Monday, 8 July 2013

Uncovering the plot to topple Musa Aman

It all began with oil…

Sometime in 2007, a group of businessmen approached Sabah CM Musa Aman to discuss ways they could explore and benefit from the state’s lucrative oil & gas industry.

Now, these are the same group of people who benefitted greatly from the state’s timber resources via Yayasan Sabah and other channels for many, many years under previous Sabah Chief Ministers.

They became very wealthy over the years, so much so they could afford to blow a few millions a night in casinos.

Well, the Sabah reforestation plan and conservation programme that was put in action by Musa since he became CM in 2003 was taking a toll on this group of businessmen.

They could not make as much money as before and therefore, needed another cash cow.
Unlike the millions they made in the timber industry, the petroleum industry has the potential to make them billions!
Sabah has Malaysia’s top oil reserves and the Sabah Basin is projected to produce oil for a much longer period than any other oil-producing states in Malaysia.

All they had to do was get Musa’s blessings and the money from the petroleum industry would start pouring into their coffers.
But the unimaginable happened.
Musa, despite being 'friendly’ to them, refused to entertain their demands and deemed it not right for them to put their hands in the petroleum ‘cookie jar’.
Many attempts were made to smooth talk Musa, and numerous meetings and lobbying sessions took place – but Musa kept them at bay.
Angry and bitter that Musa had cut them off the lucrative petroleum sector and denied them a chance to taste a slice of the billions in oil money, this group hatched a plan to get rid of Musa.

They vowed that Musa must be removed at all cost.

Timber tycoons run out of trees to chop...
Proceeds from the timber industry in Sabah were in the past used intensively to fund political activities.

The forests of Sabah became the ATM machines for Sabah politicians.

Musa Aman is the 14th CM of Sabah since Tun Fuad Stephens first took office in September 1963.

The other 13 CMs were Tun Fuad Stephens (1st term 1963-1964), Peter Lo Sui Yin (1965-1967), Mustapha Harun (1967-1975), Mohamad Said Keruak (1975-1976), Tun Fuad Stephens (2nd term 1976), Harris Salleh (1976-1985), Joseph Pairin Kitingan (1985-1994), Sakaran Dandai (1994), Salleh Said Keruak (1994-1996), Yong Teck Lee (1996-1998), Bernard Dompok (1998-1999), Osu Sukam (1999-2001) and Chong Kah Kiat (2001-2003).

There are dozens of timber tycoons, or sometimes known as timber mafias in Sabah and they played instrumental roles as the political backbone and controlled the purse strings of the political elites.

As a matter of fact, Sabah had the highest concentration of millionaires in the country during the 80s and 90s, all cultivated by the backwater political system backed by timber proceeds.

When Musa took office in 2003, the state’s timber resources were fast depleting and getting out of control.
Illegal logging was terribly rampant and something had to be done fast, especially as the timber mafias were creating a lot of problems for Yayasan Sabah with their demands for more concessions/contracts/favors/etc.

The Yale’s School of Forestry and Environment Studies, in its Yale Environment 360 publication had this to say on their 12th June 2012 issue:

Forests not only became the state’s principal rainy day fund, but eventually came to be seen as a piggy bank for politicians. The biggest potential beneficiary was the chief minister, who controls both Yayasan Sabah and appoints the director of the forestry department, obliging the most senior forest official to abide by his orders. 

Soon, the push to generate more cash began to take a toll, and in the 1970s logging accelerated in forests across Borneo, including Sabah, due to rising global demand for timber products. The situation for forests outside the area designated as permanent forest estate was worse due to the emergence of a new and highly profitable crop: oil palm. Oil palm plantations in Sabah grew from almost nothing in the mid-1980s to covering nearly a fifth of Sabah’s landmass by 2010.

Inside the Yayasan Sabah concession, logging was rampant, with companies cutting ever-smaller trees and using helicopters to harvest steep slopes. Yayasan Sabah’s revenue plunged with declining timber yields. The situation reached a crescendo in 1998 when the then-chief minister signed off on a massive pulp mill to be run as a Malaysian-Chinese joint venture. The mill would require nearly a third of Yayasan Sabah’s concession to be cleared and planted with fast-growing acacia. When Sam Mannan, then director of forestry, objected to the project, he was relieved of his post by Sabah’s chief minister.
Parts of Yayasan Sabah were laid to waste, but it was all for naught, as the pulp project never materialized. Even with the official abandonment of the mill project in 2001, logging continued, eventually serving as a catalyst for early re-logging of nearly three-quarters of Yayasan Sabah. Logging generated a short upswing in revenue for Yayasan Sabah, but it wasn’t sustainable. The long-term economic outlook for Yayasan Sabah was bleak.

