Saturday, July 31, 2010

50 years of ISA

Tian Chua

1 August is the 50th Anniversary of ISA. The notorious law was enacted in 1960 when the legitimacy of the newly founded federation of Malaya was challenged by armed insurgency.

The ruling Alliance led by late Tunku Abdul Rahman assured the Parliament that the ISA would not be used against dissidents abiding by peaceful means of struggle and within the framework of the Constitution. Nonetheless as soon as it was passed, activists from a wide range of political spectrum became victims of the repressive law.

It is obvious that despite the apologists of authoritarian regime frequently justifying the law in the name national security, the ISA is undoubtedly oppressive, undemocratic and it contravenes basic human rights. In half a century of its existence, thousands of people had been imprisoned, and deprived of their families, livelihood and freedom.

The draconian law has conveniently become the weapon for the BN regime to perpetuate corruption and to cover up its misuses of power. It is also a tool to institutionalize a culture of fear among the Malaysian people.

The practice of detention without trial is not condoned by any religious values. In addition to preventive detention, the ISA had been a license for the authorities to torture and torment detainees. Thus such inhumane law should be condemned by democratic minded people both domestically and globally.

In the last few years, in collaborating with civil society organizations, Parti Keadilan Rakyat had intensified its campaign against the ISA. We are unequivocal in our demand for the abolition of the notorious law.

KEADILAN regrets the reluctance and delay in removing the provision for indefinite detention. Throughout 50 years we have witnessed innocent individuals becoming victims of this unjust law. The long list of people included Anwar Ibrahim, Syed Husin Ali, Lim Kit Siang, Karpal Singh, Lim Guan Eng, Jeffry Kittingan, Mat Sabu, and many other Pakatan Rakyat leaders.

We believe that Najib and his Government is aware of the growing opposition against the Act. The PM must surely understand that the continuous existence of the ISA will project a negative image of Malaysia in the eyes of the international community.

By not abolishing the ISA, we suspect PM Najib is keeping his options open. Once the political interests of the ruling UMNO are threatened, I am convinced Najib would have no qualms in ordering a heavy crackdown using the ISA.

On behalf of Parti Keadilan Rakyat, I reiterate our firm and unambiguous stand-- the ISA must be abolished. We are determined to continue our struggle for change and to make sure that laws which are inconsistent with human rights and democracy are eventually reformed.

(Tian Chua is the Member of Parliament for Batu and the strategic director of PKR)

Friday, July 30, 2010

Corruption Charges: For those who were at the very top, wipe their mouths after eating

More high-profile arrests involving Members of Parliament and state assemblymen can be expected in the next few days following the arrest of former MCA president and ex-Transport Minister Ling Liong Sik on corruption charges related to the Port Klang Free Zone financial debacle.

“Within the next week or so, you can expect to see a few MPs and ADUNs hauled up,” says an Umno watcher.

“Pakatan Rakyat can sneer all they want at Najib but he knows this is the only way to regain public trust and confidence. He is also aware his time is running out and he has to get cracking.”

The source was referring to Prime Minister Najib Razak, who on Wednesday went on sudden leave until August 10.

Selangor Umno and MCA

Speculation is rife he is trying to spruce up his image ahead of elections widely expected to be held soon. The 10th Sarawak state election is expected in October this year, while national polls are likely to be held some time in the latter half of 2011.

Among those likely to be arrested in the coming days are several top leaders in Selangor Umno including former chief ministers. And if MCA leaders were shocked by Ling’s arrest on Thursday, they should brace themselves for more quakes to rock their party.

The Umno source declined to divulge names, but several possibilities include former leaders like Muhammad Muhammad Taib and Chan Kong Choy. Both have been accused of wrongdoing in the past but have always denied involvement.

More aggressive than 2004 swoop

Despite the latest swoop, the most extensive since 2004, Ling is likely to be the highest ranking leader to be nabbed. There are also fears that a deal has been brokered and Ling will be able to extricate himself from the charges later on.

“Najib cannot do everything at one go. At this point in time, this is what is possible and there are already many big names involved. It is much more aggressive than the clean-up Pak Lah launched prior to the 2004 general elections," said the Umno watcher.

"As for Ling, if he hires the best lawyers to fight for him, what's wrong if they can get him off. Only time will tell - on our part, we didn't fix anything.This is the nature of the legal system and also his personal human rights."

Wiping one's mouth

Nevertheless, while Malaysians would welcome more arrests, particularly those who have long been under public suspicion, the swoop is likely to fall flat unless the biggest fishes are also nabbed..

