the shipping kickbacks scandal broke after the Japanese tax authorities prosecuted timber exporters for not declaring millions of dollars paid to Regent Star Company Ltd, which was one of the companies directed by Shea Kin Kwok out of his office in Connaught Road. The Japanese timber exporters explained they had been forced to pay the kickbacks to Regent Star in order to get their shipping licences.
The links were glaring. Taib had put his brother Onn’s Achi Jaya Corporation in charge of issuing export licences for timber from Sarawak and another company Regent Star, run by Onn’s secretary, was receiving the kickbacks in Hong Kong.
Web of companies
Regent Star had been incorporated in 1983 (the same year Achi Jaya was set up by Onn in Sarawak). Regent Star was 50% owned by Shea and 50% by another employee, Kho Eng Beng and we have identified a number of other related Hong Kong companies owned and directed by the same pair: Grand Will Limited (incorporated 1984), Grand Shine Trading (incorporated 1983), Herolite investment (incorporated 1983), Natalite (incorporated 1983) and Wittaker Company Ltd (incorporated 1985). Shea also became listed as one of the major shareholders in Sarawak Oil Palm, a privatised State venture which inherited huge tracts of state lands.
Another company, Richfold Investment Ltd, was especially interesting, because it was incorporated on the same day and registered at the same office as Regent Star and again Shea was a Director and Shareholder. But the other shareholder in this particular company was Onn Mahmud himself. Shea had just one share in the company…. and Onn had the remaining 49,998 !
So many coincidences
After the kickback scandal broke an awful lot of coincidences occurred. Grand Will Limited and Regent Star Company Ltd were both dissolved on the same day, 9th November 2007. On the other hand, Richfold stayed active for another few months, until it too was closed 9th May 2008.
Meanwhile, coincidentally, Grand Will and Regent Star had both re-opened on the very same day just a month later, under different Directors and Shareholders. Sarawak Report notes that also on that very same day, 21st December 2007, a brand new company was opened in Hong Kong called TESS Limited HK.
TESS Limited HK has a very similar name to TESS Investments (BVI), the company based at PO Box 438in the British Virgin Islands that has been funding Taib family investments in the UK through Ridgeford Properites Ltd.
Indeed, TESS Investments (BVI) was incorporated 23rd October 1996 just the day before the multi-million pound Ridgeford Properties was incorporated in the UK. Ridgeford is run by Sean Murray, Taib’s son-in-law, who has numerous involvements in Taib family property companies worldwide and it has benefited for years from multi-million, interest-free, open-ended loans from TESS Investments (BVI).
Another company registered at the same PO BOX 438 address in BVI is the original shareholder of Ridgeford Properties, Astar Properties, which was itself also incorporated in October 1996, just days before TESS Investments and Ridgeford Properties. In yet another coincidental twist, Astar Properties is also the name of one of the shareholders of the Taib family company in Australia, Sitehost Pty, which owns the Adelaide Hilton (although this Astar Properties is misleadingly registered at a non-existent address in Guernsey).
It is worth pointing out yet another related coincidence, which is that the Taib family company CMS owns a trust Company which is also based at the very same PO Box 438 address in BVI as TESS Investments (BVI) and Astar Properties - an address managed by the trustee company Equity Trust.
Furthermore, at the risk of boggling readers’ minds with coincidences, we would further draw their attention to the ownership of the new Hong Kong company, TESS Limited HK, that we mentioned opened on the same day that Regent Star Limited and Grand Will Limited re-opened, 21st December 2007.
The registered shareholder of TESS Limited HK is a company called TOA Services (BVI). Our investigations show, however, that there is no actual company of that name in BVI. On the other hand, the address listed for the non-existent TOA Services (BVI) is the same PO Box 438address shared by CMS, TESS Investments and Astar Properties!
Questions to answer
Therefore, since Taib Mahmud is currently making statements and denials, Sarawak Report asks if he is prepared to categorically deny that there is any path or connection between money taken in by Richfold Investments Ltd in Hong Kong and money paid out to Ridgeford Properties Ltd in the United Kingdom via PO Box 438 BVI?
