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June 22, 2010

Hindraf to help track down Sarawak’s assets abroad

By Joe Fernandez

KOTA KINABALU: Hindraf Makkal Sakthi is prepared to help civic action groups in Sarawak to trace, claim and bring back any ill-gotten gains salted away abroad by local politicians. This includes making forensic accountants available from London and other key western financial capitals for the institution of class action suits.

The ad hoc apolitical human rights movement made the offer in the wake of a website report last week that shed light on some of the assets allegedly accumulated by Sarawak Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud in Canada and other countries.

The assets, as the accusations go, do not commensurate with Taib’s known sources of lawful income as the chief minister since 1981. Taib currently draws a monthly salary of RM 20,000 as chief minister.

“Since 9/11, the international laws against money laundering and terrorism have become extremely tough,” said the London-based Hindraf chairman P Waythamoorthy in a telephone call last Friday before leaving for Singapore. “There are also laws in western and many other countries against Third World or other dictators parking their ill-gotten gains in their places.”

Ill-gotten gains abroad, said Waythamoorthy, can be frozen by the courts pending the disposal of class action suits.

He said that as far back as the post-Marcos era in the Philippines, civic action groups have successfully persuaded various courts abroad to freeze and return ill-gotten assets.

“Our (Hindraf) role is to study and advise civic action groups on the various international options to bring Taib to justice and return what belongs to the people of Sarawak,” said Waythamoorthy, a British-trained lawyer. “This is not just about Taib but anyone in Sarawak who needs to be brought to justice.”

Third force

Asked what possible benefits that Hindraf could derive from being involved in the pursuit of the Sarawak chief minister in the courts, Waythamoorthy said the movement stood for the solidarity of the emerging “third force” in Malaysian politics.

“Our involvement in the pursuit of Taib must be seen as part of this solidarity of the Third Force,” said Waythamoorthy. “We don’t know whether the journey will end in the destination that we have envisaged. The main concern at the moment is to at least begin the process.”

Hindraf has commenced a trillion-dollar class action suit as well in London against the British and Malaysian governments “for centuries of criminal exploitation” of Malaysians of Indian-origin, especially those in the estate sector.

The Hindraf chief sees the Common Interest Group Malaysia (CigMA), an ad hoc apolitical human rights movement, as its chief ally in the pursuit of Taib “to the ends of the Earth”.

Besides CigMA, chairman Jeffrey Gapari Kitingan, who is based in Kota Kinabalu, Waythamoorthy identified other possible allies such as former Sarawak deputy chief minister Daniel Tajem Anak Miri, green activist and lawyer Harrison Ngau Laing, Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) senior activist Nicholas Bawin and native land rights activist Baru Bian. Baru is also the Sarawa PKR chief.

One other possible ally is Kuching MP Chong Chieng Jen, said Waythamoorthy.

He said the Sarawak DAP MP has queried Taib many times in the State Legislative Assembly over the lawfulness of his business dealing while in public office.

Waythamoorthy is confident that Chong would like to join forces with the other Sarawak activists and him “to force Taib and his family out of public office and seek the speedy return of the people’s wealth”.

Facilitator role

Jeffrey, in a response late yesterday, said he would have to study how the people of Sarawak would respond to their continuing dilemma over Taib.

“The names mentioned by Waythamoorthy are probably the best ones to work with, for a start,” said Jeffrey. “My role is to act as the facilitator between Hindraf and Sarawak activists.”

Jeffrey, also a PKR vice-president with special responsibility for Sabah and Sarawak, plans to broach the subject of Taib’s multi-billion dollar assets abroad at a meeting of the party’s political bureau in Kuala Lumpur soon.

Baru said he was “shocked” to hear that Taib’s family had amassed such a huge amount of wealth while the rural population in the state remained poor. “I really hope that the Canadian authorities will investigate this case and determine if Sakto Development Corporation is in breach of the Canadian laws,” Baru said.

He added that he was currently trying to get hold of the evidence behind the news report in order to lodge a complaint with the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission.

Taib and his office were not immediately available for comment.

One political secretary requested that a copy of the website report be e-mailed to him.

Another close aide said last night that the Sarawak Barisan Nasional strongman was considering his legal options against the website.

“These reports will not have any effect on the performance of the BN in the rural areas,” said the close aide. “Taib remains strong and will be able to ride out this storm as on previous occasions. All this is the work of jealous people who can’t see the good that he has done so far for the state.”

He said that Taib “had correctly read the political temperature in rural Sarawak” when he stressed recently that the people are poor and depend on the government to help them.

Taib’s predictable response in previous instances where impropriety was imputed to him was a blanket denial of any wrong-doing.

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