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Sarawak is home to some of the world’s biggest timber companies, all of them family businesses and closely entwined with the ruling figure in the state, Governor Taib Mahmud.

Given the apparently unrewarding nature of their activities, according to the notoriously low profits and even losses so consistently recorded in official returns, one wonders why these companies bother to continue to ply their trade?

Sarawak’s people have been elbowed out of their lands, threatened with gangsters if they dare protest and left with a monstrous eco-disaster to contend with.  Yet, in return they have received precisely nothing, since owing to the dreadful low profits declared there has been little to give back in taxes to the state.

Yet, despite this tragic ‘lose lose’ situation, these self same companies have doggedly continued over the past decades to rip out every tree they can lay their hands on in Sarawak, whilst  resolutely exporting their signature style of havoc and destruction into every other forested region on the planet.

Everybody’s Loss

And news this week reminds us, it is not just ‘third world’ areas that have proved vulnerable to the loss making extraction of the earth’s living resources by armies of Caterpillar bulldozers owned by these apparently hopeless Sarawakian business ventures.

Take Tasmania, a country of supposedly advanced governance, where the authorities have outraged local environmentalists by investing millions of taxpayers’ dollars in order to subsidise logging by Taib’s family company Ta Ann.  A relative handful of local jobs have thereby been preserved in a sunset industry that is wiping out the island’s remaining unique forests at enormous cost to the public purse.

Neither Tasmanians nor Sarawakians nor Malaysians should hold their breath in hope that somehow all this wreakage will fund the promised ‘development’ that is always used to justify the logging in the first place. It never does.

Yet, despite their failure to turn a taxable income or produce progress, all these Sarawakian logging companies still keep somehow finding the resources to keep on acquiring concessions in just about any corner of the planet that still has standing trees.

Another ‘advanced’ antipodean nation to have fallen for the plague is of course the 1MDB trust haven of New Zealand.  Just this week it has been reported that a company that originally pleaded innocent to careless practices and mass logging that caused a huge log jam after rains last year has now admitted guilt.

How many New Zealanders realised their remaining wild woods are being ripped out by low grade loggers using dirty and careless practices?  Are they receiving major tax benefits in return?

Sarawak Report understands that as in Tasmania the logging that caused last year’s eco-catastrophe, conducted by two companies, Hikurangi Forest Farms and Ernslaw One, has been criticised as unnecessary, secretive and sub-standard – phenomena folk over in Sarawak are only too familiar with.

When the rains came therefore, vast quantities of felled logs slid into the river causing appalling environmental damage, which is just the sort thing that goes on in Sarawak all the time.

So, perhaps it will come of little surprise to Sarawakians to discover that the ultimate owners of these NZ companies were none other than two more of the big six crony timber companies that dominate the state, Samling owned by the billionaire Yaw family and Rimbunan Hijau owned by another of Taib’s close business partners the Tiong family of Sibu (pillars of the local Methodist Church by all accounts).

According to the NZ investigative portal Pacific Scoop Tiong was:

“..granted 24 consents to buy sensitive land between 2005 and 2017, even though another of his companies has faced accusations of environmental and human rights abuses overseas since 2004.
The Tiong family has been investing in New Zealand for more than 20 years, with more than 90 approved consents to the companies controlled by the family, OIO’s Vanessa Horne said…..Both Samling and the Tiong family’s Rimbunan Hijau were yesterday named as irresponsible palm oil producers in a report published by Greenpeace.” [Pacific Scoop – 18th Sept 2018]

Veteran Sarawak watchers will perhaps be scratching their heads and wondering how the Tiong family set about getting all those sensitive licences over in the remoter areas of New Zealand and likewise how Samling managed to keep its right to log in the region despite having been fined twice for illegal practices.  Maybe Sarawakians who know these companies all too well can offer suggestions as to how these companies found their way around the normal hurdles and regulations?

Meanwhile, countries across the world should be wary of the Sarawakian logging menace that owes its protection to its special Godfather, the Governor of Sarawak. Read the news story below:

Hikurangi Forest Farms pleads guilty over debris damage in Tolaga Bay flooding

An East Coast forestry company has pleaded guilty to causing flood-borne debris damage in Tolaga Bay last year.

Gisborne District Council prosecuted 10 companies after after heavy rain washed piles of logs and debris on to roads and farmland during two storms in June 2018 causing millions of dollars in damage.

Hikurangi Forest Farms entered a not guilty plea in March to discharging contaminants into the environment in breach of its resource consent.

But at an Environment Court hearing in Auckland this morning it changed its plea to guilty.

Two further charges on land use restrictions have been withdrawn.

The company will be sentenced in Gisborne District Court on 1 October.

The remaining nine forestry companies will reappear in court in a few months time.

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Looking for all the world like a gruesome bunch of mafia dons, the head honchos of Sarawak dressed casual this weekend and waddled out to some turf to grin for their favourite PR organ, the Borneo Post (owned by the timber barons of KTS) in order to proclaim their belated attempt to get onto the tree planting band-waggon.

The broad face of the mysteriously wealthy deputy chief minister, Awang Tengah dominated the shot (his earlier positions included chairman and director of the Sarawak Timber Industry Development Corporation and minister of Urban Development and Natural Resources). Meanwhile, his boss Abang Johari posed planting a symbolic sapling, described as a native plant but of a ‘fast growing’ kind.  So, what is this all about?

The bulk of the sparsely detailed article was dedicated to boasting the lie that Sarawak has conserved its timber and that some 63% of the state remains ‘forested’.  The more accurate word would be ‘scrubbed’, of which more later.

Also among the posse of suddenly eco-conscious ministers was none other than the ubiquitous, long-term lacky of governor Taib Mahmud, the environment minister Len Talif Salleh, whose previous roles included being the head of Sarawak’s Forestry Department, outed by Sarawak Report for simultaneously acting as the director of companies he himself was permitting to cut down native forests.

What Is The Shell Agenda In Sarawak?

These men are amongst those most culpable for the devastation of Sarawak’s natural forests, yet according to their press promotional this so-called ‘Forest Landscape Restoration Programme’ is to be funded on their behalf by the petroleum giant Shell and a Japanese-Malaysian association. No details were offered as to the nature of this outside support for one of the world’s most notoriously corrupted state governments or what the progamme consists of.

Sadly, one can indeed be certain that these wealthy politicians would never consider, for example, taxing their crony timber and plantation companies to raise the money for much needed environmental regeneration. However, international bodies and corporations should think carefully about stepping in and propping up a criminal regime that has for decades treated the jungle solely in terms of extracting cash.

Such programmes should be conducted transparently at the very least, yet virtually no details have yet emerged about Shell and Japan’s projected plans to invest in regenerating Sarawak’s forests as the worst bunch of eco-crooks on the planet get set to polish up their ‘eco-credentials’ for the coming state elections.

The concerns are clear. For a start this gesture sits very uncomfortably with an announcement earlier this year by primary industries minister, Teresa Kok, revealing that the present Sarawak State Government has insisted it will be continuing to implement dodgy crony concessions (see the present row over Taib’s son and the Mulu logging) in order to convert a whopping 600 thousand further hectares of forest land to oil palm plantations – something Ms Kok claims she can do nothing about (she has revised her ‘cap’ on deforestation accordingly upwards).

What this means is that on the one hand Johari’s regime is taking in charity money from Shell for regrowing forest, whilst on the other hand it is continuing to tear up massive areas of existing forest elsewhere, releasing hugely harmful greenhouse gases in the process.

Shell’s sustainability bosses will be well aware that much as regeneration of forests is to be supported and encouraged, it is the damage done by the further conversion of existing forests that has to be avoided to combat global warming. Regeneration needs to be matched by pledges against further encroachment.

These concerns raise questions about why Shell, which is seeking to burnish its eco-credentials, is propping up a notoriously destructive and corrupted timber mafia regime in this oil rich state under such a secretive deal that appears to have no such strings attached?

Sarawakians want logging to stop

One of the reasons that Sarawakians voted for Johari’s predecessor back in 2016 (apart from the inevitable vote buying and vote rigging organised by Najib and his local man Bustari on behalf of the BN ‘safe deposit’ state) was because they believed and respected the now departed Adenan Satem and his commitment to END LOGGING as the basis for his stand in that election. The former chief minister went on record with the pledge a number of times:

“I have made some concrete decisions with regard to conservation of our natural resources.. One of the first decsions I made [on assuming office] was no more plantation, no more encroachment or conversion of natural forests. No more. This is to protect our existing forest and forested areas so that nature can run its natural course.  Two, I have also disallowed any more timber licences.. no more logging to be done by professional companies and those licences which expire will not be renewed” [you tube video]

The statement was a confirmation of his early remarks in the UK, shortly after taking office, when he publicly stated to a meeting at the High Commission in London “read my lips, no more palm oil and no more logging, no more”.

He did not say 600 thousand hectares more of Sarawak’s forests would be converted to oil palm and that is why people voted for Adenan and his party.