To them, if top Umno guns like former premiers Mahathir Mohamad, Abdullah Badawi, his son-in-law Khairy Jamaluddin and even former International Trade Minister Rafidah Aziz are left untouched, it would reflect a lack of political courage on Najib's part.

Najib himself has also been accused of high-level graft in the Scorpene submarines case.

“At the end of the day, you need solid evidence. For those who were at the very top, maybe they have been smart enough to know how to wipe their mouths after eating. It won't be easy to catch them. We too want a better Malaysia but it cannot happen overnight,” the Umno watcher said.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Lawyer has affair with Saiful

KUALA LUMPUR - IN A sensational twist in Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim's sodomy trial, a prosecutor has been dropped after being accused of having an affair with the star witness.

Defence lawyers said the surprise move bolstered its claim that Anwar, a former deputy premier who was sacked and jailed on separate sex and corruption counts a decade ago, is the victim of a political conspiracy. The prosecution said it was dropping Farah Azlina Latif from its team in the ongoing trial, following claims she was romantically involved with Mohamad Saiful Bukhari Azlan, 25, who has accused Anwar of sodomising him.

'This can be very difficult for us but any personal matter, if it can have any implication in whatever form... will be handled very seriously,' attorney-general Abdul Gani Patail told state media late on Tuesday. 'This move is also to ensure that the smooth running of the case is not affected,' the government's top lawyer said, without specifying whether or not the claims were true.

An official at the attorney-general's office confirmed his comments to AFP, and said that Farah Azlina would also be transferred to another department. The defence said it had sought an official explanation from the prosecution after a leading Malaysian political blogger said on his website that the lawyer was in a sexual relationship with Saiful, who has a fiancee.

'The implications are serious,' Anwar's lawyer Sankara Nair told AFP on Wednesday. 'There is a perception that Saiful could have been given access to confidential information of the trial and that would compromise the integrity of the prosecution,' he said.

Mr Sankara said the development strengthened claims that there was a conspiracy against Anwar, after Saiful testified that he met with high-profile individuals including Prime Minister Najib Razak before lodging his complaint. The attorney-general however said that Farah Azlina, one of eight prosecutors in the Anwar case, had no access to confidential information. The sodomy trial, which began in February and has been punctuated by lengthy delays, is set to resume on August 2 for a one-month session. -- AFP

Monday, July 26, 2010

Not only politicians but investors draw battle lines in Malaysia

The WIR data is chilling given that Minister in Prime Minister’s Department Idris Jala had earlier warned that Malaysia could go bankrupt by 2019, if the government was not allowed to embark on a subsidy-slashing program to reduce debt.

Wong Choon Mei, Malaysia Chronicle

The worst is still far from over for Malaysia, which recorded an 81 percent plunge in foreign direct investment last year as investors bet that Prime Minister Najib Razak will not be able to steer his country to safe shores.

“From their point of view, Malaysia is beginning to look more like Thailand each day. They don’t think Najib is in control at Umno anymore and they are worried about the next handover of power,” PKR strategic director Tian Chua told Malaysia Chronicle.

“The second-line Umno leaders like Muhyiddin, Hishammuddin are not inspiring. Then the type of politicking displayed by people like Khir Toyo and Ibrahim Ali frighten investors even more. And that’s why they bail out. And I’m not talking about foreign investors but also Malaysians themselves. Both categories are running away.”

Najib has to call for a general election latest by March 2013, but pundits beleive it will happen before October 2011.

Sore thumb amongst ASEAN nations

Indeed, Malaysia was the only country in the region to record negative FDI in 2009. According to the World Foreign Investment Report 2010 released by the United Nations on Friday, Malaysia received only US$1.38 billion.

This is even less than Philippines’ US$1.95 billion and pales in comparison with Singapore’s US$16 billion. Only Cambodia, Myanmar, Brunei, Laos and Timor-Leste received less than Malaysia.

The WIR data is chilling given that Minister in Prime Minister’s Department Idris Jala had earlier warned that Malaysia could go bankrupt by 2019, if the government was not allowed to embark on a subsidy-slashing program to reduce debt.

But experts and opposition politicians have dismissed Idris’ arguments as masking the real problems, arguing that the reasons for the economic downfall was due to endemic corruption, a weak political and administrative system.

In particular, Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim has lashed out at Najib, who is also Finance Minister, for offering piecemeal solutions rather an integrated and structural revamp."Burdening the people on the pretext of reducing deficit and using 'government savings' to fund government excesses must be stopped immediately," said Anwar.

He warned that subsidy cuts, which would trigger prices hikes, should only be used as a means to cut the national deficit. However, Malaysia’s national debt has soared to record high and the fiscal deficit was 7 percent of GDP last year, he pointed out.

