Taib’s cousin, the logging tycoon and key political figure Hamed Sepawi, has been booted out of the African country Liberia by a presidential decree to halt corrupt and illegal logging. It makes for another blow to the Sarawak potentate’s international reputation, following condemnation this week in the Swiss Parliament.
Sepawi’s company Perkapalan Damai Timar (PDT) is a 60% shareholder of Atlantic Resources Limited, which has been exposed as a major culprit involved in corrupt practices and illegal logging that was set to destroy a quarter of Africa’s most heavily forested country.
Another key Sarawak company caught up in the scandal is the notorious destroyer of the Borneo Jungle, Samling, which has been exposed as the bankroller behind the venture, working hand in glove with Hamed Sepawi and PDT.
This African scandal brings international attention to the fact that Taib’s crony timber companies, which gained huge financial strength through their exploitation of Sarawak, have gone on to create global problems. Samling, Ta Ann, Rimbunan Hijau and WTK are all regarded by ENGOs as a worldwide menace in terms of corrupt practices and their disregard for communities and the environment.
Hamed’s PDT and Samling Condemned
The Executive Order, which was announced by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf on January 4th, could not have been more explicit in its condemnation of the behaviour of holders of the so-called Private Use Permits, notably Hamed Sepawi’s Atlantic. She has announced an immediate moratorium on their activities:
“the report issued by the Special Independent Investigating Body has revealed that there have been massive fraud, misrepresentations, abuses and violations of the National Forestry Reform Law in the issuance of Private Use Permits to the extent that this inter-generational asset has been severely threatened….because the mismanagement of the PUPs poses a threat to the efficient, effective, and sustainable management of our forests, it is imperative to impose a moratorium to protect the national interest” [Executive Order, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf 4/1/2013]
Private Use Permits (PUPs) are supposed to be highly restricted licences covering small areas of land (less than a 1,000 hectares) to allow for the native owners of these areas to log trees for their own use.
Massive fraud, misrepresentations, abuses and violations
It was following a report by a whistleblower last year, than a government appointed investigation discovered massive and widespread abuse of these permits, mainly by the Sarawak companies linked to Sepawi and Samling. The report finds:
“That between November 25, 2009 and December 19, 2011, the FDA [Forest Development Authority] issued more than 51 PUPs that cover a total of 2,031,702.27 hectares plus of forestland; That of the more than 5 PUPs that have been issued 40 PUPs with a total forest cover of 1,811,259.8 hectares were issued in 2011 alone”.
The report goes on to say that by far the largest ‘executor’ in charge of this “alarming” rise in PUPs is Atlantic Resources Ltd:
“of the 10 executors, Atlantic Resources holds eighteen 18 of the assigned PUPs that have a combined hectare of 835,040″
On top of this research shows that Atlantic Resources Ltd holds a further 130,00 hectares of forest land in Liberia under separate Forest Management Contracts. Documents reveal that the Sarawak-owned company had approached villagers to sign secret contracts handing over their rights to these private permits, often for minimal cash.
The contracts claim the company’s right to clear a total of nearly a million hectares and convert them to oil palm or other such crops. It is this that the Liberian President clearly believes amounts to fraud, misrepresentation, abuse and violations of Liberia’s careful forest legislation and there are clear concerns that officials have been corrupted into permitting this land snatch, since major investigations are now underway.
Meanwhile, the government has discovered that Sepawi’s company has already exported a whopping 16,764,381 cubic meters of logs through the port of Greenville and the Liberians are equally annoyed that these Malaysian companies have also failed to pay the proper taxes before executing their permits. These debts to the government are believed to run into millions of dollars:
“Some logging companies, for example Atlantic Resources Ltd., that are owing forestry taxes and who has not fully met the requirements for harvesting from their existing FMC concessions are already harvesting timber from PUPs”
The President’s decree for a moratorium on PUPs has been welcomed by NGOs like Global Witness, who worked to publicise the issue.
“Atlantic Resources, a logging company linked to notorious Malaysian giant Samling, now controls 8 percent of Liberia’s land area through Private Use Permits despite owing millions in back taxes. Giving your forests to companies like that is not a sustainable investment.”[Global Witness statement Sept 2012]
The NGO has also applauded the threat to confiscate logs taken under these permits to pay for outstanding taxes and the threat to prosecute any companies or individuals found to have violated the law following the establishment of a Special Prosecution Team within the Ministry of Justice related to Private Use Permits.
Onlookers in Sarawak might wish that similar strict action had been taken by the Sarawak government against violations by companies like Ta Ann, Grand Perfect, Sarawak Plantation and Samling, which are mainly owned and run by the Yaws and Hamed Sepawi. However, the Chief Minister has instead chosen to turn a blind eye to illegal logging, gangsters and intimidation of local people throughout such concessions.
Hand in glove – the relationship between Taib’s cousin Hamed and Samling extends to Africa
The revelations about Hamed Sepawi’s landgrabs in Liberia have also proved even further the long suspected business links between the Chief Minister’s known nominee and the Yaw family firm, Samling. PDT is not only the key shareholder of Atlantic Resources, it also has a massive USD$100 million stake in Samling Global itself.
Liberian government investigations into Atlantic Resources have shown that its entire operation is being financed by a US$60million dollar investment by Samling. The same research shows that until recently at least Yaw family member Yaw Chee Ming was a Director of PDT.
Yaw Chee Ming is also the Director of the two other major companies which have been bidding for further logging concessions in Liberia, Southeast Resources and Alpha Logging. Both these ventures are equally being backed by $60 million investments by Samling (which has just been taken back into private ownership by the Yaw family at considerable loss to public shareholders).
This means that Hamed Sepawi is a key shareholder in Samling through PDT and Samling is a key investor in PDT’s own ventures. Indeed investigators have pointed out that PDT and Samling Strategic Corporation are given the same address in one Malaysian online directory:
The issue raises even more questions about the huge numbers of logging permits that have been handed by Taib to the Yaw family without any form of public scrutiny over the past 30 years in Sarawak. These ventures in Africa show that the two families, that of the Yaw tycoons and the Mahmuds, are even more heavily intertwined than realised before.
Indeed Taib’s relations with Sarawak’s other logging tycoons show his personal link and involvement extends into the destruction of a vast landmass, not just in the Borneo Jungle but all over the world. According to the NGO Global Witness:
“Sarawak firms…are currently logging or converting forests to plantations in a dozen countries around the world, covering an area of 18 million ha of concessions – roughly three times the landmass of Norway”[Global Witness Report into HSBC's financing of Sarawak Logging Companies]
Time the international community woke up to Taib, The Godfather Of Timber Corruption!
The new evidence about Taib’s family reach into corrupted logging in Africa is likely to further strengthen the determination of protestors in Tasmania, who face court appearances this Friday over a non-violent protest at a Ta Ann mill.
Ta Ann Tasmania, which is also owed by Hamed Sepawi, has been controversially extracting wood from wild forest areas that had originally been set aside for protected forest. The dispute has held up a major Forest Agreement between Tasmania and the Federal Government, which could have brought hundreds of millions of dollars of compensation to the State.
Concerns about the corrupt practices of yet another Sepawi company, not just at home in Sarawak but also in Africa, will add to questions by the Green Party about the decisions that were made to bring the Malaysian company into Tasmania and to support the venture with several million dollars of taxpayer subsidies.
For more information on timber corruption in Borneo, please visit: http://borneoproject.org/our-work/ongoing-campaigns/stop-timber-corruption-in-sarawak