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Skeletons in Sabah’s closet

 | June 23, 2012

Already reeling from a spate of scandals, the revelation that foreign authorities have been scrutinising the bank accounts of some well-connected Malaysians adds a new twist to the power struggle in the country.

KUALA LUMPUR:  The spotlight on large sums of unaccountable money linked to Chief Minister Musa Aman going in and out of bank accounts overseas is threatening to crack open the Barisan Nasional’s “fixed deposit” state of Sabah.

Allegations and investigations of shady timber deals and money laundering may be the proverbial ‘last straw’ to shatter the ruling coalition’s hopes of hanging on to power.

Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak has announced that investigations into the alleged money laundering by Sabah timber tycoon Michael Chia has been completed and handed to the Attorney-General’s Chambers.

“The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission has conducted investigations into the Michael Chia case which is linked to the Sabah chief minister.

“It has been completed and presented to the AGC for study and a decision,” Najib said in a written reply in parliament this week, adding that the anti-graft body received full co-operation from its Hong Kong counterparts, the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC), which triggered the investigation in 2008.

But Sabahans are not holding their breath on whether action will be taken by AG Abdul Gani Patail.

When Swiss global financial services giant, UBS Ag confirmed that large sums of money were channeled into the bank accounts of family members of Musa and his cronies, Sabah Umno members and their BN coalition colleagues began to squirm.

Already reeling from a spate of other scandals, a stagnating economy as well as being under fire for cracking down harshly on rallies demanding free and fair elections, the revelation that foreign authorities have been scrutinising the bank accounts of some well-connected Malaysians adds a new twist to the power struggle taking shape in the country.

Scandal not new

The ‘funny money’ allegedly comes from kickbacks from the illegal flow of timber out of Sabah.

That, not all of the state’s enormous wealth is accounted for has long been suspected.

That some of it is being siphoned out to line certain pockets has enraged many especially after a World Bank report showed that the state remains the poorest in the country.

The money-laundering scandal is not new. It has simmered since late 2008 after Chia, was arrested in Hong Kong as he was about to board a flight with a bagful of cash said to total SG$16 million.

Chia was immediately linked to Musa but the Chief Minister denied knowing the man, denied any wrongdoing and, it appeared after a period of silence, the trail of shady deals and international money-laundering at the highest levels was buried.

That is until about two months ago.

It resurfaced with a vengeance with the release of new documents by online news portal Sarawak Report again fingering Musa and again forcing him to deny any involvement in the controversy.

He branded the reports a fabrication and implied the supporting documents and receipts uploaded by the news portal were forgeries.

The news portal earlier this month revealed documents which were tendered by UBS Ag in submissions during a current court case in Singapore relating to the series of deals.

These documents, it said, supported their earlier report of questionable timber deals originating out of Sabah.

No prosecutions so far

The documents included a sworn statement by the bank that money was indeed paid to Musa’s sons from a series of accounts that had received huge sums from logging concerns for “logging concessions”.

Named were accounts and payments that were leaked in Sarawak Report’s earlier exposé which the portal said proved its documents were not forgeries but “genuine bank statements” which needed to be clarified by Musa as they were compelling enough for further investigation by Malaysian authorities.

Gani has already been heavily criticised for refusing to act on the case.

MACC took full statements from Chia, Sabah lawyer Richard Christopher Barnes and many others, when they originally investigated the case after Chia’s arrest in Hong Kong.

The commission worked closely with the Hong Kong authorities and their investigations are believed to have resulted in a recommendation that no less than 40 criminal charges be pressed against Musa.

However, no prosecutions have been made thus far by Malaysian authorities.

The fact that Gani is related to the Aman family and that both Musa and his brother, Anifah, the Foreign Minister, are high-profile figures in government, troubles many within the Umno who fear unanswered accusations against them may damage the party.

Musa made a show this week of being confident that Sabah will remain a BN stronghold.

He said the people were aware that development in Sabah could only be attributed to the BN government.

“Godwilling, Sabah will continue to be a BN stronghold in the upcoming election. The Sabah people are more mature in evaluating the BN government’s track record,” he told reporters  after the last of his meet-the-community-leaders session involving Tuaran, Kota Belud and Ranau districts.

In the last general election in 2008, Sabah BN almost made a clean sweep of the 25 parliamentary seats and 60 state seats, conceding only the Kota Kinabalu parliamentary seat and Sri Tanjung state seat to DAP.

But many are beginning to wonder that with the weight of evidence of possible improper state management now sitting squarely in the public arena a change of government in Sabah may not be so far fetched.


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