Thursday, July 1, 2010

Musa Aman precarious, ICAC threat to confiscate Sabah money

“We are talking hundreds of millions not just RM16 million or so. The last figure that was reported in the media was RM500 million,” one of the highly-placed sources told

Musa Aman precarious, ICAC threat to confiscate Sabah money

Wong Choon Mei, Malaysia Chronicle

It looks like there is no escape for Sabah Chief Minister Musa Aman. Up to his neck in corruption complaints and allegations, the noose tightened yet another notch when tax officers raided the offices of some of his closest associates, including Michael Chia and the Gang of 14.

Sources familiar with investigations being conducted at both federal and state levels told Malaysia Chronicle that officers from the Lembaga Hasil Sabah last week visited the work places of Chia and some of his friends, who are collectively known as the Gang of 14 because of their common loyalty to the Chief Minister. The investigators carted away certain documents and files to help in their probe.

The sources said the order for the latest raids came from above following a stern warning from the Hong Kong anti-corruption commission, ICAC, that if Malaysian authorities continued to delay, it would confiscate money uncovered during investigations at its end.

“We are talking hundreds of millions not just RM16 million or so. The last figure that was reported in the media was RM500 million,” one of the highly-placed sources told Malaysia Chronicle.

“The Hong Kong probe began two years ago and since then the ICAC has exposed a very large and entrenched money laundering racket involving a lot of nationalities. Malaysian authorities can pretend not to be aware, but then, the ICAC will confiscate the money on behalf of the Hong Kong government. Sabahans will end up losing everything.”

Musa's supporters warned about seat allocations

For these reasons, pundits believe the writing is on the wall for the flamboyant Musa Aman, who has been accused of trying to shield his friends. He is also personally implicated in some of the allegations but has denied all knowledge or involvement.

Sabah watchers point to a speech made by Prime Minister Najib Razak earlier this week at Penampang, where he refused to agree to maintain the allocation of seats for the next general elections. "Leave it to me to decide what is best for Sabah. At the moment, we don't get too excited about anything," the PM was reported as saying by national news agency Bernama.

Najib's remarks were seen as a major snub for Musa Aman, the Sabah Umno chief, and many party insiders believe that politically, he is as good as finished. Nation-wide elections are expected to be held in early 2011, although the federal government can wait until March 2013 at the latest.

“Najib is sending a very strong message to Musa’s faction, don’t take things for granted. He is telling them he will use his overriding power as the Umno national president to sideline them if they overdo their support for Musa,” PKR Youth Chief Shamsul Iskandar Akin told Malaysia Chronicle.

“Reading between the lines, this indicates that Najib has decided to press on with the investigations against Musa Aman despite his influence in Sabah. It is a crucial state Umno needs to win to retain the federal government. But I am sure Najib has a backup plan to control Musa’s supporters. Firstly, he benefits because by acting against Musa, he will look like a hero and serious about fighting graft. Secondly, he has been itching to replace Musa with Shafie Apdal and of course, there is all that money that will go to the Hong Kong government if he doesn't act fast.”

Supported by the AG and IGP?

Shamsul and his Youth wing have lodged many complaints with the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission. Shamsul has even gone to the ICAC's headquarters in Hong Kong, where he offered evidence to help in their investigations. In his complaint, he said Chia was a nominee for Musa.

Shamsul also told the ICAC that public funds were being illegally obtained and siphoned out from Malaysia and deposited into various accounts in Hong Kong at UBS AG, Bank of East Asia Limited, HSBC, Credit Suisse and Citibank. He also named four other people believed to have embezzled and laundered money belonging to the Sabah state government and its subsidiaries.

The low-profile Chia is widely believed to be one of Musa’s top aides. He was detained at the Hong Kong airport in 2008 for allegedly trying to smuggle through some RM16 million in cash. That started a two-year long probe, which has since uncovered a regional money laundering network.

Malaysian authorities have been slow to act, unlike their Hong Kong counterparts. Speculation is rife that the wealthy and powerful Musa Aman has the support of the Attorney-General Gani Patail and the Inspector-General of Police Musa Hassan.

Related Stories:

Sabah's No.2 accepts Najib's gag order on seat allocations
The AG, IGP and Musa Aman vs Najib, Shafie and the MACC

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