Is he also prepared to deny that the vast kickbacks handed to his brother Onn’s secretary through Regent Star Limited did not find its way into the sister company Richfold Investments, directly owned by Onn?
Finally, is he prepared to explain to the State Assembly in detail why he thinks it is fitting to hand control over shipping licences to his own brother’s company and then arrogantly deny all wrong-doing when millions in shipping kickbacks are discovered to have been extracted by another company owned by his brother’s secretary?
Surely Taib’s dismissive denials can only increase suspicion over his guilt? If he was genuinely free from involvement and concerned about corruption he would long since have rushed to investigate the matter fully and openly (and also have resigned, which is the only honourable course after allowing such appalling graft to take place).
Other companies owned by Shea and a second tangled web that also leads to the BVI
Shea Kin Kwok was originally the Director and 50% Shareholder (once more together with Kho Eng Beng) of two separate Mahmud-linked companies, Grand Shine Trading and Herolite Investment Limited, which both hold 5% of the shares in Achi Jaya, Onn Mahmud’s vast shipping and plantation company. Likewise they owned a sister company Natalite. All of these companies are based in Hong Kong.
Given that Sarawak Report has learnt from insiders that Onn’s cut from the businesses that he ran as a nominee for his brother, the Chief Minister Taib Mahmud, was 10%, we require some more denials to avoid reaching some obvious conclusions. Can Taib deny that the 10% of Achi Jaya that belonged to Grand Shine and Herolite and were put in the hands of Onn’s employees, were not indeed his brother’s 10% of the company ? Can he deny that the remaining 90% of the company secretly belongs to him?
Interestingly, in 2004 a series of fiendish manoeuvres were embarked upon to remove these two companies from the formal ownership of Shea and Kho and to place them safely and anonymously in the hands of bankers, yet again in the tax free haven of the British Virgin Islands.
Our researches have traced how Grand Shine and Herolite were first taken over by the companies Yield Court and Citifull Company respectively. Yield Court in turn belonged to Cooperheat Overseas Services Ltd. All three of these companies are yet in turn owned by two shareholder companies called Bona Co Ltd and Fidico Ltd and every one of these five companies are managed by Intercorp Services, 11th Floor Dah Sing Life Building, 99 Voeux Rd, Hong Kong.
The shareholders of Bona Co and Fidico turn out to be yet another two companies called Penryn Ltd and Peckham Ltd (both incorporated 12th June 1984 and also managed by Intercorp Services).
Penryn Ltd is a shareholder of Peckam Ltd and Pekham Ltd is a shareholder of Penryn Ltd.
However, the other shareholder of both companies is yet another company Integrated Financial Services, which is again also based at the same office as Intercorp Services in Hong Kong.
Integrated Financial Services is in fact the owner of Intercorp and is therefore now the ultimate owner of Grand Shine and Herolite, which used to belong to Onn’s office managers and which still own a 10% share of Achi Jaya Holdings.
So who owns Integrated Financial Services? Company records show that the shareholders are Integrated Financial Services Holdings, based in the BVI and also Francisco C Sebastian a top banker in a Philippines, who originally worked as a financial advisor in Hong Kong.
By yet another coincidence of names, Integrated Financial Services also owned Richford Management Ltd, another Hong Kong Company. Sarawak Report would like to know whether Mr Sebastian has indeed bought up the Achi Jaya shares by this circuitous route, or was he just acting as an advisor and trustee for Onn Mahmud as he attempted to secretly move his shares out of the hands of his secretary and into a safe tax haven?
Time for transparency
Given the glaring potential for the abuse of political influence surrounding the roles and activities of the Achi Jaya Group of companies it is only correct that the Chief Minister and his family should be utterly transparent and open about such matters and answer the questions that Sarawak Report and others have been raising. Otherwise onlookers will be entitled to come to their own conclusions and demand that the MACC makes a full investigation into the Taib family business activities in Hong Kong.
Even if investigators are guaranteed a headache as they wade through the devious and complicated paths of company ownership.