SEPT 25 — The Bruno Manser Fund (BMF) is a well-connected international organisation “committed to maintaining the threatened tropical rainforests with their rich plant and animal life, and to campaigning, in particular, for the rights of the peoples who inhabit the rainforests” with an especial focus on Sarawak.
One of the BMF principals — its eponymous founder Bruno Manser — was a Swiss activist who lived in Sarawak with the Penan between 1984 and 1990. He famously disappeared without trace in May 2000 after his last journey to the state.
The rich and infamous
BMF recently conducted an investigation into the wealth of Sarawak Chief Minister Taib Mahmud and his family. These family members include:
• Taib’s brother, Onn Mahmud, who is rated the clan’s second richest after the Sarawak CM himself;
• Taib’s elder son, Mahmud Abu Bekir Taib, who is being sued his pants off in the divorce court by his ex-wife (the sister of singer Sheila Majid);
• His Canada-based socialite daughter, Jamilah Taib Murray;
• Another brother Tufail Mahmud;
• Sister Raziah Mahmud;
• Daughter Hanifah, and;
• Son Sulaiman
Hamed Sepawi, founder of the Ta Ann timber conglomerate and Sarawak Energy chairman, is a first cousin of the Sarawak Chief Minister.
Malaysians incensed and agog
The BMF findings, which describe in detail the business activities and personal wealth of 20 members of the Taib family, have been given attentive coverage by our local internet media, though the mainstream and official media have responded with a deafening silence.
Malaysiakini is a paid subscription news site but due to the huge public interest has made its story headlined ‘Groundbreaking study details Taib’s US$21bil empire’ freely accessible.
Its reporting of the BMF “groundbreaking study” on the Taib family empire has been the most viewed story for three consecutive days and sparked a large number of (almost exclusively favourable) comments by Malaysiakini readers.
Malaysiakini further added that the revelation on Sarawak Chief Minister Taib Mahmud as the richest man in Malaysia “does not surprise the majority of Sarawakians”.
Another news portal Free Malaysia Today ran two stories (here and here) on the issue last week, prompting more than 1,000 of its readers to express their outrage against Taib’s obscene wealth by marking ‘Angry’ in the website’s interactive feedback column.
Rainforest devastated by political and timber mafia
The extraordinary Taib wealth is a subject of much interest — not only to those who have long called for an independent inquiry into its source — but also to the global environmental movement which has been monitoring the rape and pillage of the ancient Sarawak rainforest.
Borneo’s rainforest at 130 million years old is the oldest in the world. However, in the mere blink of an eye (a timespan equivalent to Taib’s chief ministership), human greed and heavy logging has caused a most devastating deforestation.
It is the widespread international interest in this irreparable loss to the planet’s bio-diversity that will cause increasing pressure to mount on Sarawak and Malaysia.
At the same time, the accumulation of the Taib clan’s fabulous wealth has raised many allegations of corruption and abuse of power.
It is a speculation that resurfaced and intensified again recently when on September 20, BMF released its report on the occasion of a visit by Minister of Plantation Industries and Commodities, Bernard Dompok, to the European Commission in Brussels.
While the report ‘The Taib timber mafia: Facts and figures on politically exposed persons from Sarawak, Malaysia’ became major stories in the alternative media, “the government-controlled print and electronic media have remained absolutely silent on the issue”, said BMF in an e-mail communication to its NGOs network.
On the back of the “tidal waves” created by its painstakingly researched ‘timber godfather’ report, BMF is asking governments and banks around the world to freeze the Taib family assets.
“The Taibs are being compared to the Suharto and Marcos clans who have also stolen billions from their countries,” said BMF in their website.
* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insider.