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BMF urges Australia to act against Taib Mahmud

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The Swiss-based NGO Bruno Manser Fund (BMF) has urged Australian authorities to take action against Sarawak Governor Abdul Taib Mahmud’s interests in Australia.

It claimed that there are reasonable grounds to suspect that Taib and his family engaged in money laundering in the country, and released a 28-page report today to back its claims.

Out of the 23 items listed by the regulator Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (Austrac) as indicators of possible money laundering, BMF claims that the Taib family’s dealings in the country meets at least seven of them.

“The multiple (seven) Austrac indicators for money laundering met in the case of Sitehost Pty Ltd make it clear that there is reasonable ground to suspect that Sitehost has been used by the Taib family as a vehicle for laundering the proceeds of corruption from Sarawak.

“The facts laid out in this report thus amount to prima facie evidence of money laundering and should suffice to trigger an official investigation.

“The BMF therefore calls on Australian authorities to take action, open criminal proceedings against Sitehost and freeze Taib family assets in Australia for later restitution to Sarawak,” the report said.

Malaysiakini has contacted the Office of the Governor of Sarawak and is waiting for a response.

The seven indicators include, among others, having a politically exposed person (PEP) using a trust fund to move money, or is unable or reluctant to provide credible explanations for its business relationships.

Taib family holds 95 percent stake in Sitehost

In financial parlance, a PEP is a person who holds a prominent public position, their family members and close associates. Financial regulations in most countries call for extra scrutiny of such individuals to detect money laundering.

At a press conference in Adelaide, Australia, BMF director Lukas Straumann said if the Australian authorities acted on Taib’s family, it could pressure Malaysian authorities into cooperating.

Straumann ( photo ) claimed that the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) investigation into Taib over the past four years has faced strong political resistance.

“What we see here in Adelaide fits into an international pattern...

“If Australian prosecutors undertook an investigation, together with prosecutors in the UK and the US, I think that would really have some weight and Malaysia could be pressured to co-operate,” he is quoted by the Australian Associated Press (AAP) as saying today.

Also joining the call for action against Taib is South Australian lawmaker Mark Parnell, who has tabled a motion in the state legislature yesterday.

According to the AAP, the motion calls on the South Australian government to freeze all of the Taib family assets in the state where there is no credible explanation for the wealth.

The BMF report, titled ‘The Adelaide Hilton Case: How a Malaysian politician’s family laundered A$30 million (RM90 million) in South Australia’, raises suspicion over a February 1994 deal where Sitehost purchased the Adelaide Hilton Hotel.

The Taib’s family members currently control a 95 percent stake in Sitehost, which in turn owns and operates the hotel.

The remaining five percent is owned by Astar Properties, which the report claims to be based in the British Virgin Islands (BVI).

About a month prior to the hotel purchase - the report said, based on Sitehost’s annual reports lodged to the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) - Taib’s family members had purchased the controlling stake in Sitehost for A$9.5 million (RM28.8 million).

“At the time, Taib Mahmud was chief minister of Sarawak, earning a modest salary (RM590,000, respectively, A$209,000).

“It is unclear how Taib Mahmud’s closest family members could have legally earned the money needed to purchase their Sitehost shares,” the BMF report said.

Sitehost was set up by family members of a prominent businessperson in November 1993 until those shares were bought over by Astar in 2002.

Sitehost did not file 1998-2006 annual reports

The report noted that the 1994 share purchase occurred in the same month that the businessperson landed on major contract from the federal government in Sarawak.

“This raises the question if it was (the businessperson) who provided the Taib family the necessary money to purchase Adelaide Hilton,” it said.

Malaysiakini is withholding the identity of the businessperson and the project, pending a response from this businessperson.

The BMF report added that Sitehost did not file annual reports to the ASIC for the financial years of 1998 to 2006, and only filed its 2011 report in 2013.

In addition, while Astar was reported to ASIC as a company based in Guernsey, BMF says its searches found no entities registered there, although there is one company by the same name registered in the British Virgin Islands.

Meanwhile, the Sydney Morning Herald yesterday quoted one of Sitehost’s directors, Gary Patrick Doherty, as denying any involvement in money laundering, although he admitted to being aware of the allegations.

However, the article notes that the BMF report is not accusing Doherty of money laundering.

The SMH article also reports that the ASIC is mum on whether it would take action against Sitehost.

“We can't comment on the specifics of your query and any allegations about money laundering should be directed to Austrac as it is Australia's anti-money laundering regulator...

“ASIC is one of a number of agencies, including Austrac, that forms the Serious Financial Crime Taskforce. This taskforce was set up to address the threat that serious financial crime poses to the integrity of Australia's financial and regulatory systems,” an ASIC spokesperson is quoted as saying.

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