Meanwhile, what everyone in Sarawak also knows is that the vast majority of those areas officially designated as ‘forested’ have been plundered and looted over and over for years in an unregulated timber rush that has destroyed one of the most valuable places on the planet and left few trees of any marketable worth left standing.

The laughable quote from the Sarawak forest department that the state has “planted 634 million trees throughout Sarawak, spanning an area of 528,238 hectares covering hills, swamps and coastal area, in collaboration with various stakeholders” [Borneo Post] fails to mention that the trees in question are plantation trees (foreign imports like the fast-growing but highly damaging acacia).

The statement self-damningly admits to the destruction of hills, swamps and coastal areas to convert the land to such plantations and the ‘stakeholders’ are, of course, the crony plantation companies associated with the regime!

What remains of genuine natural forest is being hoovered up as quickly as the present government can manage, fearful of a crackdown on the booty. This is why Sarawak’s timber giants have exited elsewhere to target the remaining jungles on the planet and it is why downstream timber mills are starting to run out of business.

Sarawak and all well-wishers ought to boot these wasteful brigands out of office and investigate their record. No one should be extending charity to allow them to pose as defenders of the environment!

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This week the KTS owned BLD Group issued a sanctimonious story through their very owned Borneo Post bemoaning the fact that a large area of peat forest has been felled in an area that was licenced out to them for oil palm plantations by their corrupted political crony Taib Mahmud.

This was all illegal logging, they explained, and they had only just found out about it:

“The area that has been illegally logged [at Sungai Loba Kabang, 39km from Sibu] is part of BLD Group’s efforts to conserve valuable peat forest. Company staff discovered the illegal logging during a patrol in the area on Wednesday.
Besides a large number of trees felled, tracks of heavy machinery being used in the area were also found.” [Borneo Post]

Sarawak Report wonders from what date the company has sought to preserve the area from logging, since it appears to be part of a vast chunk of land ceded to the group’s Managing Director and major shareholder Henry Lau of the timber conglomerate KTS starting back in 2008 for the very purpose of oil palm plantation?

In March the Primary Industries Minister, Teresa Kok, announced a Cabinet decision to ban further logging on peat soil as part of a drive to gain ‘100% certification’ for all Malaysia’s palm oil by the end of this year – under Malaysia’s own MSPO scheme, which is considered less stringent compared to the Round Table on Sustainable Palm Oil, but nonetheless progress.

KTS, which now manages vast plantations needs that certification. And in the spirit of the hour, the ‘news report’ (put out by the company’s own news organisation) took ample opportunity to highlight KTS’s worthy commitment to ‘sustainable’ practices.

Police Report?

Indeed anyone might be forgiven for imagining that this story of a ‘shocking discovery of illegal logging’ in an area the company has been allegedly seeking to protect, was merely some PR effort to boost the ‘eco-credentials’ of a firm that till now has rated as one of the world’s worst deforesters and abusers of indigenous rights:

The company, which is committed to preserving the environment, is calling on the Sarawak government to look into the issue and to take immediate action against those involved in illegal logging.
A police report has been lodged on the matter.
BLD Group launched its sustainable palm oil policy this year.
The company is committed to no peat deforestation, no peat development, and no exploitation.  [underlines added]

One has to ask on what basis is the logging is considered ‘illegal’ by KTS and what crimes have been refered to in the police report, given this company received a licence to log the area?

Certainly, many concerned with the criminal circumstances bedevilling all the concessions and contracts handed out in Sarawak over past decades would absolutely agree that the logging was illegal, but that illegality would be largely centred around the right of KTS itself to hold control of the concession in the first place.

After all, Taib handed the original contract to KTS owned BLD to do exactly what is going on – i.e. to reduce this peatland area into oil palm plantation.

In the same vein, huge further tracts of land have been handed to BLD/KTS for this very same purpose all over Sarawak. In total Sarawak Report has identified a total of around 45,ooo hectares granted to BLD Group by the Sarawak Government in the period after 2008 for “opl” i.e. clearance of timber to be replaced oil palm and we do not begin to suggest this list is comprehensive:

Spies In The Sky

And Sarawak Report has news for KTS, which is that there is absolutely no need to send out ‘patrols’ to catch ‘illegal loggers’ in these peatland areas, which they are now so anxious to protect yet in the past were happy to pay a small premium to get the right to log themselves.

For several months now there have been ‘eyes in the sky’, known as satellite monitors, which can shine a light from space on each and every move a bulldozer makes in their dubiously acquired ‘concession areas’.

That information is available online, thanks to outfits like ‘Mighty Earth’ which have set up their Rapid Response’ service over recent months, resulting in troubling reports on what has been happening elsewhere in areas concessioned out to the ‘environmentally concerned’ BLD Group in Sarawak.  Take a look at what has happened in peat areas concessioned out to KTS/BLD Group over the past year alone in those crucial peatland areas:

Mighty Earth has evidence on concessions handed out by Taib to other crony companies in Sarawak also. However, BLD had no need to send ‘patrols’ out to discover logging violations – they can dial it up online and so can anyone else in the Malaysian government or anywhere across the globe.

It is now universally agreed and accepted that logging that is conducted in violation of indigenous rights or thanks to the cheating of certain corrupted indigenous leaders, tricked with falsehoods and backhanded agreements, is globally unnacceptable when it comes to the buying of the resulting product.

Malaysia is in the middle of a scandal at this very moment as the discovery of mass deaths of Orang Asli affected in this way hits the headlines. Let’s be plain, gangster logging causes the extermination not only of plants and animals but the people also, with only a handful of beneficiaries in the form of politicians and their business cronies.

So, if there is an upside, it appears that BLD Group are at least now aware that the appearance of concern (if extremely sudden and shockingly recent) is a move in the right direction. Perhaps the moves by the new Malaysian government and the tightening of the global palm oil markets are having a beneficial effect for local communities, life in our jungles and the health of the planet?

But, questions need to be more probing as the likes of BLD seek to place ‘police reports’.  How did BLD acquire their licence? Who really has been ‘illegally logging’ in their plantations? Why have these ‘illegal loggers’ only now been reported to the authorities, whereas in the past noone in their right minds would have attempted to ‘steal’ KTS licenced timber?

Sarawak Report suggests there should in fact be a Royal Inquiry into the entire system of granting loggin and plantation licences in Sarawak over the past 40 years and more.  How were these licences granted? Who paid what and who received what? What tax was paid? What consultation and compensation took place?

The logging of Sarawak began in a relative dark age, where the strong men could do what they liked it seemed and siphone out their cash into the most respectable of banking institutions.  But, as their ‘article’ in the Borneo Post makes clear, even KTS has started to realist that technology has caught up with these enterprises and those who fail to conduct their business in a legitimate way are likely to be exposed.

[Sarawak Report has an ‘interest’ to declare in this matter. As the narrative in the recent book ‘The Sarawak Report’ makes clear, the author of this blog came out to Sarawak back in 2009 to join a group of reporters, who had been alerted to protests against the logging of indigenous forests by the Penan. Having filmed the protests and attempted to interview KTS managers, who arrived at the scene in Hilux vehicles to dissuade the protests, this journalist along with others found themselves questioned by police in Marudi and then arrested at gun point on their return to Miri to answer questions. All the journalists were then urged to leave the state and placed on a ‘blacklist’ at the request of then chief minister Taib Mahmud, never to be allowed to re-enter Sarawak. As the group headed on their way out of the state they saw the headlines on the KTS-owned Borneo Post in all the newstands, which accused ‘foreign agitators posing as journalists’ for ‘inciting’ the protests against logging by the Penan.]

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Like all her aunties, cousins and nieces Jamilah Taib-Murray never disappoints when it comes to dressing up. Rock-sized jewels, furs and extravagant couture form this lady’s signature style when she ventures out to a school auction or fundraising fancy dress events in Ottawa, which she has long since made her home (whilst continuing to make shed loads of money out of Sarawak).

Patrons of the School Gala fundraiser to beat all school gala fundraisers (of course)

Like many Asian tycoons, her Dad chose Canada as the place to send her to school and to start up companies in her name, into which he funnelled massive questionable investment income, presumably because of the remarkably low levels of oversight and transparancy demanded of welcome wealthy foreigners at the time.

And, in return, while you may not see her at Gawai celebrations in any longhouse, she and her husband cum business partner Hisham (Sean) Murray have established themselves as the most reliable ‘patrons’ of ‘good causes’ for all the wealthier denizens of Ottawa.

Lavish local events have turned the Taib neighbourhood in Ottawa into a socialite’s dream come true – indeed a world away from Belaga, where much of the money came from

School fetes are transformed into magical mystery events, bedecked with expensive trappings and fancy outfits; Irish Catholic social clubs are handily supported and matters of national pride for Canada have been funded in the twinkling of an eye.

Sean Murray and Thady Murray of Sakto Corporation stand proud at the memorial funded by ‘them’ (according to the same Newswire PR service used to attack critics of logging at Mulu over recent weeks)

Who paid for the recent Canadian War Memorial in France?  Who funds Canadian army events? and who stands proud as a patron of the Prince’s Trust [Prince Charles’s environmental and social charity] in Canada?

