Malaysia campaigners tackle Swiss banks

Logging in the rainforests in Malaysia's Borneo region has long been controversial Keystone

The rainforest advocacy group Bruno Manser Fund (BMF) has filed a complaint to the Swiss attorney general’s office against four banks – UBS, Edmond de Rothschild, Pictet and Deutsche Bank – for their dealings with the Malaysian Taib clan.

This content was published on January 15, 2013 minutes

“This passivity must finally come to an end and the law must be applied,” BMF wrote in its complaint, noting that it had repeatedly drawn attention to and submitted proof of the Taib family’s wrongdoings.

According to BMF, Abdul Taib Mahmud, the head of government of Sawarak state on the island of Borneo since 1981, is chiefly responsible for the massive destruction of the state’s rainforest, while amassing a family fortune of some $20 billion (SFr18.3 billion) through abuse of office, corruption and monopolies.

“It’s a question of due dilligence,” Lukas Straumann of BMF told “The banks have to ask: How can this person have so much money? Is it plausible? Who is the beneficiary owner?”

The BMF criminal complaint is a follow up to the one lodged by parliamentarian Carlo Sommaruga on January 7 asking the attorney general to declare the Taib family a criminal organisation.

Divorce revelations

Last month 20 Swiss parliamentarians, led by Sommaruga, called for an immediate freeze of assets held by Swiss banks on behalf of the Taib family, comparing them to the clan of former Nigerian dictator Sani Abacha.

The latest moves were sparked by new revelations about the wealth of the Taib clan which emerged during divorce proceedings in Kuala Lumpur involving Taib’s former daughter-in-law Shanaz Abdul Majid who was married to Taib’s son Mahmud Abu Bekir Taib.

Abdul Majid said that her ex-husband held 111 bank accounts in ten countries and that three Swiss banks administered over $100 million for him.

This is not the first time BMF has reported Swiss links with the Taib family to the authorities. In 2011 the group sent a letter to the then Swiss President Micheline Calmy-Rey calling for Abdul Taib Mahmud’s assets in Switzerland to be frozen.

Calmy-Rey forwarded the letter to the country’s financial regulator, the Swiss Financial Markets Supervisory Authority (Finma), which undertook to look into the case.

When contacted by for an update, Finma confirmed that there was a prosecutor involved in the case but would not comment further on the status of the investigation.

Log jam

In a separate case in August 2012, the Swiss prosecutor’s office opened criminal proceedings against UBS over the bank’s alleged ties with another Malaysian politician suspected of laundering money derived from corrupt timber logging operations in North Borneo.

This followed a complaint from BMF which accused UBS of having breached its due diligence duties in managing its relationship with Sabah’s chief minister, Musa Aman, who controls logging in the region.

Aman has been chief minister of Sabah, Malaysia’s second state on Borneo, since 2003. He is accused of having laundered over $90 million of corruptly obtained funds through a number of bank accounts held with UBS in Hong Kong and Zurich.

BMF campaigns to preserve the threatened tropical rainforests in the Malaysian federal state of Sarawak and the rights of the people who inhabit the rainforests in this part of the island of Borneo.

Bruno Manser Fund (BMF)

The Basel-based Bruno Manser Fund campaigns for threatened tropical rainforests and the rights of their inhabitants.

It focuses its activities on the Penan people of Sarawak in particular and has projects in Malaysia and projects and campaigns in Europe.

It is financed by donations from private individuals, foundations and selected businesses. Individual projects also receive support from communal and cantonal funds.

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