Abu Bekir and Sulaiman Taib, currently in a legal battle with their acquisitive younger stepmother, are not the only second generation Taibs seeking to use the courts to cling on to their super-wealthy status.
Their own battle has now engulfed the plainly ailing Governor, Abdul Taib Mahmud, whose signature on documents that handed over millions in shares has been cast as fraudulent.
Alternatively, it has been suggested his present capacity to to form decisions is open to question (along with his ability to head the state).
While that ugly tussle gathers pace there has been another telling development, this time in the long-running, clunking fist series of lawsuits lodged by Taib’s Canadian son-in-law, Sean Murray, who has plainly decided to use all his family’s wealth and influence to silence and destroy one of its most effective critics, the Bruno Manser Fund in Switzerland (BMF).
Sean (Hisham) Murray, husband of Taib’s oldest daughter Jamilah, and manager of the family’s North American property empire, moved to bring down BMF in 2017, after the NGO had sought to obtain greater transparency of the company’s finances through applications to the Canadian courts and also the OECD.
Canada is notorious for its lack of financial transparency (making it a long-favoured destination for dirty Asian cash) and the court bid failed.
However, the OECD attempt proved more interesting in that an original draft decision by the international agency at first found in BMF’s favour, in the form of a weighty ruling that upheld the view that the Canada based Sakto corp should open up its books.
This was followed by a lengthy silence, however, followed by a sudden volte face with a short statement that utterly rejected BMF’s case.
An appeal to the OECD’s oversight body eventually exposed how Sean Murray had hit back at the local Canada OECD mission with a vigorous campaign of influence mongering and legal threats to turn the ruling round.
As a wealthy political donor he had pressured ministers and the local Ottawa MP (his neighbour and family friend) to undermine staff at the mission. At the same time he employed lawyers and PR agents to vilify and attack the NGO.
Bear in mind the motive was to keep those financial details secret, while denying that any of the funding behind his company SAKTO had come from the Taib family looting of Sarawak.
The OECD has now overturned that embarrassing ruling their local office was bullied into making and further demanded an apology and reparations from the Canadian government be made to BMF.
However, in the meantime Murray had plainly seen his opportunity to go after the NGO for daring to reveal (together with Sarawak Report) that Sakto indeed received several million dollars, injected into the company by Taib, to found and build the business.
Beginning in 2017 he issued a slew of criminal and civil threats against the fund and also personally against its director Lukas Straumann. These were accompanied by harassment, including targeting donors and running online negative PR campaigns.
He also sued BMF for libel, claiming that all the fund’s fact based reporting for more than a decade on the Taib family’s vast unexplained wealth was entirely malicious and incorrect.
He has asked the Swiss courts to force the fund to remove and destroy all its damning evidence, both on line and in print, showing the combined researches of numerous actors into Sarawak’s missing billions.
These cases have laboured through the Swiss courts ever since, costing BMF the sort of cash that might be expected to bring a small NGO to its knees simply to defend itself.
However, the fund and its local base of supporters in the city of Basel have refused to buckle. And, whilst the criminal charges have now ben dismissed as utterly baseless, the defamation matter has continued to grind on.
The plaintiff’s argument seems to be that since Taib is yet to be prosecuted in Malaysia, there is no evidence of wrongdoing. This, despite the concrete official evidence that documents the unearned wealth of Taib Mahmud and the obvious reality that the powerful former despot is politically protected in his own state.
Indeed, just last week the lawyers defending Ragad over her heist of CMSB shares, allegedly sanctioned by her spouse, used the concept of the immunity of a Head of State from prosecution in an attempt to throw the case.
The very reason for elevating Taib to Governor in the first place was likewise widely promoted as a device to protect him investigations by the MACC, who by 2014 were closing in around him over the exact issues of kleptocracy and corrupt practice detailed by BMF.
Predictably, therefore, Murray’s arrogance in seeking to slap down the pesky NGO by dragging it into court has merely re-opened that can of worms. And the slow progress of the case has provided opportunity once again for international oversight to come into play.
Last week, it emerged Michel Forst, the UN Special Rapporteur on environmental defenders under the so-called Aarhus Convention, has moved in a similar fashion to the OECD in criticising a country over this bulling of BMF.
In an open letter he condemned the Swiss courts for allowing the defamation suit to drag on through their justice system for years when it ought to have been tossed out as a SLAPP suit (legal bullying by wealthy entities to silence critics).
In a statement issued in August but only recently made public Forst said:
“According to the information received, Bruno Manser Fonds and Dr. Straumann have been subject to civil suits, criminal complaints and a public relations (PR) campaign by Sakto Corporation and Sakto Development Corporation, and their owners, Jamilah Taib Murray and her husband Sean Murray (collectively, Sakto), all based in Ottawa, Canada, as a result of Bruno Manser Fonds’ efforts to highlight the environmental harms, and alleged corruption, of Sakto’s activities in Malaysia. Jamilah Taib Murray is the daughter of Abdul Taib Mahmud, the current Governor and former long-serving Chief Minister of Sarawak, a Malaysian state on the island of Borneo. ..
…. I am deeply concerned that, should the civil court of Basel- Stadt not promptly dismiss those proceedings, Switzerland may fail to meet its obligation under article 3 (8) of the [Aarhus] Convention [on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters].
.… I urge that all necessary interim measures be undertaken to halt the alleged persecution, penalization and harassment of Bruno Manser Fonds and Dr. Straumann and to prevent their reoccurrence.
This intervention ought certainly provide food for thought to the Swiss courts as governments across Europe and in North America have increasingly acknowledged the problem of legal bullying of journalists and public interest NGOs by wealthy individuals who seek to halt exposure of economic crimes.
Sarawak Report has also been targeted by Sean Murray. He threatened the editor with libel action back in 2010, again on the basis that the family’s Canadian and North American businesses (Sakto Corp and Sakti Corp) had received no investment from Malaysia – only to drop the action after Taib himself admitted in an interview that he had passed “some money” to get his daughter started up in business.
At the time of those threats, a series of international, multi-million dollar negative PR campaigns were also commissioned against Sarawak Report, both through the discredited UK PR company Bell Pottinger and through a separate PR cum TV production company, FBC Media (Fact Based Communications), all designed to harass the editor of the site.
Both these companies were subsequently exposed and have now closed down following damning official reports. Sean Murray has started up this battle and judgement should be based on the evidence not strong arm tactics, deep pockets and influence mongering.
Likewise in Malaysia, it is time for the Governor to be stretchered into retirement and a comprehensive investigation opened into one of the worst kleptocratic scandals of the 20/21st centuries – namely the Taib family’s multi-billion dollar heist from the people of Sarawak through the destruction of the Borneo rainforest.