You can read more at:

Musa’s secret game plan to curb excessive logging… 

When Musa assumed office in 2003, he set the wheels in motion that slowly and steadily dried up the money supply of these timber tycoons/mafias.

Sustainable forestry was introduced and Sam Mannan, who got back his old job, was given more power to carry out the reforestation initiatives.

The Yale Environment 360 article goes on to say this further:

In addition to trying to turn around the situation in Yayasan Sabah, Mannan has so far successfully protected some of the last remaining lowland primary forests in Sabah.

Indeed, if you travel far enough in Sabah, some of Borneo’s most treasured forest still exists.

“Sabah is still way ahead of Sarawak and Kalimantan: surviving primary forests areas are being conserved, reforestation and forest restoration is happening, and encroachers have moved out of forest reserves,” said John Payne, a conservation scientist with the Borneo Rhino Alliance.
Musa Aman’s plans were slowly bearing fruits.

He was slowly cutting off one timber tycoon after another in the food chain.

To enforce his plans, Sam Mannan came up with a set of stringent guidelines under the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), an eco-certification body.

Various internationally recognised systems such as the Pan European Forest Scheme (PEFC) and the Malaysian Timber Certification Scheme (MTCS) were introduced and put in place.

The Sabah Forestry Department set 2014 for full certification of Sabah’s forest concessions. At the same time there is experimentation occurring in parts of the Yayasan Sabah concession, including the world’s first Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD+) project.

The forestry department’s strategy to enforce the FSC guidelines is to bind loggers to compliance.
Even if a chief minister or a politician wishes to use the forest revenue as a personal ATM, it becomes very difficult and controversial because the areas are FSC-certified.

Short-term licences that cause tremendous damage to the environment are being drastically phased out and Sabah’s forest management credibility is at its highest — an open-book philosophy whereby logging and forest management areas are all open to third-party and NGO scrutiny.

Long-term logging licences have been subjected to third-party auditing (independent audit) since 2010 so independent auditors would detected any illegal felling.
The size of forest reserves under the Totally Protected Areas (TPAS) category is now reaching 1.3 million hectares or about 20 per cent of Sabah’s total land area, exceeding international standards of 10 per cent.

By 2014 when all rules and regulations come into full effect, many timber tycoons/mafias still existing in Sabah will be out of business and the remaining players have to follow strict international guidelines. The party’s over.

Frugality and tight grip on purse strings created enemies for Musa…
Musa entered politics as a wealthy but prudent businessman. Contrary to popular belief, he made hundreds of millions as a businessman first before becoming the CM.
When he assumed office in 2003, Musa’s asset declaration exceeded a whopping RM280 million.
His company Musman Holdings started off with stevedoring and later diversified into construction, real estate, shipping, plantation and banking.
He also made a sizeable fortune selling his stake in City Finance Berhad to EON Finance Berhad.
City Finance itself is an interesting story…
When Tengku Razaleigh was Finance Minister in 1976, he issued a banking license to the late Tun Said Keruak with the aim to establish a Bumiputera-based bank in Sabah.
To qualify for the license, Said Keruak gathered a few qualified and capable Bumi businessmen, including Musa Aman to become shareholders.
Only one of the shareholders was a Chinese, a retired bank manager by the name of Thomas Chow.
Besides Musa, other shareholders included Herman Luping, Ben Stephens, Lawrence Sinsua and Simon Jenkins – all of whom had equal shares except Said Keruak who had a higher amount of shares. 
They used their own money and even borrowed heavily from banks to finance the venture.
As time went by, the dividends were not forthcoming and interests on bank loans obtained to purchase the shares were mounting and this became a heavy burden for the shareholders.
All shareholders, except Musa, agreed to sell their stakes when a Chinese property tycoon from Kuala Lumpur approached them to buy over City Finance.
One person who resisted the deal in the shareholders meeting was Musa – who was keen to ensure City Finance remains a Bumi company.
After a series of negotiation, Musa agreed to buy over the shares held by the directors and shareholders, thus making him the major shareholder and chairman of City Finance.
The company eventually started to grow and was on its way towards becoming a major finance company in the country until the new banking policy under Tun Daim saw it merging with EON Finance Berhad.
Musa made a sizeable profit from the merger and eventually moved up the political ladder to become numero uno in the state’s administration.
However, he is known to be very frugal. He has very tight grip on money – his as well as the state’s.
This made some people very unhappy, even those in his inner circle – and this includes the timber tycoons aka timber mafias.
It was becoming very hard for these timber tycoons to influence Musa because he was captain of his own ship and had his own money to do things as he pleases.
While CMs of the past had to curry favour with these timber tycoons, with Musa it was the other way around.
There are close to 14 timber tycoons that have been around in the state for decades and they still have very strong influence on Sabah’s political elites.
Under the previous rotation system of CM, all had some form of accessibility to the state’s riches.
But since Musa took over, many saw themselves being cut off from action and from the opportunity to mint money easily, even corruptly.
The group of businessmen which we mentioned earlier then started their secret operation to ‘finish off’ Musa.

