Malaysia: Video documents corruption of Chief Minister

Penan blocking a logging road in the rainforest of Sarawak

Apr 15, 2013

One of the most notorious enemies of the rainforest has been exposed: The British environmental organization Global Witness recorded a video of members of Sarawak Chief Minister Abdul Taib’s extended family illegally selling off vast tracts of rainforest in the Malaysian part of Borneo.

In it, two cousins of the corrupt politician explain the workings of illegal land deals to an interested “prospect”, and reveal who is ultimately behind them: their uncle Abdul Taib, Chief Minister of Malaysia’s largest state of Sarawak. The supposed investor inquiring about rainforest concessions in Sarawak is actually an activist of the British organization Global Witness, however. Using a concealed camera, he recorded the negotiations – and Global Witness published the material on the Internet.

Using promising names like “Billion Venture”, the Taib cousins Norlia Abdul Rahman and Fatimah Abdul Rahman offered to sell two companies which hold licenses for vast areas of rainforest and are registered in their names. According to them, Billion Venture Sdn Bhd alone holds 32,584 hectares, the rights to which were granted by their uncle, the Chief Minister.

In addition to the lucrative logging of precious tropical woods, the concessions above all offer space for oil palm plantations. To make the illegal land purchases even more attractive, the two businesswomen in the video explain how to avoid most of the taxes applicable to real estate transactions by using fictitious contracts and bank transfers via Singapore.

In power since 1981, Sarawak’s Chief Minister Abdul Taib has become the wealthiest man in Malaysia. According to the Bruno Manser Fund (BMF), Taib and his family members have amassed a fortune of up to US$ 20 billion through the abuse of power, the sale of logging and oil palm concessions, tropical woods and profitable industrial monopolies. Many of his business deals are not only detrimental to the rainforests and the people living there, but are also completely illegal, as the BMF has been charging for many years.

The Swiss organization is fighting above all for the human rights of the Penan people living in the rainforest. Deforestation, land grabbing, and the palm oil plantations have been the greatest threats to the indigenous peoples for many years. A similar situation exists in the neighboring state of Sabah. There, Chief Minister Musa Aman has been enriching himself with illegal tropical timber and land deals, as the BMF has documented and publicized with typical Swiss thoroughness.

Rainforest Rescue has repeatedly protested together with the BMF for the rights of the Penan and against deforestation, human rights violations, and illegal business deals by Abdul Taib and Musa Aman. The money trail leads all the way to Europe: Swiss banks such as UBS and also Deutsche Bank are laundering the money of the tropical timber mafia.

Rainforest Rescue is calling for the removal of the chief ministers from office, their prosecution, the confiscation of illegal assets, and the return and reforestation of the Penan’s stolen land.

For further information please see the BMF website, an English report by Al Jazeera, and articles in the Rainforest Rescue archive.