Why Jamilah and ‘Sean’ Taib, of course [his Muslim name, a sign of his sincere conversion on his marriage to Jamilah, appears to be unused back in Canadian social circles].

Nonetheless, the Murrays appear to have been spending more ‘quality time’ in Sarawak and KL in recent months, which one assumes has nothing to do with the family’s business concerns and rivalries and everything to do with a growing concern for the wellbeing of the ageing Governor and an understandable desire to make sure that the old man’s affairs are settled according to his wishes.

Equally solicitous in this regard are quite clearly Taib’s sister Raziah and her global businessman husband, Robert Geneid; Taib’s new wife and of course most of his other children – it seems that Sulaiman remains a distant dude and good for him. The ‘family’ is circling.

However, let none of this disturb the social pages of the Ottawa media or those local Canadian socialites who seem intent on glorying at the font of ‘glamour’ and enjoying the fruits of distribution provided by the Taib family.

Forget working fire services and medical care in Sungai Asap, these ladies need to party over in Rockcliff, Canada

After all, Sean and Jamilah have gone after NGOs such as the Bruno Manser Fund who have reported on the fact that huge sums of money have been funelled out of Sarawak into their Sakto group of companies.

Solid supporters and guaranteed sponsors of any Irish Catholic events

Having once threatened to sue Sarawak Report, then apparently thought the better of it, the couple have now taken BMF to court and are attempting to have everything the organisation has ever published about them removed from the internet and the book Money Logging pulped.

The Taib Murrays say it is untrue that illegitimately acquired assets from Sarawak have funded Canada’s possibly wealthiest couple and claim their extraordinary prosperity owes solely to their genius ability in real estate development and an alleged inheritance of substantial wealth from the Murray family itself.

BMF will doubtless cite, amongst other examples to the Swiss Court, how Jamilah benefitted as a major shareholder of Pacific Chemicals, the company that was slipped the contract to log out the whole of the Bakun Dam area, worth billions in virgin timber – see our previous article.

The Taibs And The Timber Barons

The NGO might very well add information about the global pattern of symbiotic property ownerships between the Taib family and the clutch of crony logging companies who received the lion share of concessions handed out by Taib.

Starving Penan tribespeople who lost their hunting grounds to rampant logging don’t quite make the sympathy levels?

Take, for example, the injection of multi-million dollar mansions once owned by Samling’s  Yaw family in North America into Sakti, which is the mirror company of Sakto fronted by Sean and Jamilah Taib.

So let’s donate more to that – who cares about the folk back home whose resources we trashed?

Sakto was incorporated in Jamilah’s name (together with her brother and uncle) and acquired its first swathe of hundreds of flats before Jamilah set up shop with Sean in Ottawa.

Over in California Sakti was set up a few years later in the name of the two Taib sons, then studying in San Francisco.

Now the Murrays have absorbed both into the corporation run by Sean and his wife (they sold off the properties handed for one dollar by the Yaws).

Cross the globe to Australia and Sarawak Report has likewise reported on the similar cosy ties between the family of Bakun timber raider Ting Pek Khiing over the multi-million dollar Adelaide Hilton complex, where their fellow shareholders are once again Jamilah Taib and her siblings (with Sean injected as a director).

The Bruno Manser Fund has openly questioned whether the money set up to fund that company, Sitehost Pty, and to acquire the Adelaide Hilton came from Ting, whose sons were the original shareholders before the Taibs acquired the majority of the stake with a huge increase in the share capital in 1994. The NGO has pointed out that the acquisition of those shares by members of the Taib family occured in the very same month that Ting’s Sarawak company Ekran (in which the Taib sons had shares) was awarded the contract to build Bakun:

“Ekran’s most important business deal ever was a MYR 15 billion (AUD 7.5 billion at the time) contract to build the Bakun dam in Sarawak, Malaysia, which it was granted in January 1994 by the Malaysian Prime Minister, Mahathir Mohamad.

It is striking that Ekran was granted this record contract in the very same month that the Taib family increased their share capital in Sitehost to AUD 9.5 million (on 31 January 1994). This raises the question if it was Ting who provided the Taib family the necessary money to purchase the Adelaide Hilton. As Sarawak Chief Minister, Taib clearly had an important stake in the Bakun dam negotiations and it may have been necessary for Ting to curry favour with Taib in order to smoothen the negotiations with the Malaysian government [The Adelaide Hilton Case – BMF].

Meanwhile, don’t expect to see the fur clad, party loving Jamilah round Sungai Asap (the ‘re-settlement’ zone for tribal people flooded from their lands by Bakun) doling out donations any time soon.

Not worth spending money on?

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Yesterday, Sarawak Report revealed corruption over the felling of billions of ringgit worth of virgin jungle destroyed in the name of hydro-electricity at Murum.

That cynical pattern was a repeat of course of the earlier construction of Bakun Dam, which the PKR leader Anwar Ibrahim had attempted to halt while he was finance minister back in 1999.

Once again, the easy money from Bakun came from the raid on the timber.  Go to the ‘resettlement zone’ of Sungai Asap to see if any of the local people displaced by this white elephant project benefitted from the billions of dollars worth of prime virgin jungle (sorry “Biomass”) logged from their customary lands.

Meanwhile, the company that was given the contract in defiance of proper tendering, Ekran Berhad, which is controlled by the Sarawak ‘entrepreneur’ Ting Peck Khing took very good care to make sure that plenty of shares in both the parent company and even more importantly the company contracted to do the logging, Pacific Chemicals, were handed to the children of Taib Mahmud.

See below one of Sarawak Report’s earlier articles on Bakun and Taib’s continuing efforts to sell what’s left of its dwindling timber reserves and also read this article [http://www.sarawakreport.org/2013/07/at-it-again-bn-hypocrites-lecture-bakuns-natives-on-saving-the-environment/] explaining how the billions raised from logging Bakun was steered into the Taib family outfit Majaharta Sdn Bhd.

“We ARE World’s Largest Tropical Timber Exporter” Boasts Taib!
  • 12 January 2015

When he is not castigating NGOs for daring to suggest that he cuts too many trees, Taib can generally be found pontificating about Sarawak’s ‘industrial development’. At least, that is when he is back home.

However, in his recent tour to India it turns out that the Governor was prepared to be more frank with his audiences.

Sarawak Report has found the press releases issued by Taib’s Tamil hosts last December, which detail the claims he was making to this key market for timber as a raw material.

In a speech to the Governor of Tamil Nadu he plainly advertised that Sarawak is still the world’s largest exporter of tropical hardwood:

“H.E.The Governor of Sarawak said that his state looks forward to start new ventures and it is the world’s largest exporter of tropical hardwood timber. He added that tourism plays a major role in the state’s economy” [8/12/2014]

So, there we have it.  Little Sarawak is still yielding up more timber than the Congo or Amazon or indeed anywhere else in the world, despite having long since passed its peak in timber exports during the early years of Taib’s own period as Chief Minister.

Of course, those widespread reports of timber siphoning out from Central Kalimantan across Sarawak’s porous borders and mysteriously acquiring official government stamps must have a good deal to do with the seemingly endless supply of Sarawak’s timber to the outside world: because, owing to the growing blanket of oil palm, the opportunities for local regeneration are increasingly limited.

However, Taib has another plan for boosting the dwindling supplies of raw timber, should anyone forget.

His blueprint for a string of mega-dams across the state offers the very lucrative potential for clearing all the once protected river buffer zones, which will now be flooded.

Plus there is the clearance of the huge areas of reservoirs themselves to be undertaken.

The Bakun Dam, completed 2011, provided billions of ringgit worth of timber in this way, cleared by the contractor Ting Pek King, who is a well known crony of Taib.

Researchers have examined that contract and it is interesting to see whom they discovered to be one of the major beneficiaries of these clearances. The company contracted by Ting to do much of the logging was called Pacific Chemicals.

Pacific Chemicals has the rare distinction of having not bothered to register its shareholders, which is a legal requirement, in the Register of Companies:

However, useful research was provided by amongst others an author Edmund Gomez in a book entitled Chinese Business in Malaysia, published in 1999.  Gomez ascertained that while 7 out of 10 of the company’s top shareholders were nominee companies, almost 20% of Pacific Chemicals was controlled by the company Majaharta Sdn Bhd, owned at that time by Taib’s four children (now it is in the hands of his two daughters).

Pacific Chemicals not only got the contract to clear nearly 18,000 hectares of jungle, but it was awarded the RM1.2billion contract to install the Bakun transmission cables as well.

Gomez says that, perhaps not surprisingly, Pacific Chemicals immediately ditched its original core business of producing agricultural chemicals and focused on its sudden logging opportunity and finding a foreign partner to help it build Bakun’s transmission cables instead!

Does this not explain above anything else Taib Mahmud’s insatiable enthusiasm for building 12 new mega-dams in Sarawak, despite the fact that Bakun is by no means working at full capacity and that the already completed Murum Dam has virtually no current functioning purpose whatsoever?

