Thursday, March 21, 2013
Two lawyers secretly recorded in a covert video on shady land deals involving cousins of Tan Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud will face an inquiry and a criminal investigation for possible misconduct after the Advocates' Association of Sarawak (AAS) lodged a complaint with the police in Kuching today.
The duo, identified as Alvin Chong and Huang Lung Ong, were shown separately in a video released by London-based activist group Global Witness as proof of shady land deals in Sarawak that appeared to implicate the state’s chief minister and his family, with parts of the clip aired on the Al-Jazeera news channel on Tuesday.
In a covert investigation, Global Witness (GW) captured on video dealings with Taib’s cousins and several other intermediaries to acquire thousands of hectares of forest land that the London-based activist said revealed the systematic corruption and illegality that lay at the heart of Malaysia’s biggest state.
London-based activist group Global Witness’ video appears to implicate the state’s chief minister Tan Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud (above) and his family, with parts of the clip aired on the Al-Jazeera news channel.
In a 16-minute video clip, GW investigators, who posed as foreign investors, recorded snippets of their conversation with Taib’s cousins and lawyers, to purchase the land for hefty profit and which the environmental campaigner said would displace thousands of the indigenous people living there.
“The AAS lodged a police report this afternoon in respect of the video for the purpose of enabling the police to investigate its contents and to take further action in the event there is basis to allege criminal infractions,” the AAS said in a four-paragraph statement signed by its president Khairil Azmi Mohd Hasbie.
AAS said the association’s Central Committee had met yesterday to discuss “serious questions” arising from the video titled “Inside Malaysia’s Shadow State”.
The association noted that the lawyers had spoke on what it described as issues “ranging from illegal means to circumvent the operation of Malaysian laws to allegations of corruption and kickbacks to high officials within the state administration.”
AAS also said it will refer the two lawyers to the Inquiry Committee, that will then conduct an inquiry for possible cases of professional misconduct.
The Inquiry Committee, which is a disciplinary body independent and separate from AAS, is also a statutory body with a panel of senior lawyers appointed by the Chief Judge of Sabah and Sarawak.
Lawyers in Sarawak and Sabah are represented by the AAS and Sabah Law Association respectively and are not under the jurisdiction of the Malaysian Bar, which only represents lawyers in peninsular Malaysia.
AAS also advised the public not to speculate on the matter, saying that the authorities are now handling it.
“Until the investigations are concluded and more facts come to light, the AAS advises the public at large to allow the law to take its course and to refrain from speculation.”
Chong, one of the lawyers in the clip, was recorded giving details of how foreign investors could evade real property gains taxes (RPGT) and circumvent the 51 per cent Bumiputera equity requirement.
He had allegedly represented two of Taib’s cousins, sisters Fatimah Abdul Rahman and Norlia Abdul Rahman, who were recorded describing potentially illegal land deals.
But the lawyer’s firm, Alvin Chong and Partners had issued a statement to GW, denying that he had “acted as a legal spokesperson for the alleged party.”
“We deny any discussions to allegedly evade tax and if there were any purported discussions these were strictly hypothetical,” the Kuching-based firm said.
The other lawyer, Huang, had appeared to talk of a possible kickback given by a company purportedly owned partly by an individual named Datuk Hii Yii Peng in exchange for a licence in the state.
But he told The Malay Mail yesterday that he was “trapped” and “pressured” by a man posing as a foreign investor, saying that the discussion in the video was merely “coffeeshop” talk.
“I will not rule out the possibility of lodging a report with the authorities and sue Global Witness if I have the means,” Huang was quoted saying by the English-language paper, after having said that the video had tarnished his reputation.
Huang had previously responded to GW, saying: “I have never been appointed by Hii Yii Peng as his solicitors... I have no knowledge how Hii Yii Peng obtained the asset or that there is a kickback.”
“Your allegations are untrue and not within my knowledge to answer,” he said in the statement that was carried in the GW video.
On Tuesday, Taib had suggested that his cousins – daughters of former Sarawak Chief Minister Tun Abdul Rahman Ya’akub – and others implicated in the video were promoting themselves to be his agents in order to solicit favours.
“OK I saw the so-called proof. Could it not be someone who tried to promote themselves to be an agent to get favours from me?
“It has nothing to do with me. I think it is a bit naughty of them. They are using their big powers to blacken my name,” the Sarawak chief minister said when approached by reporters in the state capital Kuching.