DAP chief economist Tony Pua was also unconvinced by Najib's five-year plan unveiled last month. This aims to bring the deficit down to 5.3 percent this year, and reduce government debt as a proportion of GDP to 49.9 per cent in 2015 compared to 52.9 per cent in 2010.

“What was previously unimaginable, that we may one day be compared to countries such as Cambodia and Myanmar, is now a real possibility,” said Tony, pointing to the WIR data.

“The government cannot use the excuse of global financial crisis as the reason for the precipitous drop in FDI as we have performed the worst compared to all other countries big and small in the region.”

Najib's roadshows failed to inspire

The WIR data also showed that despite its current problems Thailand recorded a 30.4 per cent drop, Vietnam 44.1 per cent and Indonesia 44.7 per cent.

The other ASEAN nations Singapore, Brunei, Philippines and Myanmar managed to register positive FDI growth despite stiff challenge from East Asian dragons like China and Hong Kong.

Earlier this month, Anwar had suggested 4 key measures to bolster public and investor confidence. These include the immediate announcement of drastic reforms for a transparent government procurement system; restructure of gas subsidies for Independent Power Producers; vigilant management of Government-Linked Companies and government agencies and lastly, stepping up efforts to combat corruption and to stop political meddling in the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission and the Attorney-General's Chambers.

“It is not a mystery at all why we did so badly. Investors fear not the Pakatan Rakyat but Umno and BN. They are afraid Umno might instigate or trigger a political stalemate if they lose at the next General Election. Bear in mind some Umno leaders have hinted they would fight to the end not to lose political power,” Tian said.

“We also have to look at the performance of Najib as Finance Minister. He has done poorly and should relinquish the post to someone more capable immediately. So far, his New Economic Model has disappointed and the weak FDI numbers are another testament to his inability to draw in funds despite numerous expensive road shows. He spends too much money on frivolous thing like public relations and media advertisements to boost his image and on the political front - too much time on negative politicking.” - Malaysia Chronicle

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Growing BN Corruption Scandal

Exclusive – The Taibs Own Ridgeford Properties Limited, London

Racehorses, residences in swanky Fitzrovia and offices bang next door to the Bank of England. Yes, the Taibs are in London too. In this latest exclusive investigation, Sarawak Report can reveal the full details of Ridgeford Properties Limited, a multi-million pound property company in the UK, once again owned and funded by the family of Chief Minister, Abdul Taib Mahmud.

The London base of the Taib family’s international property portfolio was started in October 1996 under a Canadian, Chistopher Murray. Christopher Murray is the cousin of Sean Murray who is married to Jamilah Taib, the Chief Minister’s daughter and a key lynch-pin for his foreign property empire. Sean Murray acts as Chairman of Ridgeford, while Christopher has been appointed the London-based

Managing Director. Sean Murray is also President of Sakto Corporation in Canada and Sakti International in the USA, as well as a Director of Sitehost Pty in Australia. These are all major property companies of which his wife and her family (the Taibs) are the owners and shareholders

Again, whilst an impression has been given that Ridgeford Properties is part of a wider business started and owned by the Murray family, Sarawak report has established that it in fact relies on millions of pounds worth of soft loans from a private investor based in the British Virgin Islands. This investor has clear links to the Taib family fortune and to the public Sarawak-based Company, which they largly own, CMS (Cahya Mata Sarawak). Many questions have been raised as to the legitimacy of the Taib family’s ownership of CMS, which was once Sarawak’s largest state company, but was then ‘privatised’ by the Chief Minister into the hands of his own close family.

Central London Portfolio

Ridgeford Properties Limited currently boasts seven major Central London ‘mixed-use’ developments, including luxury flats and thousands of square feet of rented-out office space. According to the company’s own online information just one such property, Tokenhouse Yard ajacent to the Bank of England, is netting the company £1.5 million in rent per annum, whilst of course remaining a valuable and appreciating asset.

Another stunning showcase for Ridgeford is 50 Bolsover Street, in Fitzrovia near Oxford Street. This massive development is in partnership with the prestigious Royal National Othorpaedic Hospital and All Souls College, Oxford along with a fellow developer, the Manhattan Loft Company. According to our research, the first part of this two-stage development has consisted of 210,000 square ft of prime property sold as 66 flats and 4 penthouses for between £1,000 and £1,200 per square foot – giving a total value of well over £210,000,000 (just over one billion ringgit at current exchange rates). The second phase of the project, which is due to complete in 2012 will consist of another 60 flats for sale, making it almost as lucrative as stage one.

