As HSBC’s Global Head of Compliance resigned in disgrace yesterday, acknowledging the bank had turned a blind eye to a staggering $38 trillian dollars of suspect transactions, thoughts in Sabah will have returned to the financial affairs of their Chief Minister, Musa Aman.
The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) report into timber kickbacks (a case described by Najib Razak as being “linked to Musa Aman”) contains a great deal of information about HSBC’s involvement in processing the millions of dollars that ended up in Musa’s bank accounts.
Likewise, Sarawak Report has exposed detailed information about a series of HSBC accounts linked to Musa, which were eventually closed in 2006.
So, no surprise that the US Senate’s Committee on Homeland Security has reported that in the period 2006-2010 the HSBC facilitated international money-laundering on a gigantic scale for drug gangs, terrorists and rogue nations, shunting the suspicious funds between offshore branches, the United States, Switzerland and elsewhere.
Sarawak Report’s own extensive dossier on Musa Aman makes clear that the proceeds of Malaysian timber corruption should be added to this shameful list!
The victims of this multi-billion dollar racket include the indigenous people of Sabah, who have been deprived of their native lands and hunting grounds; the taxpayers of Sabah, from whom vast revenues have been stolen and honest businesses, which have been exploited by this criminal corruption.
Meanwhile, the consequences of this crime have included the wanton destruction of one of the most precious remaining environments on our planet – which till recently comprised the world’s oldest and most bio-diverse area of remaining rainforest.
Countless species of plants and animals have been wiped out in an orgy of preventable greed over just the last decade alone.
In the past days Musa has once again unwisely attempted to deny all the evidence that has piled up against him. Likewise the Speaker of the Sabah Assembly refused to allow a motion of no confidence to be put to the vote – a desperate measure that plainly undermined the democratic process.
There have even been attempts to suggest that Musa has now acknowledged the millions that were passed into his Swiss bank accounts, but that he told the MACC that he was merely holding them as a nominee for his political party UMNO and his boss the PM Najib Razak!
Even if this unlikely scenario was true, do Musa’s defenders really believe this would somehow make him innocent of the criminal looting of his country’s wealth? Because if Najib and Musa were in this together then they are both equally guilty!
Over the last decade, as the dwindling forests of Sabah have started to run out entirely, Musa Aman has continued to licence formerly protected areas and steep hillsides to be stripped bare of timber by his cronies.
His greed has completed the destruction of Sabah in the same way that Taib’s obsessive greed has felled the once magnificent jungles of Sarawak.
And as we have demonstrated in close detail over the past weeks, Musa’s cronies have in return paid him tens of millions of dollars in kickbacks via his known nominees, including his “middleman”, Michael Chia.
It is thanks to the blind eye turned by Singapore and Hong Kong branches of two global banks, HSBC and UBS that Musa Aman and Chia have then been able to launder this money and funnel it, as we have demonstrated, through a series of off-shore accounts into Musa’s own Zurich bank account.
On numerous counts the manner in which first HSBC and then UBS have handled the millions of US, Singapore and Australian dollars sloshing around in Chia’s accounts, breached the rules of compliance that banks are supposed to abide by to prevent money-laundering.
Both banks should be thoroughly investigated on this matter and held to account, and prosecutors in Switzerland and the environment NGO the Bruno Manser Fund have this week taken further action to ensure that just such an investigation will take place.
Bruno Manser Fund have now issued letters of complaint to the two major regulatory bodies of Singapore, the Monetary Authority and the Financial Investigation Division to alert them to the behaviour of UBS bank and HSBC in their conduct of the Musa Aman-linked accounts in Singapore.
These complaints cannot be ignored in the light of the fact that The Swiss Federal Attorney General’s Office has also in the past few days announced that it has now formally opened its investigations with relation to UBS, following the receipt of Sarawak Report’s dossier of evidence.
That case will have been further informed by the extensive information provided to the Swiss by the Hong Kong authorities, who originally arrested Michael Chia in possession of $16million dollars back in 2008.
Even, Malaysia’s own authorities have also been forced to at last acknowledge what other countries have long been investigating. Each day that now passes raises further questions as to why the Attorney General (Musa’s relative by marriage) has failed to act on the dossier on Musa that Prime Minister Najib Razak has confirmed in on his desk.
Because, even if Malaysia does nothing in this case, the truth will surely come out as these beleaguered banks come under international pressure to own up to their part in this affair.
Key to Musa’s ability to siphon nearly a hundred million dollars of stolen money out of Sabah has been the willingness of banks like HSBC to turn a blind eye and to break basic rules on compliance (the very fault that will now result in multi-million dollar fines for that bank in other parts of the world).
These rules demand that accounts linked to politically exposed persons and accounts that take receipt of large lump sums of money should be fully scrutinised and accounted for.
The accounts run by Michael Chia, a known associate of Musa, who then passed on these sums to Musa Aman himself and provided income for Musa’s two sons, were clearly top targets for such scrutiny on both counts.
However, both HSBC and UBS failed to do so, preferring to continue to handle transactions on millions of dollars of kickback income.
In 2006 HSBC did finally close down Michael Chia’s accounts, but in a manner that raises even more questions over compliance. A series of cashier orders amounting to some $20 million were handed over to Chia in order to clean out his accounts.
Chia used these cash orders to open his new accounts at UBS in Singapore, thus providing him with a complete break in the chain of transactions, whereby millions in kickback money had travelled from the accounts of Sabah based logging companies into Musa Aman’s Zurich bank accounts!
Equally questionable was UBS Singapore’s own willingness to accept these cash orders to open Chia’s new accounts. This completed the laundering of Sabah’s dirty timber money.
There are no secrets left in these transactions. Our dossiers are already with the authorities.
So since this is the time for confessions and apologies, HSBC and UBS should spare further time and public money and come clean on their dealings with Musa Aman as well as all the other misdeeds revealed by the US Senate Committee.