The news portal Free Malaysia Today has hosted a number of recent attacks on Sarawak Report, in particular by a new mystery commentator named ‘Winifred Poh’.
Her latest offering was entitled “Stunning indictment of Sarawak Report – The ugly story about the faking of evidence in Mahmud Abu Bekir Taib’s divorce case”.
This article attempts to smear Sarawak Report and myself the editor by alleging that we paid a fraudster to illegally hack Abu Bekir’s bank accounts.
The allegation is untrue and our rebuttal to FMT is reproduced below.
Dear Editor of FMT,
‘Winifred Poh’ is clearly on a long-term contract for the Taib Mahmud cyber-trooper team and has found a useful platform in FMT comment pages.
Her latest salvo, which she describes as an ‘ugly story’ about me and my blog, turns out to be a re-hashed allegation by the Taibs, which I had already comprehensively rebutted some two years ago.
So why doesn’t Winifred get to the point in her defence of Taib Mahmud – why is she trying to attack me personally, instead of just proving me wrong?
I have already pointed out that her best way to discredit me and my reports on corruption in Sarawak would be to show that my evidence is false.
But, instead, she has resorted to re-publishing one of the many illegal PR attacks that have been commissioned by the Sarawak government against me and this blog.
One can only conclude that Taib and Winifred find it too hard to disprove my articles and have resorted to slinging false accusations instead – stale ones at that.
So, let me relate the real story about the Canadian private investigator/ fraudster Cullen Johnson, whom ‘Winifred’ alleges I hired to access the bank details of Taib Mahmud’s elder son, Abu Bekir.
Abu Bekir, despite being very rich, does not apparently want to pay maintenance to his deserted ex-wife and son. This has resulted in a prolonged court case focused around how much he is worth.
In 2012 Johnson contacted Sarawak Report some time before the general election, purporting that he had accessed bank account information about Abu Bekir.
For several months this fellow continued to contact Sarawak Report, having mysteriously gained access to a private mobile number, which the Sarawak authorities had also obtained during a visit to the state in 2009.
For this reason we treated Cullen’s approach as suspicious throughout.
However, journalists are always willing to listen to people who claim to have information and for several months we engaged with Johnson (mainly via Skype messages) and waited to see where it all might lead.
This does not mean we believed the information or that we printed it.
To the contrary, we published nothing of what Cullen Johnson said and paid him nothing either.
After all, we couldn’t prove if what he was saying was true.
Moreover, his information appeared to have been illegally obtained.
Why bother with stuff like that when there are plenty of public records, which had already provided us with ample information about Abu Bekir’s wealth?
This was all legally acquired information, which we could prove and which we had already published to make our point about the Taib family’s riches.
Therefore, it was only after strikingly similar financial information was submitted in a court hearing related to Abu Bekir’s divorce and then printed in all the Malaysian media, that we too subsequently quoted what the Malaysian media reported had been said in court.
To repeat, Sarawak Report published only what had already been stated in court and then already printed in the Malaysian media. We did not quote what Cullen Johnson had skyped to us, which had been similar.
This truth can be easily checked and proved against the dates when we published claims made in court about what was allegedly in Abu Bekir’s bank accounts.
The claim, which has just been repeated by Winifred, that we had commissioned or paid the suspicious Mr Cullen Johnson or that we published information that he had volunteered to us simply cannot be substantiated.
This is because it didn’t happen.
Had he been hired to entrap us by Taib’s PR teams? We have no idea.
However, when we learnt Cullen Johnson had been arrested for fraud we did indeed immediately contact the authorities in the United States who are behind the prosecution and they have assured us that they have no interest in speaking with Sarawak Report, because Sarawak Report has no involvement in their case.
Considering Sarawak Report never commissioned Cullen Johnson nor published his information in advance of similar figures being produced in court, how come numerous Taib related bloggers and newspapers, like Winifred, have been trying to make out that we did?
Here is the full story of what happened and readers should indeed prepare for a truly ugly tale, involving theft, hacking, dirty PR and smear tactics.
It all began when shortly before the general election in 2013 my mobile phone was pickpocketed at night in my home street in London. On this phone were my skype and gmail messages.
Just a couple of days after this robbery an exclusive report appeared in the Taib family owned newspaper, the Sarawak Tribune (edited by his daughter Hanifah) drawing attention to the fact that those stolen emails could now be read on a new website that had popped up in Malaysia.
What a coincidence!
What’s more, this Sarawak Tribune article for the first time drew public attention to the arrest of Cullen Johnson and falsely alleged that we had commissioned him to hack Abu Bekir’s bank accounts.
All this was bad enough, but it soon emerged that the criminal behaviour involved in these acts was even worse, because the phone thieves had also resorted to malicious distortion and misrepresentation.
The stolen email messages, which had been placed on the Malaysian website referenced by Sarawak Tribune, turned out to have been deliberately tampered with.
