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16×9: Family Trees

WATCH ABOVE: 16×9’s “Family Trees”

The Malaysian state of Sarawak is a lush, tropical paradise…or at least it used to be. Sarawak has one of the world’s most important rainforests but that rainforest is disappearing at an astonishing rate. Some say Sarawak’s Chief Minister, Abdul Taib Mahmoud is to blame and they accuse him of profiting from the destruction.

Clare Rewcastle-Brown is a native of Sarawak now living and working as an investigative journalist in London. She writes about the environment in Sarawak and what she sees as political connections to the destruction of the land, on her blog, The Sarawak Report.

“What has happened in Sarawak is a catastrophe, an environmental and human rights catastrophe. The entire forest in the country has been mowed down,” she says.

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“The plans the Chief Minister Taib has for that area is to continue with that devastation and turn that whole area into a vast palm oil plantation which will just cement the disaster.”

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But it’s not only the forest that’s in danger. One of the last nomadic tribes in the world lives in Sarawak’s rainforest. World famous anthropologist, Wade Davis has studied the Penan and told 16×9, “Within a single generation a way of life, morally inspired and inherently right, was being crushed just as the forest in which they were born was being crushed.” Davis went to say, “There was something so incredibly unjust about that.”

But, according to Rewcastle-Brown, Abdul Taib Mahmoud is doing more than just cutting down the forest. She says he’s lining his own pockets with profits from environmental destruction in Sarawak and investing that money outside Malaysia. She says she’s been following a paper trail of Taib’s investments.

“I’ve seen that most of the companies that have received the lands have been companies owned by his siblings and his children and political allies that he needs to keep sweet…mainly, his own family,” she says.

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“I’ve painstakingly researched what I can of many of these contracts,” and says she’s been able to see that land contracts have gone straight from the Chief Minister to his family, and how they’ve profited.

One of Taib’s family members is Jamilah Taib-Murray, the Chief Minister’s daughter. She is the co-founder and remains a director of Sakto, a real estate development company headquartered in Ottawa. Sakto’s properties are said to be worth more than $100 million. Several major corporations rent office space in its commercial buildings and, it turns out, so does the Ontario government for a total cost of $4.9 million.

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Rewcastle-Brown believes there’s a link between Taib’s profits in Sarawak to Jamilah’s initial business investments in the early 80s. “It’s been possible for me, sitting in London, to go through the company records online and to trace how this money has gone from Sarawak in the early 1980s to Canada,” she says.

16×9 asked Jamilah Taib-Murray and her husband, Sean Murray for an interview, but they declined. In a letter from Jamilah’s lawyer to 16×9, it states, “at no stage did her (Jamilah’s) father have economic benefit from or any direction of, the business – directly or indirectly. It also says Jamilah’s investment in Malaysia is “passive” and that Sakto and Sean Murray have none.

16×9 obtained a letter from Sean Murray to Clare Rewcastle-Brown that states she has acknowledged that she’s received funding by “wealthy entities” who oppose the Chief Minister in “upcoming elections”. Another legal letter sent to 16×9 says Clare has a “declared political interest” and they are “running a political campaign against the current Sarawak government”. Clare told 16×9 she has received no money from Malaysian politicians and that her donors are “all non-politically motivated Europeans”.

Sean Murray wrote to 16×9 saying, “Jamilah and I find these statements about ourselves and our business false, highly defamatory and very damaging.”

In “Family Trees”, reporter, Sean O’Shea investigates the alleged money trail between Sarawak’s Chief Minister and his family in Canada.

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