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Wikileaks: US warned of severe corruption in Malaysia’s Sarawak state

U.S. government sources characterized the ruler of Malaysia’s Sarawak as “highly corrupt” and plagued with conflicts of interest, according to secret cables released today by Wikileaks.

The cables show that U.S. State Department officials have been well aware of corruption allegations surrounding Sarawak Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud since at least 2006.

“Taib and his relatives are widely thought to extract a percentage from most major commercial contracts – including those for logging – awarded in the state (Sarawak),” reads a cable to the State Department dated October 13, 2006. “Embassy sources outside the government uniformly characterize him (Taib) as highly corrupt.”

“The Sarawak state government remains highly corrupt and firmly in the hands of its chief minister.”

The cable cited the construction of an opulent state assembly building as “perhaps the most obvious and extreme example of the self-enrichment of the state’s chief minister and other senior government officials.”

The leaked correspondence further noted that Taib relies on a patronage system to reward “compliant local leaders” and stifle potential opposition. Taib in turn is rewarded with development funds by the Barisan Nasional (BN), the country’s ruling coalition, for delivering votes in national elections, according to a Sarawak official who met with embassy staff.

The U.S. embassy cables also highlighted concerns over the plight of indigenous people in Sarawak. Officials were informed by SUHAKAM, Malaysia’s government-funded national human rights commission, that “the government largely ignores SUHAKAM’s recommendations” to protect the indigenous peoples’ rights.

Deforestation by a logging company around a Penan village in the Middle Baram region in Sarawak. Image courtesy of the Bruno Manser Fund

Dr. Mohammad Herman Titom Abdullah, Suhakam Commissioner for Sarawak, told embassy officials that “15,000 Penan tribe members… lack electricity, water treatment and schools.”

He “criticized the federal and state governments for not fulfilling their promises to provide access to primary education for all citizens,” according to the Wikileaks cables, which come as NGOs have stepped up campaigns to expose Taib’s corruption and force him from power.

The Bruno Manser Fund, a group that advocates on behalf of Sarawak’s forest people, says the new revelations should press foreign governments and institutions to investigate properties held overseas by Taib’s family, including real estate in the United States and Canada. The Bruno Manser Fund recently launched a campaign targeting the FBI, which leases a building owned by Wallysons Inc., a company linked to Taib.

“The US embassy cables are showing clearly that the US government has for years been well and accurately informed on the Taib family’s corruption and abuse of power,” stated the Bruno Manser Fund in a press release. “The latest Wikileaks exposures are thus putting the American federal police, the FBI, in an uncomfortable position. The FBI, which is supposed to ‘combat public corruption at all levels,’ is renting its Seattle Division office from Wallysons Inc., a property company owned by the Malaysian Taib family.”

The Bruno Manser Fund, together with the California-based Borneo Project, last week asked the FBI to break its lease with Wallysons and investigate the U.S. companies owned by the Taib family for money-laundering.

Reached by, a FBI spokesperson said that most rental agreements for the FBI are handled by General Services Administration (GSA), rather than the FBI itself.

Taib is presently under investigation by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) for alleged timber corruption during his 30 years in office. NGOs allege Taib and his family may have amassed billions of dollars in wealth during his reign.

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