Britain’s major newspaper, the Daily Mail, has described the planned visit by the royal couple, Prince William and Kate, to Sabah as “the first diplomatic row of their fledgeling royal careers” today.
The reason? Because the person waiting in Sabah to greet them on Friday is Chief Minister Musa Aman, now “implicated in a criminal investigation in to alleged laundering of profit from illegal logging”, says the paper.
The matter has already been picked up by Malaysia’s leading online news portal Malaysiakini and it marks the growing concern amongst onlookers over the decision to encourage the environmentally-friendly prince to endorse the dubious eco-credentials of the man who has presided over the destruction of Sabah’s forests over the last 20 years.
The Malaysian human rights organisation Suaram has written a letter directly to the Royal Palace and the Foreign Office expressing concerns about the visit and deploring the engagement with Musa. Environment NGOs have also added their concerns at the failure to confront ‘greenwash’ by a Sabah government that has licensed large areas of once protected forests for destruction.
And Thursday the leading environment NGO, Global Witness issued a statement saying that William and Kate “need to examine the real causes of forest destruction in Malaysia”, which it describes as “high level corruption” and “industrial scale logging” in both Sabah and Sarawak.
But, for Musa the visit by the young couple has clearly been a godsend. Over past weeks he has been struggling to dampen down criticism during this sensitive pre-election period, and has refused to step aside in the face of no less than three separate corruption investigations in different countries (Malaysia, Hong Kong and Switzerland).
A mound of evidence has also been published showing how millions of dollars in kickbacks have been processed through bank accounts managed by his nominees.
However, the British Foreign Office has been adamant in its refusal to step back from the visit, which is seen to offer great potential for trading opportunities, including arms sales, to the Malaysian Government.
Last week Malaysian anti-corruption campaigners waved placards outside St James’ Palace in London condemning the visit and calling for William and Kate not to be fooled by Musa’s ‘Greenwash’ and not to lend him a valuable PR boost by appearing to endorse him on the eve of a general election.
Pressure has increased in the face of the latest revelation, which is an official response by the Swiss Federal Government to questions asked by the MP Carlos Sommaruga about the Hong Kong investigation into Musa’s assets:
“Switzerland has provided legal assistance in the case of MUSA Bin Aman et al. to the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) of the People’s Republic of China for criminal collusion in active and passive corruption” [Swiss response]
Musa is also named in connection with an official Swiss criminal investigation launched into the role of UBS in laundering the illegal timber money, announced last week and the Malaysian Prime Minister, Najib Razak, has acknowledged that the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) investigation into the same transactions also involves Musa.
‘Greenwash’ can’t hide the truth
The royal visit was clinched in the wake of a “mission” last year by Sabah Forestry Head Sam Mannan to St James’ Palace promoting Sabah as an ‘eco-friendly’ state.
Mannan has worked assiduously to promote an image of Sabah where deforestation is ‘slowing’ and precious areas are being rescued from logging.
Just before the visit he announced amidst great fanfare that another large area would now be put under ‘protection’.
However, yet again it is an area that has already been logged, just as areas that had been ear-marked for protection under the WWF ‘Heart of Borneo Treaty’ were also deliberately logged by Musa and Mannan before the agreement was signed.
Sabah timber insiders say that the driving force behind the destruction of the state forests over the past 20 years has been the corruption and greed of Musa, who has accepted kickbacks in return for issuing licences in areas that were once protected.
Musa and Mannan even stand accused of altering the contours of Sabah’s forest maps in order to give the impression that hillsides are less steep than before, so that they can be logged!
Now these concerns and accusations have been corroborated by the mass of information detailing the millions of dollars which have been paid by the timber companies into bank accounts controlled by Musa Aman through his nominees Michael Chia and Richard Barnes in return for issuing such destructive licences.
Swathes of evidence has linked these accounts to Musa Aman and to logging interests who paid millions of dollars as stated “deposits for logging concessions”!
Although Musa has denied any business associations with Chia, the statements from these accounts make plain that money was paid from them on a regular basis to two of Musa’s own sons in Australia and to their guardian at the time Imbaring bin Bujang.
It is this mass of evidence that has been handed to the Swiss Authorities which has now prompted their launch of the criminal investigation into Musa and UBS.
The information has also been made available on this website following the refusal by Malaysia’s Attorney General (Musa’s relative) to prosecute after the MACC produced its own report recommending that 40 charges should be laid against the Chief Minister.
The British Foreign Office has nevertheless adopted the position that Musa should not be treated as guilty before proven in a court of law.
Yet the attitude represents a departure from another convention, which is that people who come under formal suspicion while holding public office should at least step aside until their name is cleared!
The chance to present the young couple as brave jungle warriors for audiences back home has clearly been judged too good to miss. But, as the true situation emerges this meeting with Musa has started to look increasingly ill-judged.
Musa’s corruption is threatening to taint Britain’s as yet unsullied young royal couple.
Note – a large number of the Musa ‘fan club’ comments on these stories have been written by the same people. Sarawak Report may decide to expose how so many of the different names are in fact the same few people if this practice persists!
We send out the latest story at 7am Malaysia time