Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Graft watchdog seeks independent probe of Taib video expose

Graft watchdog seeks independent probe of Taib video expose

By Boo Su-Lyn
March 26, 2013
Malaysian Insider
KUALA LUMPUR, March 26 — Transparency-International Malaysia (TI-M) urged Sarawak today to form an independent panel of external auditors to investigate unscrupulous land deals exposed in a video released by Global Witness (GW) recently.

The London-based environmental group released the video titled “Inside Malaysia’s Shadow State” last Tuesday that showed dealings with Sarawak Chief Minister Tan Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud’s cousins and several other intermediaries to acquire thousands of hectares of forest land, which GW said would displace thousands of indigenous people living there.
“The video unfortunately supports the widespread perception of abuses and corruption in Sarawak involving issues relating to state corruption, abuse of power, impunity, expropriation of native/customary land, tax evasion and money-laundering,” said Datuk Paul Low (picture), president of the anti-graft watchdog, in a statement.

“TI-M urges the government of Sarawak to immediately initiate an independent probe into these allegations by engaging an independent and reputable panel of external auditors,” he added.

Low said the auditors should examine past cases where government officials or their relatives were given land concessions at low prices without proper governance and transparency.

He added that the independent panel should improve the transparency of such administrative processes to prevent abuse of power, besides publishing its findings to enable institutional reform at state and federal levels.

“The effectiveness of fighting corruption requires that no one is above the law, and that there is no safe haven for unlawfully or improperly obtained assets and illicit funds,” said Low.

“TI-M urges the relevant authorities, the MACC (Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission), the Royal Malaysian Police and the Inland Revenue Board to immediately, vigorously and thoroughly investigate the compelling evidence of the video, without fear, favour or partiality,” he added.

MACC said last Wednesday that it would act accordingly on the new evidence emerging from the GW video in its ongoing investigations of Taib.

The country’s anti-graft body had two years ago confirmed that it was investigating Taib over allegations of timber corruption.

Last Friday, the Advocates’ Association of Sarawak (AAS) referred two lawyers implicated in the video to an independent disciplinary committee for professional misconduct.

The AAS also lodged a police report on the video.

In the 16-minute video clip, GW investigators, who posed as foreign investors, recorded snippets of their conversation with Taib’s cousins and lawyers, to purchase land in Sarawak for hefty profit.

Alvin Chong, one of the lawyers in the clip, was recorded giving details of how foreign investors could evade real property gains tax (RPGT) and circumve

He allegedly represented two of Taib’s cousins, sisters Fatimah Abdul Rahman and Norlia Abdul Rahman, who were recorded describing potentially illegal land deals.

The Singapore government, however, denied last Friday that it facilitated tax evasion in Malaysia by withholding information requested from the Malaysian government.

“TI-M also urges the governments of Singapore and other countries to ensure that their banking and financial systems do not facilitate the flouting of laws nor provide safe harbours for illicit funds,” said Low.

“Steps should also be taken to ensure more transparency and accountability in their banking and financial systems, in line with similar initiatives undertaken by the government of Switzerland which aim to remove protection of illicit deposits,” he added.

Chong’s Kuching-based firm, Alvin Chong and Partners, has issued a statement to GW, denying that he had represented the “alleged party” or had discussed tax evasion methods, saying that any such discussions would have been “strictly hypothetical”.

Taib said last Tuesday that his cousins — daughters of former Sarawak Chief Minister Tun Abdul Rahman Ya’akub – and others implicated in the video were promoting themselves to be his agents in order to solicit favours.

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