We can reveal that the husband of Taib’s eldest daughter, the Canadian, Hisham (Sean) Murray, has grabbed control of one of Kuching’s most lucrative property developments on the so-called Kuching Isthmus, a venture sponsored by the State Government.
The RM380 million luxury hotel and office complex was announced at the end of last year as a key initiative on the site, which has been designated by the State Government as a ’Special Development Area’ and is being touted as the new Central Business District for the capital.
CMS Land Sdn Bhd, a joint subsidiary of the largely Taib family-owned company CMS and the State Government, acquired ownership of the entire 240 acres of development land on the Isthmus, after it was alienated from local title-holders through a series of controversial forced purchases, in the late 1990s.
If that was not favouritism enough, the company has now been granted numerous incentives to build through the injection of huge sums of public money into the area.
CMS Land has officially estimated that the project has a “gross development value of RM2.8 billion“!
However, we can demonstrate that this latest major construction project on the site is actually being driven forward by a mysterious foreign company, run by an inner-circle of Taib’s immediate family.
The controlling share in the Joint Venture, which is situated on 10 acres provided by CMS Land, belongs to a company called Premier Cottage Sdn Bhd. The Director of that company is Sean Murray, along with Taib’s other daughter Hanifah and his favoured sister-in-law, Gertie Chong. However, the sole shareholder of Premier Cottage is a foreign company, Pioneer City Enterprises Limited, which supplies no profile or country address, despite having been awarded a significant public project.
This is not the first time that the Murrays have claimed a stake in the Isthmus. Their company City Gate Corporation (part of the Sakto Group based in Ottawa) also snaffled a $110 million dollar contract to design the much talked about Kuching Tower, together with another company called ZW Group.
The Director of Aberdeen Project Facilitators and the Project Manager of ZW both happen to be one Thady Murray.
Thady Murray also acts as the President of City Gate Corporation and is one of the many members of Sean Murray’s family, who work out of the Sakto/City Gate Headquarters in their Preston Tower building, Ottawa!
’My family don’t do business in Sarawak!’
These discoveries make a further mockery of Taib’s claims that his family ‘does no business in Sarawak’. During the recent State Election campaign the Chief Minister countered critics of his family’s wealth by claiming his children and relatives had earned all their money through business activities outside Sarawak and that he had never exploited his political position!
“I don’t want conflict of interest to haunt me all the time. [if] I do business inside the country, people will say I use my influence to enrich myself, so we did it outside the country” [Taib Mahmud]
Taib went on to claim that the reason why his eldest daughter Jamilah and her husband Sean (Hisham) Murray are amongst the flashiest and richest couples in Ottawa, Canada, likewise owes to their business acumen in that country and not to wealth gained from Sarawak:
“Jamilah’s business in Canada is successful because she is good” [Taib Mahmud]
To the contrary, it is well known that Taib and his children each own scores of companies in Sarawak, all of which prosper owing to key monopolies, state contracts, timber and plantation concessions, which he himself has granted.
All Taib’s brothers and sisters have equally benefited from the same corruption, so it is small wonder that there is little opportunity left for anyone else.
Indeed, Taib’s statement that his family do no business in Sarawak is no more truthful than his claim that 80% of Sarawak’s jungle has been left untouched. Clearly, the Chief Minister follows the principle that if you are going to tell a lie, you should make it a big, fat lie!
Murray family business?
It would seem that a similar approach is being taken by the Taib family regarding their explanations for the millions of dollars worth of property investment in Canada and beyond. The multi-million dollar enterprise Sakto has been consistently portrayed as a ‘Murray family business’, which has expanded into the UK, US and Australia.
Numerous members of Sean Murray’s family now work in Sakto and Murray’s cousin, Christopher Murray, who runs the subsidiary Ridgeford Properties in London, told one journalist that the whole enterprise was started by a previous generation of Murrays and was a ‘Murray family company’. This impression is maintained, for example, in Wikipedia entries like those above.
But, in fact Sakto was started by the Taibs in 1983 with an initial shareholder investment of over $4 million, all before Jamilah met with her future husband Sean. Those interest-free and unconditional shareholder loans increased every year, amounting to over $9 million dollars by the time Sean gained a foothold in the company as a Director following his marriage to Jamilah in 1987. By 1993 those shareholders (who can remain anonymous in Canada) had incresed the investment to over $25 million and the company now has properties worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
Likewise, the sister company Sakti was started in 1987 by three of Taib’s children and two of Taib’s brothers in the US. And Ridgeford Properties in London was established by a company called Astar Properties in 1996, which operated out of the same BVI Trust as the CMS Trust Fund.
Ridgeford still benefits from a multi-million pound interest-free loan provided by a company called TESS Investments, which operates out of that same BVI office, even though formal ownership of the company has been transferred to City Gate International Corporation in Canada, which is directed by Sean Murray and his wife Jamilah Taib.
In fact, despite claims that Sean Murray ‘owns’ Sakto and related companies, available documentation indicates a pattern where he acts as a Director of these companies, while actual ownership remains with the Taib family into which he has married!