Meanwhile, in trendy Clerkenwell another Ridgeford development, Ironmonger Row, has seen 12 ‘prestige appartments’ and 2 penthouses sell for what the company describes as ‘well in excess of previous developments in the area’. The company retains the lower part of the building for rent as retail and office space and boasts that this is occupied by top shoe designer Christian Louboutin. Another property, a bright red, modern office high-rise, ’Maple Street’, has secured a 15 year rent as the Headquarters for the famous travel company Thomas Cook at record prices, according to Ridgeford’s publicity material.

Developer with a difference is bullish over recession

Interestingly, while most London developers are now cash-strapped because of the credit crunch, Ridgeford Managing Director, Christopher Murray, says the company sees this period of recession as a good opportunity for more business. As he explained to one reporter, ”we see this period as an opportunity to buy right, as there is less competition. Where there were once 30 companies chasing one

development now there will just be two”. His statement clearly implies that Ridgford is less vulnerable than most to the current loan squeeze and this ties in with evidence from the company’s public financial records, which show that Ridgeford has access to sizeable loans on highly favourable terms from a mysterious donor named Tess Investments, based in the British Virgin Islands. Sarawak Report has found clear links between Tess Investments and the Taibs.

Links to Sakto Corporation Canada and the Taib Family

Ridgeford’s company website acknowledges that Ridgeford is a ’sister company’ of Sakto Corporation, based in Ottawa Canada and run by Sean (Hisham) Murray, the husband of Jamilah Taib. Numerous members of Murray’s family have become employed by Sakto since Sean’s marriage to Jamilah in 1987, including Brian Murray who is in charge of office letting in Ottawa, Thady Murray who acts as President of City Gate Corporation, another sister company, and Christopher Murray in London.

Christopher Murray claimed in a recent interview that Sakto is a “family business” started by “my cousin’s father and my father. They had an architectural practice and then got into development”. However, Sakto was in fact started in 1983 in Ottawa by Onn Mahmud, Mahmud Taib and Jamilah Taib, the Chief Minister’s brother, son and daughter, well before Jamilah met and married Sean Murray. Likewise millions of dollars had been invested in developments before Sean Murray became involved in the company.

Sarawak Report therefore contends that Sakto and its sister companies are in fact a Taib family business, which employs several members of Sean Murray’s family in different departments of its property empire. According to Ridgeford’s financial records Christopher Murray was paid a salary of £178,175 in 2009, a considerable rise from £47,917 in 1998, which apparently enables him to live in a £5 million apartment, as he claimed in the same recent interview. Ridgeford accounts also indicate the company has funded a racehorse in past years, indicating certain added value to be gained from working for the in-laws.

The financial connection

Ridgeford Properties, according to its 2009 Financial Statement ‘relies significantly’ on loans. This includes over £15.5 million of mostly interest-free and open ended loans, from Tess Investments, c/o Equity Trust (BVI) Ltd, PO Box 438, British Virgin Islands. It is notable that Tess Investments was incorporated on 23rd October 1996, the day before Ridgeford was incorporated in London on October 24th 1996. The majority of these loans are not secured on any properties owned by Ridgeford, representing stunningly generous terms from anyone who was not a direct shareholder of the company.

The original shareholder of Ridgeford was in fact a company called Astar Properties, incorporated on October 4th 1996, also in the British Virgin Islands (a well-known tax haven) and also sharing the same Equity Trust Agent and PO Box 438 address. Astar Properties also has shares in Sitehost Pty, the Australian property company belonging to the Taibs.

It is notable that CMS (Cahya Mata Sarawak) the once state-owned company that was ‘privatised’ into the Taib’s family’s personal control by the end of 1996 also has a banking division in the British Virgin Islands. CMS in the BVI is also registered at the very same PO Box 438 address and with the same agent, as Astar Properties and Tess Investments, according to information made public by Equity Trust and available on the internet.

In 2001 documents show that Astar’s shareholding in Ridgeford was then passed directly to City Gate International Corporation, which is based at Sakto’s Headquarters in Ottawa. Jamilah Taib and Sean Murray are the registered directors of City Gate and Thady Murray is employed as President.

Sarawak Report therefore challenges the Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud to acknowledge that Ridgeford Properties in London was set up and financed by the Taib family and remains part of the Taib global property empire, which is largely owned and ultimately controlled by himself. We further ask how with him earning a salary of just 20,000 ringgit a month his family has been able to afford to pay millions of pounds into this property company and others across the globe. So far the Chief Minister has found no answer to our revelations, so will it be different this time?

Sarawak Report