He is the man who cashed-in an entire jungle of valuable hard timber. He is also the man who controls all the land titles for an area roughly the size of England, a position which he has systematically abused to enrich himself.
Sarawak Chief Minister, Taib Mahmud, is furthermore the gate-keeper for all the state and federal contracts handed out in Sarawak and he has privatised most of its key industries into his own family companies.
So it should come as little surprise that the latest audit on the Mahmud family, conducted by the Swiss NGO the Bruno Manser Fund (BMF), has estimated his wealth at a staggering USD15 billion (RM46 billion).
It makes him Malaysia’s richest man, with his illegally gained assets topping those of the ‘sugar king’ Robert Kuok, who leads the Forbes Rich List for Malaysias with a mere USD12 billion.
BMF, which campaigns on environmental and indigenous issues in Sarawak, makes clear that this is a conservative estimate of the Chief Minister’s wealth, acquired through 30 years of systematic and documented plunder of Sarawak’s wealth and natural resources.
The audit, which forms part of a report entitled “The Taib Timber Mafia. Facts and Figures on Politically Exposed Persons from Sarawak, Malaysia” was released today in Brussels to mark the visit of the Malaysian Minister of Plantation Industries and Commodities, Bernard Dompok, to the European Commission.
Environmental organisations have protested against any timber agreements with Malaysia until the corrupt and unrestrained logging practices are ended in Sarawak and in Sabah.
“More money than I could ever spend”
The report describes Taib as “The Godfather of a family business empire” with illicit assets in excess of USD20billion, of which his personal worth forms at least USD15 billion and:
“..describes in detail the business activities and personal wealth of twenty members of the Taib family, one of South East Asia’s most notorious kleptocratic clans with business interests in Malaysia, Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, the United Kingdom, the United States and other countries”. [BMF release]
The charity declares its audit has been drawn up after a comprehensive analysis of the evidence now available relating to Taib and his family’s business assets, land grabs, concessions and contracts.
Altogether, the assets of 20 members of the Chief Minister’s family are analysed totalling a combined estimated wealth of USD21billion. These members include Taib’s four children, his siblings, cousin Hamed Sepawi and also his two son-in-laws and brother-in-law, Robert Geneid, who have been absorbed into the family concerns.
The report lends substance to Taib’s own boasts on the campaign trail at last year’s state election that he has “more money than I could ever spend”!
Time Najib took action!
This latest revelation raises yet again the issue of Prime Minister Najib Razak’s failure to take action over this rogue Chief Minister, whose greed and corruption has now reached legendary status even in Malaysia, where political corruption is commonplace.
The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) has acknowledged it has opened an investigation into Taib, following numerous denunciations and also numerous reports containing solid information on this site.
However, until it gets the political green light, it is sadly well-known that the MACC lacks the independence to act.
The PM did try to encourage the failing 75 year old to step down before the recent state election. However, Taib refused to quit out of a justifiable fear that once removed from office he could be prosecuted.
A public promise was extracted that Taib would move soon after that state election, but with a Federal Election, G13, now on the horizon there is little sign he plans to make good that promise.
The exposure of Sarawak’s Chief Minister as Malaysia’s richest man comes at an extremely difficult time for his administration, which has been spending the last few days rubbishing the opposition’s ground-breaking Kuching Declaration made on Sunday, Malaysia Day.
This Declaration signalled key commitments by the opposition parties to show full respect towards Sarawak’s rights of equality and autonomy, established at the time of Independence.
Even more crucially, the Declaration has pledged that a PR government would end Taib’s land grabs, channel more oil wealth into helping Sarawak’s poor people and end the robbery of the state by corrupt politicians.
The Declaration has also pledged to bring the infrastructure development and standard of living of the people of Sarawak (which has given so much oil to Malaysia) to the level of the rest of the country.
With a general election on the horizon, it has put his regime in a weak position to capture the hopes and confidence of large swathes of the the population, who have suffered 30 years of delayed development and increasing poverty under his rule.
Now, while voters in Sarawak are in the process of digesting the information that Taib and BN have no interest in reversing land grabs or increasing the state’s share of its own oil from a scandalous 5% to 20%, this new BMF report has added key information about the enormous wealth that the Chief Minister’s policies have meanwhile brought to himself and his own family!
According the the evidence brought forward by BMF, various family members can be seen to have been favoured over others as the old man has distributed his largesse:
“Taib’s elder son, Mahmud Abu Bekir Taib, a major player in the Sarawak construction, property and energy business, has been rated at USD 1.5 billion. Next in line are Taib’s Canada-based socialite daughter Jamilah Taib Murray (USD 1 billion), Taib brother and timber entrepreneur Tufail Mahmud (USD 600 million), sister Raziah Mahmud (USD 500 million), daughter Hanifah (USD 400 million) and son Sulaiman (USD 300 million). Timber conglomerate Ta Ann founder and Sarawak Energy chairman, Hamed Sepawi, a first cousin of the Sarawak Chief Minister is rated at USD 175 million.” [BMF briefing]
The charity believes that while much of the work is performed by ‘key helpers’ to the family business, such as the Briton Richard Curtis, who administers the family company CMSB and in-laws like the Canadian Sean Murray and Australian Robert Geneid, most of the assets are kept strictly to blood relatives.
For this reason the wealth of Taib’s daughter Jamilah, for example, who is now a Canadian national and a shareholder in major property companies in London, Australia, Canada and the US is estimated at a hefty one billion USD. However, her husband Sean Murray, who has increasingly taken up Directorships in all of these companies is only valued at USD10 million.
“Sean Murray is a Canadian National of Irish origin from Ottawa. Sean studied at Ashbury College, Canada, before studying at Carleton University, Canada where he met Jamilah. Sean married Jamilah in 1987 in Kuching.185 Sean lives with his wife, Jamilah, in a mansion in Rockliffe Park, which was named “the city’s second most expensive house in 2009.” Sean and Jamilah are often seen partying with Ottawa’s elite, including Ottawa Mayor Larry O’Brien and his wife.” [BMF Report]
The report points out that Sean Murray has in the past alleged that the Canadian and London property companies are his own family concerns and that they are not and had never been funded by Taib Mahmud:
“Sakto, Sakti and Ridgeford are not and have never been funded by Mr Taib Mahmud….Should this allegation be made, our clients will sue you without further notice”. [Statement by Sean Murray's lawyers, Mishcon de Reya]
Yet, in a later interview Taib himself conceded that:
“It started 20 to 30 years ago. I gave money to my daughter…I got a gratuity and gave some money to her to start a new business, it thrived…. it is a property development company…. it got successful and from successful they go do business in London.”
The BMF report provides fascinating insights into the Taib family’s corruption and wealth, along with evidence that will make it even harder for the rest of Malaysia to ignore this shameful situation.