Documents leaked from a Malaysian Anti Corruption Commission (MACC) enquiry have provided devastating evidence of the Sabah Chief Minister, Musa Aman’s, personal involvement in a massive timber kickback scandal, which insiders say has been subject to a high level political cover-up.
Aman has always denied that he was linked to allegations surrounding the Sabah timber trader Michael Chia, who was arrested in Hong Kong and charged with money laundering, as he attempted to smuggle SG$16million in bank notes back to Malaysia in 2008.
However, Sarawak Report has now obtained access to secret documents from the investigations by Hong Kong’s Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) and Malaysia’s MACC, which directly implicate the Chief Minister.
These include copies of bank statements, which record payments to Musa Aman’s own sons from suspect accounts linked to Chia’s business activities.
Michael Chia, who referred to himself as Aman’s adopted son, played the role as facilitator for kickbacks to the Chief Minister, according to trade insiders.
They say that soon after Aman took office, Chia started approaching key timber industry players to make plain that major concessions would be available – but only if kickbacks were paid, through him as the connector to Musa Aman.
“Tampokong was instructed to follow Chia’s instructions”, say sources. Meaning that Yayasan Sabah’s Forest Manager, Mohd Daud Tampokong, had been instructed by the Chairman of the Board Trustees, Musa Aman, to do Chia’s bidding when it came to authorising logging licences.
Yayasan Sabah controls around a million hectares of remaining forest land, which it is suppose to protect and manage on behalf of the state and its people. Unwisely, the country’s top politician is also the head of Yayasan’s Board of Trustees, giving the Chief Minister unlimited personal control over the country’s major natural resource.
Such a lack of check and balances is a recipe for corruption and our evidence shows that Aman took spectacular advantage.
At the time of his arrest in Hong Kong, clutching the bundle of Singapore bank notes worth SG$10,000 each, Chia was suspected of smuggling dirty money, with the intention of bringing it back to Sabah to finance election bribery by BN.
The money and related bank accounts were frozen in Hong Kong by the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) for the maximum period of 3 years, while investigators sought to get vital cooperation from Malaysia’s Attorney General, Abdul Gani Patail, in order to be able to get the evidence they needed from the Malay authorities.
Simultaneously the MACC began their own investigation, seizing 9 lorry loads of material and documents from the premises of Michael Chia and his timber business associates, including timber magnates Andrew Lim and Admond Looh.
The investigators discovered that Chia had been running a number of related bank accounts through HSBC, Singapore and the Swiss Bank UBS, based in Hong Kong. We have copies of statements from these bank accounts showing that the sons of Musa Aman were taking money out of one of them on a regular basis, based on a standing instruction.
This account was set up as an Australian Dollar account in Singapore, apparently because the boys were then studying in Perth, Australia. Money was also removed from the account by Imbarine Bujang, who was the man delegated by Musa Aman to take care of the boys’ needs while away at University in Perth.
Mohammed Hayssam Musa and Hazem Mubarak Musa are both offspring of the Chief Minister. Sarawak Report has numerous copies of statements from this bank account, showing that their expenses were being regularly paid from it during 2006 and 2007.
A payment was also made to the Australian property company, Riverstar Investment Pty Ltd, to cover the rental costs of the boys’ apartment in Perth.
Statements in our possession from connected USD$ accounts with the same UBS Hong Kong bank (managed through the Singapore branch) show how money was transferred to cover the payments. Our evidence is that the money flowing into these accounts was directly linked to the granting of major timber licences by Yayasan Sabah.
Any attempt by the Chief Minister to distance himself and his family from the evidence that he has been receiving money through Michael Chia is made even less convincing by the fact that other bank statements, made available to the MACC enquiry, show that Chia himself had been covering these regular payments to the boys in the period before setting up the UBS account in 2006.
These payments were made through his personal HSBC account!
The leaked documents in our possession also show that Yayasan Sabah’s Forest Manager, Mohd Daud Tampokong (instructed to cooperate with Chia) also received an enormous payment from another related account run by Chia and his associates, this time from a company based in the British Virgin Islands, Zenique Investments Ltd.
We question on what grounds the salaried civil servant in charge of managing Sabah’s timber concessions could legitimately accept a SD85,000 payments from an offshore British Virgin Island account?
This evidence strongly corroborates allegations that Michael Chia was receiving kickbacks from timber companies receiving concessions from Yayasan Sabah, which had been authorised by Mohd Daud Tampokong, and that Chia was then forwarding money from his web of bank accounts to Musa and to the Forest Manager.
Musa Aman has till now distanced himself from this kickback investigation, in which case he needs to come up with convincing explanations about these payments.
So far, the Chief Minister has been protected from prosecution, according to our sources, by the deliberate obstruction of the official investigation by Malaysia’s top law enforcement authority, the Attorney General.
Abdul Gani Patail is a fellow Sabahan and has close family connections with the Aman family and he has blocked the pressing of all charges.
We have learnt that the Hong Kong Anti-Corruption Commission investigators initially approached the Malaysian authorities in 2008 with a request for assistance in pursuing their enquiries after Michael Chia’s arrest.
However, the Attorney General refused to sign the necessary mutual legal assistance documents to enable inter-country cooperation on the case. We understand that Gani even went to Hong Kong seeking to negotiate with his opposite number there to close the case.
After 3 years the Hong Kong authorities were forced by statutory limitations to unfreeze the Chia accounts and shelve the investigation owing to Malaysia’s refusal to cooperate. The millions of dollars in these accounts were released towards the end of last year and it is believed a great deal of the money will be channelled into Sabah, in order to attempt to buy votes for UMNO/BN in the coming federal election.
A parallel MACC investigation, which unearthed huge amounts of information about Sabah timber kickbacks, has also been blocked.
The Malaysian investigators, who are understood to have been extremely thorough, took evidence from numerous business associates of Chia and timber traders, who admitted to paying kickbacks. The MACC is believed to have recommended that no less than 40 charges be brought against Sabah’s Chief Minister and yet once again the Attorney General has refused to recommend a prosecution of the case.
“The report with all the evidence is still sitting on his desk”, one source has told us.
This situation supports the clear frustration expressed publicly just last week by the MACC Deputy Commissioner, Mohd Shukri Abdull, who admitted that the Attorney-General has refused to bring many “valid cases”, claiming lack of evidence.
Sarawak Report has now received much of that evidence and over the coming days we will be sharing it with the public and inviting people to make their own judgement on the case which Malaysia’s Attorney General is refusing to bring to court.