the plan to topple Musa…

The clandestine operation to get Musa removed from his seat of power got into action in 2008 with the infamous Michael Chia case.
Much has been said and written about the RM40 million money laundering case involving Michael Chia.
But unknown to many, the telephone call to Hong Kong anti-graft body ICAC originated from this KK number: 088-4XXX83.
The ICAC received the information from KK via line +852 2587 9813 two days before anti-graft officers ambushed Michael Chia at his luxurious hotel suite.
Michael Chia was entrapped so that information on Musa and his proxies could be squeezed out of him by the authorities.
(Some timber tycoons from Sabah have Hong Kong registered companies, where one director is enough to open a limited liability company, and have corresponding banking accounts in HSBC or Standard Chartered, giving them ease to carry out parallel transactions in HK or KK)
Chia had escaped the dragnet on 2 different occasions a month earlier because he diverted the money to other locations around the world at the last minute.

The anti-graft authorities - both in HK and KK, managed to extract only a certain amount of information from Michael Chia.
But additional information, that were essential to the success of this elaborate operation to pin down Musa, came from an individual by the name of Lo Man Heng, a KK based timber businessman.
He was Michael Chia’s partner and the two later had a fallout due to money issues.
Lo Man Heng and Michael Chia were involved in a legal battle at the Singapore High Court following the fallout.
Now, what is interesting about this little-known Lo Man Heng is that he became a strong supporter of PKR supremo Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim immediately after Michael Chia’s arrest in Hong Kong.
Photographs of him standing next to Anwar were found hanging on his office wall.
In fact, Anwar introduced him to Clare Rewcastle Brown, who is behind Radio Free Sarawak and Sarawak Report.
Lo Man Heng was the deep throat that Clare boasted about in her website when she was attacking Musa before the 13th GE.
The conspirators tried hard to bring down Musa but so far they have been unsuccessful.
Despite coming up with an impressive chart on the money trail (see below), nothing much was accomplished.
Among the key reason why the money trail chart above had little impact was that the account number registered to Musa was opened on 14 June 1999, four years way before he became CM.
The argument that there was abuse of power while in office as CM could not be pinned down on Musa.

MACC officers who questioned Musa found that the money paid to his sons was carried out by his trusted aide, who conveniently used the funds from the UBS account. And the lawyer who supposed to ensure no such complications or conflict of interest arose was clearly sleeping on his job.
Next, in 2010, the conspirators tried to ruffle the feathers in BN component parties to come up with a vote of no-confidence on his leadership.
If you read here, Sabah Umno deputy chief Salleh Said Keruak openly disclosed that certain leaders of Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) were in cohorts with certain quarters to topple Musa Aman.
He warned that Sabah BN would not be intimidated by any attempt to hold the coalition at ransom by mounting a veiled threat on its Chairman-cum-Chief Minister.
"We are prepared to face the worst challenge," Salleh was quoted as saying.
Salleh questioned the rationale behind LDP Deputy President Datuk Chin Su Phin's outrage and claimed it was part of an on-going plot to oust Musa.
Chin was quoted as asking PM Najib to remove Musa because his party could no longer work with the CM.
Then in 2012, stories of Michael Chia and Musa reappeared, making their rounds in the various media.
This time, whistleblower site Sarawak Report, which had their guns initially trained at Sarawak Chief Minister Taib Mahmud and the rainforest issue, shifted their target to Musa. 
Scores of allegations were made but none of this came close to even warrant a misdemeanor criminal or corruption charge in Malaysia or Hong Kong on Musa Aman, or even Michael Chia for a fact.

Any charge on money laundering on Michael Chia by the Hong Kong authorities, or say the MACC, could have had a devastating effect on Musa’s political career.

But for all their worth, they were just hot air. 

Then, stories surfaced that Musa was asked to take a leave by PM Najib but these were also found to be false and malicious articles.

The operation to topple Musa is still active, even after the 13th General Elections.

The conspirators are trying everything and will continue to do all they can until they succeed in bringing down Musa.

But Musa is a battle hardened veteran who has survived much worse battles and he is not to be brought down by a bunch of disgruntled businessmen or politicians who could not get what they want.