And does it not speak volumes that Taib on his recent trip to India last month, for all his talk of industrialisation back home, was still in fact concentrating on flogging Sarawak timber to this foreign market?

After all, even though the proposed future Baram Dam has yet to gain any form of legitimate approval and is being heavily contested by the local population, Taib has already contracted his current crony company, Shin Yang, to strip the entire region of its once protected timber.

The same company ripped out the timber from Murum last year and, according to the New Zealand expert brought in to manage the building of that dam, Andrew Pattle, it is continuing to conduct dangerous logging practices in the key water catchment area above the Murum Dam basin.

As Pattle explained in a recent speech to fellow engineers, tearing out the trees from the catchment of the Murum Dam is exposing it to the effects of erosion.  Mud will silt up the reservoir and the catchment area will no longer be able to absorb the same level of rainfall.

Murum stands a hundred miles up-river from Bakun, which is not designed to sustain any kind of breach cascade that might be created by the failure of Murum, according to the dam’s own environmental impact assessment.

But, hey ho, what does any of this matter to Taib and his logging friends when there are still billions of ringgit to be squeezed out of removing Sarawak’s last trees and flogging them to India’s ready markets?

The real question is how does this former Chief Minister, who is still the driving force behind SCORE, manage to have the brass neck to claim that Sarawak has managed its forests wisely and that over 70% of the state is still “virgin forest”?

Tourists?

Taib’s second claim about tourism is also noteworthy.  The Governor does not appear to have been pitching for his much vaunted industrial development at all on this visit.

Nor, of course, was he seeking any of those thousands of workers that BN are planning to import into Sarawak from this region – after all Tamil Nadu is not Muslim.

But, how on earth does Taib square his plans to destroy Sarawak’s remaining areas of interest with tourism?

Does he seriously think that people will travel half across the planet to visit factories, oil palm plantations and new tall buildings that are complete old news elsewhere?

Does he not understand that Sarawak’s interest for tourists lies in its unique native culture, its unparalleled forests, rivers, scenery, unspoilt tropical views, wildlife and the rest?

Of course he does, which is why tourism is a sham in Sarawak and the figures on foreign visitors are as much to be believed as the claim that 70% of the state remains virgin forested or that exports have not made timber companies much in the way of taxable profits.

Taib is not interested in tourism.  It is far less lucrative for politicians than straightforward resource extraction and as an industry it shares the profits more widely. Remember, the people must stay poor for this regime to continue its ‘model of development’.

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One of the Governor of Sarawak’s key political henchmen cum holders of public office made a rare foray into the headlines this week to attack the appointment of a new Malaysian Anti Corruption Commission (MACC) chief, who is expected to break the log jam on corruption cases.

Idris Buang, who has himself combined various public and private offices with political roles, complained that the appointee has been a known member of PKR and would therefore be biased.

Perhaps the assemblyman, who has been linked to a number of high profile controversies is fearful of more active investigations into the Sarawak scene?  For example, Sarawak Report  has received details of one report to the MACC last year, which has yet to be acted on, relating to the clearing of timber worth a billion ringgit from the Murum Dam basin through a contract granted by Sarawak Energy (SEB) while he was on the board.

The irony is that there was virtually no case in terms of energy supply for SEB to build the Murum Dam, which has destroyed huge areas of virgin forest. Bakun itself was just completed and has yet to be put more than half its use as it struggles to find users for its existing electricity.

But according to one of the earliest contractors on the project, the Dutch logging and timber merchant Roel Seugling the construction of Murum was never about hydro-electricity anyway:

“The reason for Murum was not the electricity.  It was 100% about the wood and the access that building the dam gave to 100,000 hectares of virgin jungle behind on the other side. One survey worker said to my face that they would clear that land within ten years because now they can float the logs across the water of the lake.
The only other purpose was the purchase of huge amounts of cement, which was being charged to the project at an outrageous premium by the monopoly holding company CMS [owned by the family of the Sarawak Governor, then chief minister, Taib Mahmud] “

It was Roel Seugling who received the first contract to clear the timber from the dam basin itself, initially an area of 6,500 hectares of prime virgin jungle. In the case of mega-projects like a dam the logging can be described as ‘clearing of biomass and debris” for an infrastructure project rather than ordinary logging, which requires more regulations, Seugling explained as he passed a dossier of documentation to Sarawak Report, including the contract for the logging.

A Billion Ringgit Worth Of Timber

The Dutchman, who has worked some 25 years in East Malaysia, confesses that he was extremely excited by the project, which presented the prospect of enormous riches for his company and backers who raised 5 million euros (RM23m) to equip a full scale operation to take out what was officially calculated would amount to 150,000 tons of logs with a conservative value of RM90 million. In fact, with virgin forest being up to 6 times more abundant than normal logging, he was looking at far greater profits.

Under the contract he agreed that 40% of these projected profits would go to local Penan: needless to say even these conservative amounts were never passed to the native people and he does not believe the tribespeople were informed about the proposed deal:

The figures Roel Suegling used to target investors for the project

However, in a later letter of complaint to subsequent chief minister Adenan Satem, Seugling calculated that the wider contract, which involved the logging of 25,000 hectares of pristine virgin jungle, should have netted him a staggering profit of RM891,000,000 – nearly a billion ringgit:

Extract from a letter Seugling wrote to later cheif minister Adenan Satem explaining how the concession had been worth just under a billion ringgit in projected profits for his company before he was sidelined

Seugling had also written several earlier emails to Taib Mahmud’s office complaining he had been unfairly forced out of the project and describing how he had spent the outlay of over 5 million euros, which he now says he is owed in compensation as bigger fish came in to strong arm him out of the profits:

“Signing money ( hand over to several people ) till so far a don’t tell their names!! Entree fee ( also handed over to several people ) till so far don’t tell their names!!
Over 65 boats all with motor engine
22 Camps ” full ” equipped
Several Toyota high luxe
Home base camp ”
[email from Seugling to Taib Mamhud]

Seugling has openly acknowledged to Sarawak Report that the above mentioned ‘Signing money’ and ‘Entry fee’ were cash bribes for obtaining the contract and he has named who he claims were the key political persons involved.

Seugling wrote Taib several emails, as he considered him as the CM to be the ‘big boss’ behind the Murum project

Cascading Contracts in Sarawak

As Sarawak Report has often had reason to report, sub-contracting is the name of the game in Sarawak, enabling political ‘rent-seekers’ (often in the guise of their wives, children or other relatives) to get a fat slice of the public money before the actual work is given to someone else.

The case of the SEB contract for ‘Clearing Biomass’ for the Murum Dam would appear to be a typical case in point. Idris Buang and his fellow board members apparently signed off the contract to a crony company already identified by Sarawak Report, as a regular recipient of Sarawak projects, namely Sarabrand Sdn Bhd, which was half owned by none other than the local PRS MP for the Murum area at the time, Billy Abit Joo.

Sarabrand awarded the project on to a company owned by the local assemblyman Liwang Lawang

However, the MP was plainly too busy to do the actual work of clearing the area belonging to his constituents, so documents indicate the work was then sub-contracted to a second company named Lio Resources Sdn Bhd.

Company information shows that Lio Resources is in turn owned by the local PRS Assemblyman for the area Liwan Lagang, plus the second shareholder of Sarabrand (local businessman Henry Opang Luhat) and a Kuching councillor named Ujang Himang:

Lio Resources

Like the MP, it appears the Assemblyman was also too busy or unskilled to get down o the business of performing the actual contract, which is where Dutchman Roel Seugling and his long-term business partner in the logging business Yam Chee Yun got their opportunity.

Seugling has explained to Sarawak Report that he and Yam had previously cut down a valuable belian tree concession (logging of belian is of course supposed to be banned) granted to the Assemblyman’s brother in the area, Semut Lagang. The whys and wherefores of timber concessions in Sarawak have, like other public contracts been kept closely under wraps from the public eye, forcing ordinary unconnected folk to rely on leaks such as this one:

Earlier project – Yam and Seugling’s company was called Gunung Makmur Resources

The belian project had ended unhappily however, since the company’s equipment was stolen. As a ‘reward’ Seugling says the logging specialists were told that Yam’s contact in the matter, the well-connected ‘VIP’ Liwan Lagang, would arrange the Murum clearing project to come over to them, in return for an “signing fee” payable in cash of RM780,000.00 plus 20% of final profits.

Raol Seugling has acknowledged to Sarawak Report that he paid the upfront fee (translating to 190,000 euros) through his Dutch ING bank account into a local bank account in Kuching held by his company Asia Ace Resources.  This was removed in cash by his local business partner and then allegedly handed in three amounts to Mr Yam, who claimed that he had passed the cash to the MP. Sarawak Report has sought a response to this claim from Liwan Lagang, but not yet received an immediate reply.

