By Daniel Read
Malaysian prosecutors and investigators have been weighed down with information as, in the wake of Barisan Nasional’s (BN) defeat in the general election, foreign law enforcement authorities begin to negotiate information-sharing that had effectively been blocked for many years.
As foreign government agencies such as the FBI, and Singapore and Swiss authorities, begin to build trusting professional relationships with the newly invigorated MACC, foreign activist groups have also been trying to get in on the act. However, these activists have tended to operate by selecting the news they want to share and promoting it according to their own agendas.
As an international investigator familiar with the complexities of 1MDB commented: “Governments are extremely careful to ensure that the information that they share is watertight and legally incontrovertible. This leads often to delays and caution, but in major criminal and fraud cases, such caution is what wins cases.” The same professional scruples don’t apply to political activists.
This week, amid calls for an investigation of Sarawak Governor Abdul Taib Mahmud, some of the dangers of relying on activists – not governments – became apparent. The Edge picked up on ambiguous comments, made off-the-cuff by Mohd Shukri Abdull when he was asked at a book launch about the Taib case. Most international anti-corruption chiefs would never allow themselves to be drawn in public on such matters. Robert Mueller, the special prosecutor stalking President Donald Trump, would never dream of sharing his views with the media in a public social gathering.
The MACC chief, asked about the possibility of investigating Taib, stumbled around but pointed out that a major investigation of Taib had already concluded at the direction of Abdul Gani Patail when he was attorney-general. These investigations showed that Taib had recused himself from ever getting involved in decisions that involved government contracts with family members. MACC sees no reason to go over that ground again. But the story was diverted and inflated by the repetition, yet again, across the Malaysian media, of a dramatic story that the Bruno Manser Fund (BMF), a Swiss group allied with Clare Rewcastle-Brown, had brought corruption charges in court in Canada against Sakto, a company owned by Taib’s daughter.
There was no mention of the inconvenient result of the Canadian court case. BMF threw everything into the Canadian courts, including thousands of pages of submissions, and even included as sworn evidence the book that its director, Lukas Straumann, had written on the subject. However, the judge threw out their claim. They had failed to make a case, which the judge said was based on material which was “more suspicion and conjecture” than evidence.
This reverse has not stopped Straumann from offering his services and the benefit of his “information” to the new Malaysian government. But this is likely to be an unhappy gift. For in cross-examination in faraway Canada, Straumann has admitted to huge flaws in the bedrock of the campaigns against Taib. The whole story that Taib had cornered the timber export market to Japan, and forced it into the control of his brother, was false. Any Google search of Taib/timber/Japan shows that this allegation is a mainstay of the anti-Taib activists, repeated endlessly by Rewcastle-Brown and BMF.
It was a major theme of the case in Canada, until challenged by Sakto’s lawyers. The activists claimed that a Japanese tax court had agreed with them that kickbacks were paid. In fact, the Japanese court had decided exactly the opposite. It is little remembered that long ago, Taib sued Malaysiakini and won, on this exact claim, in the Malaysian courts. What was, according to Duncan Fraser, “shocking”, was that Straumann not only admitted in Canada that his claims on the internet and in Malaysia were false, but admitted that he had privately known that they were false for the decade, during which he had used them as the basis for his fund’s activities and claims.
Although he submitted the claim under oath in Canada, he escaped with just the loss of the case and huge costs. As the well-funded Straumann remarked afterwards to the Canadian media, “It’s only money.”
Straumann’s book must have been instructive for the judge. He rails against the FBI, which not only tolerates Taib family investments in the US, but continues to rent office space from a Taib family company. He rails against British, German, Swiss and Canadian law enforcement authorities who listen to his claims, and then reject them.
As Malaysia starts to take its place as a sophisticated and cooperative member of the international law enforcement network, we need to remember that we will be judged on our ability to deal in sober facts and to rely only on impeccable sources. That may mean more caution in public for our media star prosecutors, and building relationships with the FBI more than activists.
Daniel Read is an FMT reader.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.