Gmails had been chopped about and combined with other emails written weeks apart to different people, all in an attempt to given an impression that I had said things that I had not.
In particular, the hacker website ludicrously attempted to suggest that I was personally plotting to take control of Sarawak’s oil wealth (something that the Taib family’s business cronies are in fact in the process of doing, as we have already published).
[these articles and the relevant Sarawak Tribune article are no longer available online]
In our immediate rebuttal, therefore, Sarawak Report explained the truth and published the original emails to show how they had been maliciously tampered with by the thieving hackers.
As a result, no one in Malaysia took much further notice of this story at that time. Readers know the sort of tactics that BN “PR” people get up to.
However, the thieving ‘PR team’ did not give up here.
After all, someone had been hired to go after me in London using pickpockets and phone hackers. They meant business, for which they had clearly been very well paid.
The next thing I knew was that I started to receive calls from UK press writers, asking if the allegations by Sarawak Tribune and the Malay website were true.
It turned out that these writers had been systematically approached by a retired UK journalist, who had been commissioned to place a story attacking me on this issue in the British newspapers.
The people behind the thieves and hackers clearly hoped that if they could get a UK paper to run the story then they could report back in Malaysia that I had been ‘exposed’ and ‘discredited’ back home.
But, the ploy didn’t work.
Unlike Winifred Poh, professional journalists in the UK check their facts. They also make contact with the target of any story to allow right of reply – it’s part of their code of conduct.
So, when I was duly contacted by a number of journalists I was able to spell out to the Sunday Times and to the Daily Mail and other newpapers exactly why the allegations did not add up and why they could not print this untrue story.
They accepted my fact based rebuttals and nobody printed the story in the UK.
Sarawak Report has now obtained a copy of the “briefing paper” (see extracts below) that this agent was circulating around Fleet Street to try and entice British newspapers into destroying my reputation.
Who do we think hired that agent?
The above extracts contain a fatal error, because Sarawak Report did not reproduce any of Cullen Johnson’s supposed allegations – we only printed very similar information which had been produced in court and then printed throughout the Malaysian media. This fact can be proved by the date we ran our story, which was after the similar information was produced in court.
So, let me sum up what these hirelings did in the course of this dirty PR attack designed to smear my reputation.
First, they stole my phone and illegally hacked my emails and messages.
Second, they doctored those messages and placed them online in a malicious attempt to misrepresent and defame me.
Third, they used a newspaper that is edited by Taib’s daughter, The Sarawak Tribune, to draw attention to these untrue, illegally obtained and malicious lies and to link Tribune online readers to a Malaysian website, which was posting this stolen and distorted material – all within just a few of days of my phone being robbed in London.
When all this failed to draw significant attention in Malaysia itself, these operatives then hired a former UK crime journalist to try and get the same lies printed in newspapers all over Britain.
It is a vindication for Sarawak Report and my own reputation that not a single newspaper in the end would print these allegations, even though many had been initially interested in the “scandal” and called me for my response.
This was because it was all untrue.
And if this Cullen Johnson nonsense still remains the best ‘dirt’ that Taib and his team can come up with, after having stolen all my personal email messages and Skype messages, then readers are entitled to draw their own conclusions.
Because, I have no hesitation in alleging that the then Chief Minister was behind this black propaganda – after all I have documentary evidence that Taib has already commissioned a number of previous, similar, illegal smear campaigns against me.
The Cullen Johnson episode was just one in a string of illegal and malicious actions against my projects, mainly carried out by highly paid foreign operators.
I have already proved how the now disbanded UK PR firm FBC Media was paid $5million a year to conduct a campaign to discredit Sarawak Report – we exposed the contract and the BBC and others were forced to apologise for airing FBC’s ‘news documentaries’, which had in fact been paid for by the company’s PR clients (including Taib).
Then the UK PR firm Bell Pottinger was hired to sneakily alter our Wikipedia and other online sites to try and make us look bad. This also hit the headlines in the UK when investigative journalists exposed the underhand “sock-puppet” tactics and Bell Pottinger was humiliated into apologising. Wikipedia has now altered its systems to counter such deceitful manipulation.
Meanwhile, as we have further demonstrated, Taib also hired radio jammers to push Radio Free Sarawak off the air and cyber attackers to bring down the Sarawak Report website through so-called DDOS assaults.
It seems that playing dirty is all Taib knows when it comes to public relations and now ‘Winifred’ has been sucked into the same game.
Yet frankly, this latest ghost writer on FMT seems tame by comparison. ‘Winifred Pho’ is just re-cycling discredited old dirt.
With regard to Sarawak Report’s connections with other NGOs. We take pride in working closely with as many NGOs as possible who are concerned about the human rights, corruption and environment issues in Sarawak. There is nothing to hide about this, so it is no great discovery that we attempt where possible to work together and not against each other.