The transaction was registered with ING Bank as being payment for the Murum Contract

The bank was informed that the money was for ‘payment of royalties for the Murum Dam Project’ at the time of the transfer in December 2013, as is detailed in the statement.  A second payment was made of just over 23,000 euros which Seugling acknowledges was to pay off “certain officials’ to the tune of RM100,000 as well. He described this to the bank as “Murum Dam Signing Money”:

Paying various officials

“Problem is Shin Yang is under CM – we can’t argue with them!”

At this point the Dutchman says matters started to go wrong. Logs were soon being ripped out and great quantities had been floated across the rising waters of the dam (eventually the camp belonging to protesting native Penan people was also washed away along with their homes as well).  However, the loggers found they could not remove them from the area because the 70 mile road leading from the dam to Belaga belonged to the logging company Shin Yang.

The Shin Yang managers had viewed the vast piles of lucrative timber and decided to flex their muscles, putting in ‘a complaint’ Seugling was told, to the Forest Department. Until the matter was resolved the logs could not be transported and Shin Yang, whose owners are known to be extremely close to then chief minister Taib Mahmud, was demanding extortionate charges for Lio Resources to be allowed to use the road.

Having received huge sums from their foreign investor it turned out that Lio Resources were not too bothered about defending their position. Seugling at first begged Yam to tell their ‘VIP’ contact Lian Lagang to use his supposed influence with his ‘big boss’ the chief minister to at least repay the huge outlays by Seugling as the financier of the project.  However Yam replied that he and Lio Resources had decided to ‘surrender’ the project.

A series of desperate texts recorded by the Dutchman explain the reasons why Yam and his political contacts were no longer fighting for the contract: “problem is Shin Yang is under CM – we can’t argue with them” ran one of the texts, “VP [Lagang] also suggest to me to give up on this project”:

I have too much information

The Dutchman protested that the Assemblyman and Chief Minister must meet to deal with the situation, threatening he had too much information for them to ignore his plight. However, Yam and his other associates melted away he says and he never heard from them again.

Likewise, several emails to Taib Mahmud were merely passed to the Forestry Department, where they were not answered and Lian Lagang also failed to respond to emails. Seugling says he has a dossier of documented evidence and recordings to substantiate his claim and the project, including numerous film and photographs of the logging his company conducted.

However, he received no support and his Kuching lawyers refused to continue the case once they saw the letters he had writen to Taib Mahmud complaining about Shin Yang’s strong-arm tactics in taking over the timber from the concession.  He has lost his 5 million euros and equipment, as well as the ‘upfront royalty payments’ without compensation.

However, according to Roel Seugling, this billion ringgit project was just the start of the logging made possible by Murum.

“The Shin Yang manager, who pointed a pistol at my colleague across his desk, flew up to the site in a company helicopter to view the situation and that is when I think they decided they would take the timber.

I have one of them on record saying to me that once the water is up on the lake they could float the logs across to their logging road without difficulty. There is 100,000 hectares of virgin forest there and he told me they can clear it within ten years easily. The Murum Dam is 100% about the timber” 

Seugling reaffirmed to Sarawak Report.

Taib’s office passed on these emails naming Liwan Lagang as his intermediary to the Forest Department

Following the election Mr Seugling says he made a full report on this matter to the MACC headquarters in KL, but so far he has received no response on the matter. He hopes the scandal of the Murum Dam timber grab will now receive the attention of KL anti-corruption officials that it deserves.

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The Malaysian Anti Corruption Commission has for some time been afflicted by a selective blindness, particularly when it comes to the pillaging of Sarawak by the Taib family and their cronies.

The fact that huge contracts and concessions have delivered almost the entire wealth of the resource rich state into the hands of this clique of kleptocrats has long been glaringly apparent to all in Malaysia and beyond.

The blatant nature of that theft became clear once the details of the Sarawak Land Registry were leaked to Sarawak Report in 2011, showing outrageous handouts to Taib’s relatives and political allies. That evidence mirrored the fabulous and ostentatious wealth exhibited by members of the family, who have invested everywhere in the world except in improving the livelihoods of people back home in  Sarawak, who have lost their lands to Taib-sponsored logging and landgrabs.

Likewise, after the Construction Industry Development Board (CIDB) released details of public contracts online, proof of similar gross favouritism was also abundantly revealed in a whole swathe of what are politely termed ‘negotiated contracts’ in Sarawak – i.e. not put out to proper tender.

Sisters, daughters, neices, aunts and daughters in law of the Taib extended family, plus their menfolk and hangers-on have all been revealed as beneficiaries of lucrative engineering and other contracts, rapidly sub-contracted of course to firms who could actually do the work (the website was soon closed to the public by Najib following several scandalous exposes by Sarawak Report and has yet to be made transparent again by the new ‘reforming’ government).

Despite endless protests over this outrageous situation, statements from the MACC have till now stuck to an unaccountable assessement that ‘investigations’ by the agency could detect no evidence of wrongdoing or corruption.

One reason proffered by certain spokesmen has been that according to an interpretation of some piece of legislation passed in 2009, unless the minister who stood to benefit from any particular state handout was in the room at the time and signed the concession/contract in question then they could not be held resposible for having corruptly acquired the contract.

This strange interpretation of the law has led to an acknowledged ritual, whereby the likes of Taib Mahmud (who was chief minister, finance minister as well as the planning and resources minister for decades in Sarawak) would step outside the cabinet room whilst his juniors and deputies signed over lucrative chunks of the economy to himself and his family.

Any half decent lawyer could construct an overwhelming case for Criminal Breach of Trust under such circumstances.  However the MACC has till now failed to present the overwhelming dossier of evidence confirming this pattern of malpractice over to the AG’s Chambers to reveiw and prosecute.

Now They Admit Corruption, Now They Don’t

This is despite the fact that the MACC plainly recognised the problem of severe corruption in Sarawak in its own report, submitted back in 2014 to parliament.

Under a section dedicated to the anti-corruption agency’s own review of the procedures governing land approvals in the state, the report acknowledged that the present set up was open to  “abuse” and “manipulation” and suggested alterations in the land code to prevent ministers handing concessions to their own families:

The MACC 2014 report identified a problem of ‘absolute power” in the handing of concessions in Sarawak by ministers that needed to be addressed to prevent the handing of concessions to family members of those ministers and others

Yet despite making this recommendation and acknowledging the problem of abuse and manipulation, the agency has to this day refused to take action to hold any of the abusers and manipulators to account.

Lax procedures might make abuse and manipulation easier to carry out, but that does not absolve those responsible – a thief remains a thief, even if a door has been left unlocked (especially if it was the thief who held the responsiblity of locking it).

This failure to act mirrors the very same stance adopted by the MACC in the past over similar evidence of corruption next door in Sabah and likewise over 1MDB and all the evidence of federal corruption under Najib Razak until both regimes were over-thrown by the GE14 elections. All these matters are, of course, now being prosecuted.

Following GE14 Sarawak ought not to have been exempted, merely because it is yet to hold its own elections in the state.  The MACC is run by the federal authorities and under the new government’s anti-corruption agenda it has been inexcusable for it to have failed even to investigate the well-evidenced police reports tabled by members of the public and lawmakers against the Taib family mafia in Sarawak.

Now there is a new head of the MACC this attitude should change and the authority must conduct its duty in this East Malaysian state in exactly the same manner as elsewhere and  conduct a thorough and extensive investigation.

Meanwhile, given the volume of evidence already exposed by this site and by numerous other agencies and public figures from Sarawak itself, the Governor ought to be suspended from his position to prevent him influencing that process.

Likewise, all licences and contracts for land use changes in the state should be frozen immediately on suspicion of corrupt practice, to prevent further destructive logging as Taib’s wealthy cronies race to make as much more money as they can before the music stops.

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The sad and vicious story behind the railroading of local people in Sarawak from their timber rich inheritance has been well encapsulated by the wrangle over the Berawan and Penan native lands at the Mulu UNESCO World Heritage site, which has now extended to the buffer lands around.

For the moment, blockades by protestors have succeeded in at least temporaily halting a determined attempt to rip out some of the remaining valuable trees left unprotected in the state in an areas used by these native folk since time immemorial to hunt and retrieve forest products.

Suspended full clearance by loggers

The logging, which got going at the end of last year, represents just a fraction of a huge landmass covered in valuable timber granted as ‘oil palm concessions’ by the administration of the present Governor of the state, Taib Mahmud, to his son in 2008 for a nominal price of just RM741 per hectare, under highly dubious circumstances and amidst blatant conflicts of interest.

Despite the fact this particular 4,500 hectare concession was located in the Native Customary Rights lands of the Berawan and Penan tribes, Taib (who was chief minister, planning and resources minister, finance minister and also the head of the Land & Survey Department and Land Custody and Development Agency at the time) never even informed these people that his son had been granted the concession, let alone consulted, negotiated or compensated them for the alienation of their land (this has prompted the latest in a slew of legal cases, of which more later).