Thus, although he is a Director of Sakti in the US, court records in 2008 demonstrated that the company shares belonged to his wife and other Taib family members. Likewise Sitehost Pty in Australia, where he is a Director, but it is his wife who is the shareholder of the company that owns the Adelaide Hilton and the surrounding city centre shopping complex.
Profiting in Sarawak
Given the claims about Jamilah and Sean’s ’self-made’ wealth, it is therefore surely surprising that they have taken such opportunities in Kuching’s biggest building project for the next decade.
Surely, to avoid those accusations of conflict of interest, they should be seeking to invest in projects anywhere else in the world, apart from their father in law’s own capital city on a state sponsored development?
Likewise, for a Chief Minister anxious to show that he is not favouring his family or allowing them to do business in Sarawak, is not it extraordinary to have awarded the latest multi-million ringgit project to a company Directed by his Canadian son in law Sean Murray?
However, of course there is no shortage of precedent . On the Isthmus, as elsewhere in Sarawak, all the money-making opportunities have been given to Taib’s family, with the full authorisation of his Planning Ministry.
Indeed the only projects that have been started so far have all been funded by the State, including the RM200 million Borneo Convention Centre, the only building so far completed, and the RM 230 million Sarawak Energy Building. Both contracts were of course awarded to CMS, whose Managing Directors are Taib’s son and son-in-law and whose largest shareholders are Taib’s children and late wife.
In the case of the Joint Venture Hotel project a CMS announcement last December revealed that the new hotel project would be carried out by a private company Isthmus Developments Sdn Bhd. CMS Land (49% owned by the state body SEDC) would provide the land, but the controlling 51% shareholding of the Joint Venture would go to the previously unheard of Premier Cottage.
Premier Cottage is in turn owned by the mysterious Pioneer City Enterprises Limited, which is a non-Malaysian company that offers no details about itself in the Register of Companies!
Time for Murray to explain Sakto’s fortune
As one of the three Directors of Premier Cottag, along with Hanifah and Gertie, Sean Murray is one person who IS in a position to tell the people of Sarawak who owns the company that is now about to control one of Kuching’s major investment projects. After all, it is taking place on land that was alienated by the government, in the name of the public interest and development.
He and the Chief Minister should also surely explain, why they think this example of the Taib family doing business in a Sarawak Special Development zone, should not be considered a conflict of interest or an abuse of power by family members of the Chief Minister?
As this is a publicly backed investment, made possible by the alienation of land from its original owners and assisted by all manner of state support, the public is entitled to know about the suitability and track record of the company that has been entrusted with the job.
They are also entitled to know who is involved in order to ascertain whether dealings have been above board.
Furthermore, the shareholders of CMS, as well as the taxpayers funding the SEDC (Sarawak Economic Development Corporation), should also be entitled to know who owns Pioneer City Enterprises, because their Directors have provided the valuable building site in return for a joint shareholding with an anonymous venture!
Winners and losers
While we wait for answers, it is worth remembering who loses and who gains from Sarawak’s so-called ‘Development’ projects.
The Kuching Isthmus was first earmarked for possible development back in 1973 and subjected to a notorious Section 47 Order under the Land Law. However, for the following two decades nothing at all was done with the project and the government issued numerous long leases on the land to unsuspecting purchasers.
Then suddenly in the mid-90s Taib, in his role as Planning Minister, decided to revive the project and move on with alienating the land. Under any principle of natural justice or good governance the original order should have lapsed, but Taib and his henchmen took the opportunity to demand the land at the original 1973 prices!
In one case a land-owner, who had invested all their savings in the district of Muara Tebas, was kicked off their land for a mere RM 6,628.78 per hectare. This is land that CMS Land simultaneously evaluated at roughly RM 1 million a hectare, according to the details laid out in the Joint Venture Agreement - over a hundred times as much!
The Kuching Isthmus Development, therefore, represents just one more example in Sarawak, where development has meant fabulous wealth and opportunities for Taib’s inner-circle of family and cronies and destitution and disaster for the smaller people he has been willing to exploit.
Time and again DAP and PKR opposition politicians have demanded an explanation for the disgraceful treatment of the Malay and Chinese inhabitants of the Kuching Isthmus, many of them fishermen who have lived there for generations.
Now they have further confirmation that the continuing enrichment of the Taibs is the driving pattern behind this development, and that includes their overseas family members.
End timber corruption
Campaigners across the world are currently stepping up their campaign to force world governments to implement the UN’s anti-money laundering legislation and investigate the Taib-related multi-million dollar property portfolios in Canada, the US, UK and Australia.
Most of these investments are now directed by Sean Murray from his Ottawa base in Canada, through the companies he runs with his wife, Taib’s daughter Jamilah, and a string of his own family members.
All of these companies can be traced to original investments by the Taib family, whose entire wealth has been founded on Taib Mahmud’s corrupt exploitation of the State of Sarawak.