KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — The longtime leader of Malaysia’s largest state denied accusations Wednesday that he holds any secret Swiss bank account containing massive riches amassed through corrupt timber deals.
Abdul Taib Mahmud, chief minister of Malaysia’s eastern Sarawak state on Borneo island, has faced mounting pressure to respond to claims that he plundered billions from the jungle-blanketed state for three decades.
Abdul Taib, Sarawak’s leader for 30 years, made a much-anticipated statement at the state legislature to denounce what he called “malicious falsehoods” that he has Swiss bank accounts, assets or investments.
The claim was made last month by the Bruno Manser Fund, a Swiss-based group that campaigns for the rights of Sarawak’s indigenous tribal communities. The group said it had sent a report to Swiss President Micheline Calmy-Rey asking her to freeze Abdul Taib’s assets in Switzerland over alleged money-laundering.
Critics claim Abdul Taib has long awarded lucrative timber and land deals to companies owned by his family and associates while neglecting impoverished indigenous communities who live in remote areas with little access to electricity, education, health care and other facilities.
Abdul Taib pledged to “swiftly bring the truth to light” by fully cooperating with any probe by Swiss authorities.
Malaysia’s government anti-graft agency also said recently it is investigating allegations of corruption against Abdul Taib, but some activists have voiced doubts that he would face prosecution because of his huge political clout.
Abdul Taib, 74, has repeatedly denied wrongdoing but recently promised to retire in a few years. The accusations against him helped Malaysia’s opposition make significant political inroads in Sarawak in state legislative elections earlier this year.