The land in question was secretly handed to Taib’s son as ‘payment in kind’ in 2008

It is obvious to all that the real lure of the concession to grow oil palm has been the easy cash to be made out of felling the far more valuable timber and this is exactly the same sort of land snatch the same family and its timber cronies have performed all over the state, which was once home to hundreds of billions of dollars worth of top value tropical timber, but which now faces an imminent collapse of the timber industry owing to their rapacious and careless logging.

The son, Abu Bekir Taib, now heads up the vast business interests of the Taib family, based on these and other behind closed doors concessions and contracts within Sarawak (Taib gave an interview to the UK PR company FBC Media claiming his family only made money abroad, which caused widespread ridicule).

Abu Beker currently appears to be trying to cash in his ownership of some of these hugely valuable assets, especially in the wake of the recent federal elections, which saw the demise of the BN government that had protected the Taib family’s mafia regime for over four decades.

How Much Did Abu Bekir Sell For?

Back in April 2018 Abu Bekir Taib passed his 99% shareholding of this particular Mulu concession, held under the company Radiant Lagoon, to a Marudi logging tycoon named Yee Ming Seng, who locals say has close family ties to the second term MP for the area, Anyie Ngau.

The timber in the area alone (before oil palm is planted) has an estimated value of circa US100 million (Rm400,000,000.00) say NGOs, for which Abu Bekir and his partner originally had paid a premium of a mere RM3.3 million, described as ‘Payment in Kind’ according to the land registry records.

The deal was linked to a hugely controversial contract offered by the father to his son’s construction company Titanium Management to repair bridges in the state, which went heavily over budget and never made completion. Yet it was the father’s administration that agreed to pay most of the contested extra fees plus ‘compensation in kind’ in the form of vast oil plam concessions on timber-covered native lands for a derisory R741 per hectare.

DAP complained about the theft in August 2012 (RM300 per acre = RM741 per hectare for the 100,000 acres given to Abu Bekir)

How much Yee Ming Seng paid in turn to acquire the shares of Radiant Lagoon from Abu Bekir, which were placed into the ownership of his vehicle Onlyee Plantations, a subsidiary of the tycoon’s powerful Double Dynasty group, is yet to be made public. However, Onlyee Plantations took out two loans in November last year valued at US$18 million (RM75m) and RM55 million.

Sarawak Report has raised the question as to whether the sale was officially registered, given patterns of past conduct where the Taib family have acquired properties in the United States merely by registering changes in company ownership working with other friendly timber tycoons – no taxes paid.

What is clear is that the logging that ensued shortly after provoked fury amongst the local communities, many or whom started to protest and support the blockades.

“In response we filed a number of police reports, in which we criticised the local headmen appointed by the state government, who we said abused their power and were guilty of improper conduct in this matter and other matters”

says Denis Along, one of the longstanding activists, who has also campaigned against the appropriation of Berawan lands to create the Royal Mulu Hotel and airport attached to the National Park. In this case it was the sister of Taib Mahmud, her husband Robert Geneid and other family members who were the main beneficiaries of the project, funded naturally by the Sarawak Economic Development Authority (SEDA).

Mulu campaigner Denis Along

The various reports made by the Berawan protestors to the police and to the MACC have complained that the headmen in question at the affected villages of Mulu and Long Terawan were each paid RM400,000 each by Radiant Lagoon into community accounts, which they then partially used to circulate payments of RM3,500 to each of the longhouse families shortly after the protests began, saying that if the families did not take their chance to receive the ‘gift’ they would not see the opportunity again.

According to these complaints, the villagers were subsequently told they had signed away their rights in return for these minor sums of money and warned they had no further legal justification to protest against the logging.

Nothing To Do With Abu Bekir Taib?

Significantly, the documentary evidence shows that not only have these payments to local village associations controlled by the headmen been admitted to, but a letter authorised by Yee Ming Seng has confirmed that the two payments of  RM400,000 were indeed transferred as part of what his company considered to be a ‘settlement’ to achieve the  surrender of native rights to the multi-million dollar timber reserves his company planned to log.

The letter makes clear the company was dealing only with the state government appointed headmen to act on behalf of what protestors have described as village people left ‘clueless’ about what was going on:

Radiant Lagoon admitted in October 2018 it paid a ‘settlement agreement’ but only to a handful of headmen to spend as they wished

See the full letter:

See the full letter:

Letter authorised by Lee Ming Seng

An SPRM (Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission MACC) report made by Denis Along in April cites that this information about the payment being supposedly part of a surrender of the natives’ rights had only emerged at a meeting a few days before in March between the protestors, the headmen, the company and local political figures (organised and controlled by the senior local police officer ASP Cliff Emang Ngau).

As a result of that meeting and the emergence of these details the local state representative YB Gerawat Gala demanded the logging cease immediately, as is confirmed by the minutes provided by Along’s report to the MACC Headquarters in Miri.

State YB brought a halt to the logging after meeting on March 4th in which details of the contested settlement between Radiant Lagoon and the headment came to light

See the full MACC report and minutes of March meeting:

Denis Along’s MACC Report has so far received no answer from the MACC

Minutes of the meeting

(page 2 of minutes) Evidence was so clear that the headmen had been paid without reference to the villagers that the YB said all logging must cease

PR Pushback

Therefore by March not only had panicking YBs ordered the logging be suspended, but a report had been lodged with the MACC by angry local campaigners, complaining that the local politicians and headmen have been working in cahoots with the logging company to railroad native rights in the region.

So far, say the campaigners, the investigation agency has taken no action.

Furthermore, by this point the row had attracted the attention of international NGOs and the many prominent world scientists, who have championed the protection of the Mulu World Heritage site, resulting in a major international row and a threat to the region’s UNESCO status.

The impasse has left half of the first of the two concession lots clear felled with timber left rotting on the ground amidst the stand-off.  However, at least the bulldozers are currently idle with the remainder presently defended by determined local people, who continue to man a blockade into the area.

Half of lot 3 has been flattened but the remainder can still be saved

It is at this point that a PR pushback by the company appears to have got underway, with a concerted effort to get the village folk on side by the loggers – or at least boxed in and silenced.

In late March a foursome of leading longhouse figures, described as placemen and toadies by the opposing activists, were transported to the District Officer’s Residence in Marudi to discuss matters with him on behalf of everyone else in the community.

The event is said to have been organised by the same local police bigwig, Assistant Superintendant Cliff Emang Ngau, who as his name suggests is another relative (the nephew) of the local MP.

The group of two headmen, Edmund Abang and Ugum Jalong, plus Pengulu Herbert Lawai Epoi, were accompanied by a councillor and local businessman Garry Hassim Mulu and another very influential local player Dato Robert Laing Anyie (who had acted for over 20 years as one of Taib’s 24 political secretaries – one to control each region).

These were then driven on to Miri to meet with the local MP Anjie Ngau and local YBs all part of the GPS government. Local press had been gathered and waiting for what they had to say.

Predictably, the bigwigs complained to the press that the Swiss native rights NGO Bruno Manser Fund had been ‘interfering’ to ‘prevent development’ in their villages. No mention was made of the fact that logging had been suspended by the authorities amidst evidence of bribes and misleading of local villagers thanks to deals with the same headmen.

Organised PR pushback?

“The Bruno Manser Fund (BMF) has been accused of exploiting villagers from Long Terawan and Mulu.During a press conference yesterday, the villagers called on the police and Immigration Department to investigate the fund’s attempt to stop development in the two areas…. Long Terawan Ketua Kaum Edmund Abang said serious action must be taken against individuals and foreigners who are against development for the people of Mulu and Long Terawan.” [Borneo Post March 22nd]

Mystery Of The Protesting Pastor

As the stand-off nevertheless continued, last week a second front against ‘foreign NGO propaganda’ opened up.

A commercial PR press release service called Newswire, which mimics the international news agencies but advertises that it will in fact circulate any story as long as it is paid to do so, promoted a press statement, supposedly written by a Miri based Pastor Lian Malang, originally from Mulu, also condemning ‘foreign NGOs’ and announcing he was lodging a police report against them for ‘holding back development':

Pastor Lian Malang ssuing a police report against Mulu protests supported by foreign NGOs!

The local media were once more naturally encouraged to take up the ‘story’ which was circulated in the handy ‘press release’ that publicised the pastor’s number, inviting journalists to call him.

Pastor Lian Malang delivered the statement surrounded by bigwig political folk and supporters of Radiant Lagoon

Pictured in the press release and accompanying the Pastor during the statement were a group of powerful local individuals who have been associated with supporting Radiant Lagoon and the headmen appointed by the state government who have supported the company’s activiites:

On side with the heavy weights – ex-Councillor Ayub Ngang and YB Gerawat Gala

However, when Sarawak Report attempted to phone and text this number to ask a number of questions (including who it was that had signed up to Newswire, which costs nearly US$200/ RM800 per month and paid for the press release?) we received no reply.

When we telephoned another member of the Pastor’s congregation they explained Malang has recently changed his number, but said they did not know what the new number was. It therefore appears the pastor is no longer interested in speaking to reporters despite courting them with this press realease, however we will update if he returns our message.

