The Chief Minister’s cousin and business nominee, Hamed Sepawi, has exposed more of his own sleazy dealings as the result of an ill-judged, angry outburst against recent criticism.
Sepawi is one of Asia’s richest men, thanks to the patronage of Taib, and his business interests include his role as Executive Chairman of the timber and plantation giant Ta Ann Bhd, of which he is also a major shareholder.
He is also a Director of one of Sarawak’s other most controversial companies, Grand Perfect Sdn Bhd, which runs South East Asia’s largest Acacia Plantation project.
Grand Perfect Sdn Bhd has been blamed for grabbing land from native people and breaking down villages as it drives to exploit a half million hectare concession handed to it in 2002 by the Chief Minister and Land Resources Minister, Sepawi’s cousin, Abdul Taib Mahmud.
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Legal denials by Ta Ann
However, last week a lawyer representing Ta Ann sent a furious letter to the leader of Sarawak’s PKR opposition party, the lawyer Baru Bian, demanding retractions and “apology” over remarks allegedly made to a Tasmanian newspaper. It cited a recent article in Tasmania’s Mercury newspaper which had stated that Ta Ann owns one third of the controversial plantation company Grand Perfect.
The lawyer declared this was untrue. “Your statement in the said newspaper report was both factually wrong and misleading”, thundered Zaid Ibrahim & Co, Kuching, on behalf of Ta Ann.
As a result, Ta Ann are demanding a grovelling apology from Mr Bian to be placed in a weekend edition of the Mercury within two weeks, saying the following:
“I wish to tender my unreserved apology to Ta Ann for making a gross error in my statement and for any embarrassment, damage to their reputation and credibility caused. It has now been brought to my attention that Grand Perfect is not a subsidiary of Ta Ann and that Ta Ann do not own any shares in Grand Perfect”
With legal advisers like these, who needs critics?
The folly of such an arrogant demand from a company whose Executive Chairman is up to his neck in accusations of patronage and nepotism has immediately become clear.
In the first place any reading of the offending article makes plain that the statement about the 30% shareholding is made by the Australian Mercury reporter, not Baru Bian, so it is to the Mercury newspaper that Ta Ann should be addressing any complaints.
However, it is the tone of the letter’s referrences to Grand Perfect that is most damning. Why is the lawyer implying that a ‘mistaken’ association with the company could cause Ta Ann “embarrassment” or “damage to reputation” or “loss of credibility”?
Is Grand Perfect a company of such a low reputation as to invite such problems? Surely to comply with making such an apology would indeed invite genuine grounds for legal complaint, but from Grand Perfect not Ta Ann!
Grand Perfect’s business connections with the State of Sarawak
The disparaging remarks towards Grand Perfect are even more confusing given that company’s close dealings with State of Sarawak and also its widely reported connections with Ta Ann.
Indeed Grand Perfect Sdn Bhd received considerable publicity back in 2003, when it was set up as a conglomerate, commissioned by the State of Sarawak to plant half a million hectares of acacia in the Bintulu region in return for a hefty RM180 million investment.
At that time there was no attempt to hide the three companies involved in the joint venture, which was sponsored by the State Government run by Abdul Taib Mahmud. The companies were three of his key crony logging concerns, Samling, KTS and Ta Ann.
Samling is run by the Yaw family, KTS is run by the Lau family and Ta Ann is run by Hamid Sepawi. All three of these timber tycoons have received numerous massive logging and plantation licences over the years, as a personal gift from the Chief Minister without any scrutiny or proper open tendering.
So why is Ta Ann denying the association now and with such force? Why has it not demanded similar apologies over the years from all the other publications which have reported on Sarawak’s largest plantation scheme, mentioning Ta Ann’s supposed involvement?
It may be that Ta Ann, as a publicly listed company now trying to do business in Australia, is trying to dissassociate itself not only from the stain of cronyism and nepotism that attaches to Sarawak’s Chief Minister having handed such a vast state project to a company run by his own cousin, but also from the outcry over the land grab cases caused by the controversial project.
Grand Perfect Sdn Bhd is a dirty name in much of Bintulu these days. Under its guise, three of the state’s most corrupted logging companies have appeared to ride roughshod over the local people and their landrights.
There have been blockades against the company by local people, which have been dispersed by the police amid complaints about numerous infringements on land and also the pollution of the rivers on which these people depend for food and water.
As the growing body of critics of these grand plantations have pointed out, such schemes have made only the rich men richer, but they have made the poor even poorer, taking their lands and offering nothing in return.
Indeed, Grand Perfect is one of the many companies now being sued by Baru Bian himself in over 300 land rights cases on behalf of native people, who have been totally let down by the ‘Sultan of Sarawak’ in favour of his money-making cronies.
So who does own Grand Perfect?
For these reasons it appears Ta Ann no longer wishes to acknowledge any association with Grand Perfect and has threatened to sue Baru Bian for implying that it owns a 1/3rd of the company..
So Sarawak Report has conducted a company search into this private company to find out if Ta Ann’s claims are true, that it has nothing to do with Grand Perfect. And we discovered that the third company currently involved in the ownership is indeed no longer Ta Ann, if ever it was.
So why the assumption for so many years that Ta Ann, a public company run by Hamid Sepawi, was the lucky recipient of all that public money to start Sarawak’s biggest plantation venture?
When we investigated the ownership of the third company Gasijaya Sdn Bhd the mystery was immediately solved!
The owner of Gasijaya, which in turn owns a third of Grand Perfect, which was handed such an enormous RM 180 million plantation project by the State of Sarawak, is none other than Hamed Sepawi himself!
Remember, Sepawi is a Director of both Grand Perfect and Ta Ann. We can now see he is also a massive shareholder in both companies!
So, now we have the truth. It would have been bad enough for Taib to have handed this massive plantation project to Ta Ann as a public company managed by his cousin, also a major shareholder. But the Chief Minister did even worse than that. He has allowed the publicly funded project to go straight to a private company owned by his own cousin !
How stupid of Sepawi to have allowed his company lawyers at Ta Ann to make such a fuss about the association with Grand Perfect Sdn Bhd that we decided to investigate who had really been handed the project.
Sarawak Report challenges the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission to investigate consider this particular example of nepotism and power abuse. Or, for them, is it just another case of business as usual under BN in Malaysia?