According to Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) documents obtained by Sarawak Report, Malaysia’s Foreign Minister, Anifar Aman, has been the secret beneficiary of lucrative timber licences in Sabah’s dwindling Forest Reserves.
The concessions came thanks to his brother, the local Chief Minister, Musa Aman.
The documents form part of a major investigation by the MACC into timber corruption, after an agent and nominee for Musa Aman, Michael Chia, was caught attempting to smuggle SG$16million out of Hong Kong in 2008.
We can reveal that the leaked papers show that investigators concluded that the Chief Minister had corruptly issued timber licences to his brother worth tens of millions of ringgit in their home state.
However, the investigation has been blocked at the highest levels and its findings kept secret, until now.
Our informants say that the brothers’ relative and fellow Sabahan, Attorney General, Abdul Gani bin Patail, has refused to allow charges to be brought and PM, Najib Razak, has scandalously turned a blind eye to the affair.
Virgin Forest Reserve was cleared by Aman
The documents in our possession list two major concessions and a salvaging and purchase arrangement with Yayasan Sabah for felled logs. The beneficiaries of the deals are listed as Anifar Aman and Hairul Aman, a nephew. Yayasan Sabah’s Forest Manager, Mohd Daud Tampokong was identified as the man who had authorised the agreements.
We can see from the document that one set of deals was conducted through the company Aktif Syabas Sdn Bhd. The company was licensed to harvest 4,336 hectares of timber in block YS (Yayasan Sandakan) 1/02 and to further salvage and purchase ‘residual logs’ in Benta Wawasan’s concession BW2/00(1), an area of 3,000 hectares.
However, the other deal, made with the company Para Era Sdn Bhd, is even more shocking. It allows the concessionaire to extract timber from 2,000 hectares of virgin forest at the Pinagah Forest Reserve:
“Log extraction contract to harvest timber with 60-120cm dbh from a 2,000 ha of virgin forest at the Pinangah Forest reserve”. (see above table extract)
According to the document produced by the MACC, the parties behind these deals was Anifah Aman and his nephew Hairul, who are named on the document.
It is therefore noteworthy that both licences were awarded shortly after Anifah’s brother, Musa Aman (left) became Chief Minister and Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Yayasan Sabah in 2003.
Tragically, our information is that the Forest Reserve was totally razed by 2007, despite the strictures about only felling trees over 60cm.
This MACC information substantiates complaints from within the industry that Musa Aman has turned existing corruption in Sabah’s timber business into a full-scale rape of the remaining forests in the state:
“He has maximised the kickback squeeze” confided one insider to Sarawak Report
None of the public documents of these companies actually name Aman as the beneficiary.
However, insiders claim that the use of nominees is standard in the Sabah timber business and clearly the investigation by MACC officials led them to conclude, after months of investigation, that the Foreign Minister was the true concessionaire.
Yet, this conclusion by the MACC has never been tested in court, because the Attorney General, Abdul Gani biin Patail, who is also from Lahad Datu in Sabah and closely connected to the Aman family, has refused to pursue the case.
Indeed the Attorney General has forced the MACC to shelve its entire investigation in Sabah, which was one of the largest and most extensive ever undertaken by that body and involved sums amounting to billions of ringgit, siphoned out of the state by corruption at the highest level.
So, it is surely of concern that, given Abdul Gani’s close family relationship to the Musa brothers, the Attourney General did not withdraw from the decision over whether to continue with the case.
In such cases, where there is a plain conflict of interest, the government’s top law officer has to be seen to be acting from a position of impartiality. However, he has done the opposite and used his position to block any action on the huge body of evidence showing corruption in Sabah at the highest levels of state government and beyond.
The political interests are equally glaring. Gani, who gained a mere 3rd class law degree at the University of Malaya, has never been regarded as one of the country’s best legal minds, yet he has been promoted to the top of the judiciary.
Critics regard him as primarily a BN ‘yes man’, appointed to a pole position to protect corrupted politicians.
With Malaysia rocketing to the top of the international league for illegal capital flight, many are concerned that it Gani’s refusal to allow high level corruption investigations to go ahead that has allowed BN politicians to continue to siphon out the country’s wealth unhindered.
Tragic loss of a Forest Reserve in Sabah
Meanwhile, our research has calculated the monetary value of the loss of the Pinangah Forest Reserve to the company Para Era Sdn Bhd.
Under the licence, this precious area of bio-diversity was supposed only to be selectively logged.
Indeed, according to insiders only around 20% of the available timber in the 2,000 hectare concession was ever officially reported and taxed by the authorities.
Yet the area has been completely razed, after becoming caught up in a mysterious scandal, involving allegations of illegal logging that were later dropped by the MACC.
In the headline-grabbing case in 2007, 20 lorries were detained and 5,000 logs worth millions were seized during an MACC raid against clear-felling in this region by workers, supposedly working without a licence. It was one of the biggest round-ups of alleged illegal loggers ever in Malaysia.
The result of this logging, as so many other cases, was the destruction of this virgin forest reserve.
Yet, despite the raids and promises of a full enquiry, in the end the authorities never made a single arrest!
Having at first declared it would cooperate to track down the people behind this illegal logging, the Forestry Department’s Sam Mannan later declared that the loggers had been legal after all and in possession of a permit.
This was in spite of the clear felling of the area and the fact that only a fraction of the available timber was declared!
These contradictions have never been explained and the MACC has given up trying to prosecute the case.
It leaves many suspicions unanswered. In particular there is a well known track record of some timber concessions using back door illegal logging to harvest their own areas, in order to avoid the taxes and restrictions imposed against clear felling.
So, if those caught clear-felling the jungle had permits after all, why have the company and the Forestry Department not come clear about what on earth has been going on and why the area has been destroyed?
A crime worth tens of millions
Whoever did benefit from the destruction of Pinangah made tens of millions.
Experts say that virgin jungle provides 100 cubic metres of wood per hectare. Licence holders are supposed to pay Yayasan Sabah (the State) RM55 and the Forestry Department RM95 per cubic metre logged, a total of RM150 in tax.
This should afford a profit to the licence holder of RM30million for a 2,000 hectare area.
However, because the entire area has been harvested and very little declared, it turns out that roughly 200,000 cubic metres of wood have been extracted without paying that RM150 per cubic metre in tax! This means a total of around RM30million in tax avoidance.
So, someone has made RM60million out of felling this concession, double the already substantial RM30million of profit that would have made if the logging had been taxed.
And they have destroyed the landscape in the process and denied revenue to the people of Sabah.
Yet, because of the failure to conclude a proper investigation and prosecution into the case, it has not been established whether those responsible were genuine illegal loggers, or someone to do with the actual concession holders.
And, because the MACC has been blocked into its own investigations into the corruption surrounding the issuing of this concession in the first place, it has not been established whether the licence is indeed corruptly linked to Anifah Aman, the brother of the Chief Minister of Sabah and the Foreign Minister of Malaysia.
According to the leaked papers in our possession, the MACC investigators did believe there was such a corrupt link and that Aman was the beneficiary.
As a result, there remain an awful lot of questions officially unanswered over what is just part of one of Malaysia’s worst corruption scandals. Luckily, Sarawak Report now has a mass of evidence relating to the suppressed MACC enquiry, which it will be revealing to the public over coming days!