Turncoat?

Meanwhile, our further enquiries have revealed that this is not in fact the first police report that Pastor Lian Malang has filed over recent months and years. Indeed, documentation shows a very strange pattern of changed behaviour, in that this self-same Pastor until very recently acted as one of the key leaders of the protests against the alleged abuse by the headmen and government appointees in Long Terawan and Mulu with regard to the community’s rights, including concerns about the logging and payments to trick villagers out of their land rights.

One such protest letter, clearly signed by Pastor Lian Maling, was sent in August of last year to the Resident of the Miri Division and copied to the YB Gerawat Gala, in which he specifically criticised the headman of Long Terawan, Edmund Abang, on several counts and asked for his removal, owing to what he complained was a  consistant abuse of his position and his failure to hold legally required elections for new committee members for the entire 14 years since he had been appointed.

Indeed, several of the members of that committee, which this headman is legally supposed to consult have died or are sick, the letter signed by Pastor Lian Maling said, and no one could recollect the single time that the committee had actually been convened.

Signature by Pastor Lian Malang on a letter sent in August 2018 on behalf of the Rakyat of Long Terawan against the very headman who has facilitated the deal with Radiant Lagoon

This headman appointed by the state government back in 2005 runs the village in an ‘autocratic and stubborn style’, the Pastor and his fellow signatories complained in this devastating letter sent to the Resident of Miri and copied to YB Gerawat Gala himself, the State Secretary of Sarawak and to Malaysia’s human rights agency Suhakam.  Instead of caring for the villagers, Edmund Abang directs all his energies towards promoting his personal business interests at the expense of the community the letter signed by the Pastor just a few months ago went on:

QUOTE

Read the whole letter:

There is more.

Continuing in this same theme, the Pastor who was to complain of  ‘foreign NGO interference’ just a few weeks later, was one of three people who signed another letter to the same Miri Resident, dated 25th January this year, directly complaining about the conduct of the same headman over a number of specific issues of alleged corruption, including earlier logging by Pusaka KTS plantations (a scandal already covered by this portal) saying he had failed to organised an earlier promised payment by this other timber raider – headed by Taib’s former head of Forestry and the present ‘Environment’ minister of Sarawak, Len Talif Salleh:

Pusaka promised to pay goodwill money (saguhati) of RM2 million to the people of Long Terawan however a balance of RM300,000 is still outstanding….KK Edmund has not kept a proper records of all payments received from the disbursements made to the people from PKTS. There are many complaints regarding how the RM1.7milion has been used due to the lack of transparency. Due to the lack of proper accounting records and no audit has been done, there is a widespread suspicion that the funds had been misused by KK Edmung Abang….”

See the whole letter:

The letter goes on to lament how the folk of Pastor Lian Malang’s region were also similarly done over by another of Taib Mahmud’s top timber cronies from Rimbunan Hijau – they only found out about its palm oil plantation project 6 years after its inception his signed complaint explains. Rimbunan had paid fines, but all the money had gone to the same odious headman in his sites, Edmund Abang, complained Pastor Malang:

“Rimbunan Sawit signed an agreement with KK Edmund to alllow the company to open up its plantation without the knowledge of the people of Long Terawan!
Until now KK Edmund Abang has kept this secret and not inform (sic) the people of Lond Terawan about this. Why is he doing this as a Ketua Kaum [headman]? Is this not a clear case of abuse of power and criminal breach of trust on the part of KK Edmund Abang? The people of Long Terawan has not received a single cent of money from Ribunan Sawit Bhd even though it has been operating for about 7 years. Can we conclude that KK Edmund has made a deal for himself without the poor and ignorance folks of Long Terawan Knowledge (sic)?”

The letter is therefore extremely strong stuff and very much in line with the concerns expressed by global NGOs and environmentalists, who have raised deep concerns about the  management of the region.

Pastor Malang’s tirade then specifically goes on to..

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Developing crop diversity is not a threat to Malaysia’s oil palm industry. Rather it could be a vital saviour, one of the world’s top crop scientists based in KL has been explaining to the country’s leading politicians, who appear to be listening.

Professor Sayed Azam-Ali heads KL’s prestigious Crops For the Future Institute (CFF), supported by the Malaysian Government together with Nottingham University, which is fast becoming one of the world’s most highly regarded research centres in terms of meeting future challenges for global food security.

Progressive building designed to save energy

The ten years old facility, housed in a futuristic building designed around eco-friendly principles to cut energy waste, is now Malaysia’s highest ranking agricultural research centre thanks to the level of innovative research that is emanating from its large base of student scientists. It also ranks in the top five globally.

Preventing a ‘Perfect Storm’

However, CFF, which was visited by Sarawak Report earlier this week, is about to issue what it describes as an urgent Call For Action, in order to prevent what is described as a ‘perfect storm’ that could see a collapse in the ability of the world’s human population to grow sufficient food to feed itself.

By 2030, the institute says, the world will have to produce 50% more food and 30% more fresh water, just at a time when temperatures are rising causing crops to fail.

Global Warming Is Real And Threatens Malaysia’s Top Crop

Guiding visitors round the facility which is the only centre in the world that researches underutilised crops through every stage of the value chain from production through to retail and consumption, Sayed makes no hesitation in stating what he says is a bald scientific fact.

If global temperatures rise by the 1.5%, which the overwhelming majority of scientists presently predict will happen within just 12 years, barring urgent measures, then the climate in Malaysia will become too hot for its most abundant crop, oil palm, to survive.

Therefore, it is not the bio-fuel restrictions currently being imposed by European markets which present the biggest threat to Malaysia’s staple crop, it’s global warming – a problem that many in Malaysia have yet to come to terms with.

Solutions

The CFF Call For Action is not about casting blame however.  Rather the 40 page draft report, which is due to be released next week, sets out what the centre believes are genuine workable solutions, which Professor Sayed says he has been laying out to Ministers, including Prime Minister Dr Mahathir, whom he says called him to a meeting within days of the last election.

“It was less than two weeks following the election and I received this message to please go to meet the new PM. At first I thought it might be a hoax, but when I went to see him he expressed enormous interest in pioneering our ideas out on the ground in Malaysia as soon as possible” Sayed told listeners including Sarawak Report.

Among key findings the centre has started to produce is that by introducing some of the world’s traditional, but currently neglected and ‘underutilised’ crops into the spaces around and under palm plantations it is possible to regenerate the fertlity and productivity of the soil to help the oil palms to also thrive.

Many of these crops also do the job of aerating the earth, making it no longer necessary to turn the soil – an agricultural practice that causes mass releases of unwanted carbon into the atmosphere, which adds to global warming.

Combating Hidden Hunger

As he leads visitors around the centre’s experimental crop nurseries created out of abandoned palm oil plantation land, Professor Sayed explains that many such ‘old fashioned’ legumes and bambara groundnut have almost been lost to human knowledge in recent generations in favour of major mass agriculture crops worldwide.

However, these plants tend to be much hardier and therefore able to grow in exhausted earth and to refertilise it naturally. They also supply vital aspects of the human diet like plant proteins and vitamins, which have been neglected in Malaysia in favour of too much fast food over recent years, causing obesity and even a rise in stunted growth and mental development in otherwise well fed children.

The phenomenon of ‘hidden hunger’ is now causing major health concerns among urban populations like KL, which more diversified crops can work to solve.

Easier Cash For Smallholders?

For smallholders in particular, the centre has found that diversifying towards such underutilised crops alongside the oil palm plantations can provide more income than competing.

Two of the crops researched and developed by the institute, Moringa and Bambura, have recently been numbered among the top five ‘Super Foods’ of the future in a well publicised WWF report.

Two of the top five ‘super foods of the future’ have been identified and developed at Malaysia’s CFF centre in Selangor

Not only do these plants prove they can grow in areas where palm oil plantations have become exhausted – the so called stranded assets which plantation companies have abandoned – they can also regenerate the soil without the need for expensive and polluting artificial fertilisers.

“These plants add value and fill in the spaces under and around the existing oil palms. Presently this space in Malaysia – unused agricultural land around plantations – occupies 27% of the total palm plantation area, amounting to 1.2 million hectares. That is the same area as the entire land mass of the Netherlands, which is the second biggest agriculture exporter in the world after the United States.  So that goes to show how much more we could do with our present agricultural space if we attend to more efficient management and varied crops” says Sayed.

Primary Industries Minister Teresa Kok is also interested. Sayed says he has met her at least three times and her team have also visited the project to view his findings for themselves.

Another key message produced by this Malaysia based crop research is that the greater variety of crops and diversifying large regions of monoculture effectively helps to counter the spread of diseases, which can take a dangerous grip over vast, single species plantations.

Sayed points out the danger. Presently just four top cash crops account for 60% of the world’s total food consumption, whereas 7,000 other underutilised traditional crops from across the world are in danger of being driven out of existence by mass agricultural practices, even though they present better prospects for survival if temperatures continue to rise.

