Money-laundering: Musa under pressure

What portion of the S$38 trillion transacted and transferred across several countries belonged to Sabah?

By Calvin Kabaron, FMT

KUALA LUMPUR : As Malaysia faces a looming general election, Sabah Chief Minister Musa Aman, an important ally of embattled Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak, is increasingly being engulfed with questions of integrity and leadership issues.

Musa already lost two Members of Parliament from Sabah last week, and now the ongoing investigations on his own involvement in allegedly money-laundering activities are increasingly affecting his integrity and performance as leader of the poverty-stricken Sabah.

Observers both in Kota Kinabalu and here are of the opinion that the embattled Sabah kingpin would have no avenue to redeem his reputation as more in Sabah are joining the opposition and that incriminating data on the money laundering kept pouring out in websites, blogs and leaflets.

The parallel investigations going on in Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong and Switzerland on the money-laundering case have proven to be too much to Musa and the state leadership.

Musa lost his temper during a recent Sabah State Legislative Assembly meeting when there were repeated mentions of “the Hong Kong/Swiss money”. He said he was not afraid of the case and is prepared to tell the “truth”.

“The truth” so far from Musa, as revealed by PKR vice-president Tian Chua recently, was that the money in certain bank accounts was not his but held in trust for Umno.

According to Tian Chua, this piece of information was “leaked” to him by someone who claimed that Musa told the MACC (Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission) officers earlier this year to “ask Najib and that the money was not his but Umno and Najib’s”.

Tian Chua has since challenged Najib to comment on the information but so far the premier, who is also Umno president, has refused to respond.

Observers claim Najib is cornered and now held to ransom, and could be planning Musa’s exit either ahead or after the general election, which is due anytime now.

Lajim Ukin, one of the two MPs who defected from Umno and pledged allegiance to Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim, Najib’s nemesis, had cited dissatisfaction against Musa’s integrity, and Najib for not acting to replace the state party leadership.

Lajim had also implied in his speeches across Sabah that Najib indeed had promised to look into his reports against Musa and the cases that he believed warranted Musa’s replacement ahead of the general election.

Lajim is incidentally allied to another Sabah strong Umno kingpin,Shafei Apdal, an Umno vice- president, who is said to be not in very good relationship with Musa and harbouring the ambition to lead the vast state after the general election.

Allegations of money laundering

Meanwhile, the simultaneous investigations in four countries on Musa’s money, said to be in the hundreds of millions dollars in his accounts with Swiss UBS, one of the world’s three largest banks, had also taken a toll on others.

About 10 days ago, the credible Sarawak Report, an online investigative portal dedicated to Sarawak and Sabah matters, carried a report that the HSBC’s global head of compliance had resigned, acknowledging the bank had turned a blind eye to the staggering S$38 trillion of suspect transactions.

Those in the industry claimed that even the United States Senate committee on Homeland Security is now interested in the case as it involved a very huge amount transacted and transferred across several countries over several years.

“We are already aware of the issues but this staggering figure of S$38 trillion has really hit us hard… whether portions of this money did come from Sabah or Malaysia.

“If true, then indeed only God knows what these Malaysian politicians and their associates had been doing back home and abroad with such money,” said an observer in Kota Kinabalu, adding that it could be the reason why Sabahans remain the poorest in Malaysia despite the fact that the state is the richest in term of resources.

According to the online portal, the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) investigation report into timber kickbacks contains a great deal of information about HSBC’s alleged involvement in processing the millions of dollars that ended up in Musa’s bank accounts. The HSBC accounts were eventually closed in 2006.

The money-laundering case implicating Musa started soon after the arrest of Sabah businessman Michael Chia in Hong Kong in 2008. He was allegedly carrying S$16 million in cash at the time of arrest.

Chia reportedly told the powerful Hong Kong ICAC (Independent Commission Against Corruption) that the money belonged to Musa.

It was later rumoured that the cash was meant to help Umno in a by-election in Peninsular Malaysia with the knowledge of then premier Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.