KUALA LUMPUR: A Canadian judge has ordered a money-laundering case involving a real estate company allegedly linked to Sarawak governor Taib Mahmud to be heard in public.
Swiss NGO, the Bruno Manser Fund (BMF) said in a statement that it filed a case last June seeking access to financial records of the Ottawa-based Sakto Corporation (Sakto) and its affiliated companies (Sakto Group) for a potential private prosecution.
The BMF wants the court to order the Royal Bank of Canada, Toronto-Dominion Bank, Manulife Financial Corporation and Deloitte & Touche to disclose beneficial ownership information and records detailing the “flow of funds from Malaysia into the Taibs’ Canadian real estate group”.
The statement said a first hearing took place in Toronto on Aug 21, under an order that it not be heard in public. However, the order has been lifted and the case will now be heard in public.
According to BMF this is the first time that such an order has been granted to plaintiffs for the purpose of seeking to commence a privately instituted criminal prosecution.
The statement quoted Justice F L Myers of the Ontario Superior Court as saying, among other things, that if the evidence provided by BMF was correct, “there may be very significant criminal misconduct being committed here in aid of corrupt foreign official(s). There may be no one else here who is interested in uncovering the truth whether it has to do with criminality here, corruption abroad that Canadians are facilitating, or deforestation and destruction of indigenous habitat and culture in Malaysia”.
According to the statement, Sakto was incorporated in 1983 by Jamilah Taib Murray, the daughter of Taib Mahmud, with a gift from her father as initial capital. Taib was a long-time chief minister of Sarawak before becoming governor in 2014.
BMF claimed over C$29 million (RM99 million) was secretly channeled into Sakto during the company’s first 10 years of operations, which, it alleged, came from questionable sources.
BMF claimed that during Taib’s tenure as chief minister from 1981 to 2014, over 90% of Sarawak’s primeval tropical rainforests had been logged and there were kickbacks involved.
BMF said it was going to court against the Taib family because of the failure of public prosecutors in Canada to investigate and charge Sakto for money-laundering.
It claimed to have alerted the Canadian authorities about the suspected flow of corrupt money but action had yet to be taken against Sakto and Taib’s family.
As a first step, it said, BMF was attempting to get hold of financial information and beneficial ownership information on Sakto from the corporation’s banks and auditors. Under Canadian laws, private corporations are not required to publicly disclose their shareholders.
BMF said it had provided the Ontario Superior Court with, among other things, 140 exhibits including books, video statements and over 2,000 pages of records detailing Taib’s alleged abuse of public office and the “massive enrichment of his closest family members”.
It has also presented the court scholarly research on corruption in Sarawak by political scientists and economists.