Save Palm Oil By Saving Forests

One of the most dramatic messages that visitors are taking away with them, says Sayed, is that one of the key measures Malaysia can take to protect the future of oil palm plantations from rising temperatures is not only to mix them with other crops but to but to reduce pressure on the remaining rainforests across the country by growing underutilised crops on land that is no longer suitable for mainstream agriculture.

Rising temperatures are caused by rising carbon levels and fast growing tropical rainforests eat carbon out of the air faster than any other process on the planet. Previous logging has released carbon into the atmostphere and at the same time reduced the number of trees to absorb the gas.

On the other hand, if these areas are protected from future logging, regenerated and left free to grow back undisturbed they will suck millions of tons of carbon back from the air, helping to keep temperatures below that perilous level of a rise of 1.5%C, which all scientists agree will cause global devastation – and kill off plam oil plantations in warm countries like Malaysia.

Biodiversity Hotspot

Many Malaysians are also uninformed that the remaining Sout East Asian rainforests are not only the oldest in the world (Borneo is 150 million years old) but are also the most biodiverse regions of the planet.

Once again, by preserving that biodiversity Malaysia can benefit from the advantages of its unparalleled variety of species when it comes to the challenges of adapting to changing conditions on the planet.

Better Nutrition

CFF has one of the most high tech experimental laboratories globally for measuring the impact of CO2 on the plants we eat. 18 separate conditioning chambers can report exactly on how the effects of different levels of the gas in the surrounding air affects nutrional values.

This is significant because the levels of CO2 on earth have doubled since the inception of the industrial revolution, says Professor Sayed:

“It is now proven that higher CO2 levels cause a reduction in key micro-nutritional content in plants – zinc levels for example go down when CO2 goes up and that is a seriou risk to human health”.

Opportunity Not To Miss?

With the above facts established, it is worth bearing in mind that a programme to regenerate Malaysia’s forests (as opposed to continuing with more relentless logging) could potentially raise billions of dollars in carbon capture off-set money paid by global industries and other countries.

In the meantime, according to Malaysia’s own homegrown Call For Action Programme, this forest regeneration could also provide the most single effective means of cooling down the region to protect oil palm plantations.  As can a host of complementary crops that could help extend the life of the valued cash crop by returning minerals and breaking down impacted soils without having to till the earth and release yet more gases in the process.

It is all about thinking smart and using resources more thoughtfully to find solutions to problems mankind created.

Thanks to CFF, Malaysia is at the forefront of the search for scientific solutions, but it is up to the new government and the industry itself to seize the opportunity to implement them before the effects of climate change produce that ‘perfect storm’.

In the lab /measuring how nutritional content is affected by CO2 levels in the air

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Doing the rounds on social media is a story that has been raising eyebrows in Sarawak.

The public investment vehicle that is supposed to be assisting development in the state, namely the Sarawak Economic Development Corporation (SEDC), has just poured a very substantial sum into the purchase of a cattle farm over in Darwin: way over the valuation and market price, according to Australian media outlets.

This is how ABC’s rural news reported the Aus$20 million (RM58m) purchase:

$20m a big price for floodplains property

The $20 million price tag for Carmor Plains has been met with surprise by some in the Top End cattle industry.
The last time it changed hands, back in 2001, it sold for just $2.8 million.
An industry figure suggested that it would be difficult for SEDC to make a profit from such a large sum paid for a relatively small piece of land.
According to a Malaysian auditor-general’s report in 2015, the SEDC lost $2.8 million between 2009 and 2013 due to high costs and low cattle sales from its [existing] Australian cattle properties.

ABC says it is still awaiting comment from SEDC and the sellers of the property, who apparently used the ranch to entertain the sort of tourists who enjoy hunting and shooting water buffalo, crocodiles and wild pigs.

SEDC have already bought other cattle ranches in the region and lost money on them, observes the article.  So why invest in a yet another Sarawakians are entitled to ask – and for that matter what happened to the grand plans for the so-called ‘Tanjung Manis Halal Hub’, which cleared of tens of millions of dollars worth of valuable timber allegedly to produce beef back home near Bintulu?

And why pay some ten times over the odds for Carmor Plains?

Pro PRS Dayak Daily promoted the purchase in March

State government connected media naturally have promoted the investment, including Dayak Daily which was plainly flown out to Australia in March, along with the Borneo Post, to cover a ceremony to mark the purchase attended by a raft of Sarawak bigwigs, led by the Chief Minister himself.

The promotional reports then gushed fulsomely over the extension of the multi-person, top level delegation’s visit to the existing Rosewood ranch, which the Sarawak media described as ‘award winning’. They did not mention the millions in losses identified by the Australian press.

So, the same state government can hardly blame netizens for being suspicious that the decision-makers behind this SEDC investment must either be chumps for paying so much more than native Australian experts believe they should have in an area where they have already been losing money or possibly even worse?

There is after all an unhealty Malaysian tradition when it comes to ‘investments abroad’ or on behalf of the trusting public.

Take as a starting point how similar Sarawak state management luminaries managed to ‘lose’ pretty much every last cent of the Native Customary Rights Landowners’ fund, namely ASSAR, by investing almost 100% of these folk’s money in loss-making ventures (none of which were scrutinised for basic conflicts of interest).

Serious business for Sarawak’s leading political figures in Australia?

If and when Australia’s ABC do get answers out of SEDC about the details of this purchase, top of the list of things Sarawakians will inevitably want to know, therefore, is whether the agency utilised the now notorious practice of  ‘Special Purpose Vehicles’ to manage the investment, and if so whether that ‘SPV’ was by any chance registered somewhere like Labuan, the Cayman Islands or the BVI – offshore havens, where beneficial ownerships and account details are kept conveniently away from public scrutiny?

Few are likely to feel particularly comforted by mere assurances that the activities of SEDC are being fully audited by top accountancy firms. After all, the nation has been treated this very day to the spectacle of none other than a raid by the MACC on the KL branch of the global accountancy giant Deloitte, related to its now admitted gross and repeated failures to blow the whistle over 1MDB and other major investments (pointed out time and again by the likes of Sarawak Report, but which for years the ‘big four’ accountancy firm doggedly denied).

Paying Over The Odds Or Just Hiding The Money?

Malaysia and indeed Sarawak has been plagued by years of excessive expenditures by public funds on foreign investments, which appear to have been solely motivated by the desire of those in charge to siphon out as much as possible of the wasted millions into their own pockets.

Now Najib has fallen and the investigators have got to work the truth has come tumbling out.

First there were the MARA, Tabung Haji and FELDA scandals, followed by the news that even Bank Negara had been strong armed into paying way over the odds for land by the previous government, ostensibly for investment but in reality to enrich cronies or bail out 1MDB and Najib’s Ministry of Finance.

Most recently Sarawak Report has exposed evidence of millions siphoned out from the Maika Fund, raised on behalf of members by the Malaysian Indian Congress party (MIC).

So, now that Sarawakians have learnt of the open surprise expressed by the Australian media over this latest unlikely purchase using public money, what are they to think?

Unlike so much of Malaysia, Sarawak retains an unreconstructed state government which avoided holding state elections like everywhere else last year. The place is still run by the phenomenally wealthy Taib Mahmud and his cronies and family, who have been ripping off the state blatantly for years.

Everyone now knows what happened with the MARA dodgy investments in Australia – buildings that were purchased at hugely inflated prices, not directly and transparently as one would expect, but through ‘Special Purpose Vehicles’ conveniently hidden from oversight in Panama.

And what did the truth turn out to be in all this?  Well, few were surprised to eventually learn that the actual price paid for the properties in Australia was far lower than advertised…. pretty much the market price in fact. The excess cash had got stuck in those special purpose vehicles … which turned out to just happen to be owned by head honchos of MARA.

Likewise, FELDA’s purchase of London’s Kensington Grand Plaza Hotel way over the market price for £60 million. Investigations by PKR’s Rafizi Rameli revealed that once again those payments of public money were not made directly, so that the money could be traced through the accounts, but through yet another off-shore BVI company, which again turned out to be owned by those in control of FELDA Global Investments.

Investigators have now ascertained that £14 million of that money (some RM75 million) remained in the BVI account, only the remainder was needed to pay for the actual hotel. Numerous other identical scandals involving FELDA and other funds have come to light in recent months following the same patterns of abuse, thanks to the off-shore finance system.

In fact, these straight thefts of public money via foreign property purchases have been a signature scam under BN, so the present Sarawak State Government can hardly condemn the collective scepticism as news of this latest seemingly ‘dud deal’ begins to circulate.

So SEDC should respond immediately with full transparency to put all minds at rest. Why did the fund pay so much more than Australian business experts believe the ranch is worth and how exactly has the money been transferred?

And what was the business logic behind this purchase?

This is no time for being coy about what ought to be public information about expenditures of public money. Given Sarawak and Malaysia’s sad history of corruption and SEDC’s record of pumping money into projects involving the family and friends of Taib Mahmud, people merely want reassurances from all concerned that no money has gone awry.

Time to broadcast the information and establish that good practice.

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