Vast amounts of money believed to be held in Swiss banks by the Sarawak chief minister, reports Asia Sentinel
Just a month after the voters of the Malaysian state of Sarawak returned Abdul Taib Mahmud to office, Swiss President Micheline Calmy-Ray said Thursday that she asking Swiss financial authorities to investigate the chief minister’s assets held in Swiss banks.
In a letter to the Swiss-based Bruno Manser Fund, Calmy-Ray indicated that if the investigation finds evidence of corruption from timber sales, Taib’s Swiss assets could be frozen. The letter was made public by The Sarawak Report, a Sarawak-based website that has published detailed descriptions of Taib’s operations in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia. The Bruno Manser Fund is named for a Swiss national who disappeared in Sarawak in the 1980s while campaigning for the rights of the indigenous the Penan tribe.
In the 30 years of Taib’s reign as chief minister, timber companies have cut more than 90 percent of the tropical rainforest, leaving forest-dwellers like the Penan deprived of their means of subsistence and starving, critics allege. The award of timber concessions has made Taib a billionaire, they charge.
In a separate letter made public by the Bruno Manser Foundation, the Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority, which governs money-laundering, agreed to investigate Taib’s holdings in Swiss banks.
The Bruno Manser Fund alleged that Taib is believed to have invested heavily in the Swiss banking system and that Elia Geneid, a Swiss national who married into the Taib family, has profited from the use of lands held by native Sarawakian tribes. In February 2010, the Fund alleged there are 49 companies connected to Taib in eight countries which are thought to be worth hundreds of millions, if not billions of US dollars. Transparency International Malaysia and other NGOs have lodged reports against Taib through the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission.
“Taib is believed to have invested a great deal in the once secretive Swiss banks over past decades, although, following recent reforms, he has more recently focused his attention on Monaco which remains famously lax on the matter of money-laundering,” the Sarawak Report said.