Borneo natives demand return of ‘stolen’ money from Aussie uni and gallery
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Borneo natives demand return of ‘stolen’ money from Aussie uni and gallery

WHILE Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak faces a slew of accusations on corruption and money-laundering, the indigenous people of Borneo have seized the chance to raise grouses on those issues to seek the recovery of funds allegedly misappropriated by a former state chief minister.

The leader in question is Taib Mahmud, the natural resource-rich state of Sawarak’s longest-serving chief minister, whose 33-year reign between 1981 and 2014 had been mired in multi-million dollar graft claims.

Recently, leaders from the indigenous groups issued reminders to two Australian higher-learning institutions to return ‘gifts’ from the former chief minister, which they claimed to be a money generated from the destruction of Borneo’s rainforests.

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Former Sarawak Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud

The indigenous leaders claimed the ‘stolen’ rainforest dollars were donated to Taib’s alma matter The University of Adelaide and the South Australian Art Gallery. They had written to Vice-Chancellor Warren Bebbington in November last year to return the funds, whose origins had not been explained by the former chief minister. In one donation, Adelaide University received $AU 400,000 from Taib Mahmud and the leaders have demanded the university to return the sum to its ‘rightful owners’.

They also asked the gallery to sell an oil painting by John Olsen, one of Australia’s most famous artists and proceeds of the sale must go to the people of Sarawak.

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“Meandering Murray and wattles” by Australian artist John Olsen (Photo: Supplied)

Both institutions have since refused to comment on the recovery claims.

South Australian Greens MP Mark Parnell supported the Penan tribe’s recovery call, saying the people of Borneo have an excellent moral case for the money to be returned. The funds will go to education and to the building of schools. “I think the University of Adelaide could pitch in and help,“ he said.

The Bruno Manser Fund, which thrives for the conservation of the tropical rainforests, had called on Taib’s successor Adenan Satem to support the Penan’s efforts to recover the unexplained endowment. BMF director Lukas Straumann said, “If Chief Minister Adenan Satem is serious in fighting corruption, he can no longer close his eyes to the enormous amounts of money misappropriated and sent overseas by the Taib family.”

The call comes at a time when Najib’s administration faces a barrage of allegations revolving around state investment firm 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), which has been scrutinised by the global media, opposition members, and activist groups. The Australian Broadcasting Channel’s investigative journalism programme Four Corners recently aired a 44-minute documentary on Monday, to shed light on the multi-billion dollar scheme in which political ‘donations’ were reportedly deposited into his personal bank account by Saudi royals.

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