Information emerging from what would otherwise be a domestic dispute in the religious courts is pointing the finger at a major international scandal and conspiracy to influence Malaysian politics.
In the last few years the mysteriously funded, foreign run Sarawak Report had picked up on every possible piece of gossip and political scandal that it could find to undermine the reputation of 30-year veteran Chief Minister now State Governor, Tun Abdul Taib Mahmud of Sarawak. Sarawak Report, run by British activist Clare Rewcastle from London gleefully reported the sordid disputes between Taib’s eldest son, Datuk Seri Mahmud Abu Bekir, and his ex-wife Shahnaz Abdul Majid. Nothing in the life of Governor Taib and his family was too cheap, too personal or too damaging for Miss Rewcastle. So the plot unfolded.
Most spectacularly Clare reported – and her foreign activist allies repeated – staggering sums of money in over 100 secret offshore bank accounts, apparently squirrelled away by Datuk Seri Mahmud. These allegations, made in court, could legally be repeated without fear of legal action. They formed the basis of Sarawak Report and Bruno Manser Fund’s representations to law-enforcement regimes worldwide, from MACC to the American FBI. Malaysians watched with fascination: the international law enforcement community, fixated with money laundering and secret funds, swallowed every line, hook and sinker. MACC got involved.
Now the Taib family has caused a slow, silent earthquake. Not only have they denied the ”evidence” that Shahnaz quoted, but they have challenged her and her legal team to produce anything to support it. It would appear that the Taib family had been playing the long game. Since Shahnaz gave her evidence, her source had been exposed as a forger-for-hire, Cullen Johnson. Cullen and his wife Elaine White, a forensics accountant, had been duping clients in an international scheme that involved bogus promises of offshore millions. They concocted astoundingly realistic international banking information that would lead one party to believe the other had millions of dollars in assets offshore. They have a track record of hundreds of such projects. Both are now serving time in an American jail, and have given evidence about their modus operandi. Datuk Seri Mahmud has repeated his challenge in court and outside. Shahnaz’s legal team has refused to offer with any justification comment or hard evidence.
(Private investigator Elaine White was convicted of money laundering in an international scheme, while private investigator Cullen Johnson was sentenced to prison for his role in an international fraud scheme)
The most interesting plot has been, to quote the British sleuth Sherlock Holmes, “the dog that didn’t bark in the night”. In the famous story, the detective identifies the truth because a guard dog, usually so noisy, fails to react to a criminal. The truth is, the criminal was the dog’s owner. Suddenly, recently, Sarawak Report has gone silent on the story of the divorce. The website failed to report that Datuk Seri Mahmud had claimed that the evidence was a forgery. The reason is now emerging, although it has apparently been available for some time. Datuk Seri Mahmud identified Johnson as the creator of the fake bank accounts. But the authorities are closing in on the wider conspiracy.
Last year, Rewcastle reacted angrily to what she acknowledged was a leak of her personal correspondence with Cullen Johnson. This information emerged, anonymously at the time that the US criminal intelligence authorities were closing in on Johnson. It appears that Rewcastle didn’t just report, wide-eyed, the invented evidence from the court. She was part of the prior conversation with Shahnaz and her Shahriah lawyer Dr Mohd Rafie Mohd Shafie, and a Kuala Lumpur investigator, which briefed and coordinated Cullen Johnson in concocting his report. It would appear that Rewcastle was directly involved with Johnson, trying to get him involved approved by Shahnaz, before he was arrested in the Caribbean and extradited by the Feds.
Once the forged evidence was produced in court, Rewcastle even went so far as to endorse it when she reported it from the court hearings. She claimed to have other sources that corroborated the evidence of huge secret offshore networks. This is quite an achievement, given the fact that it now appears that it was made up.
Activist groups, law-enforcement, politicians, banks and ordinary citizens read and quoted Sarawak Report. Now its obsessive coverage of the Taib family’s wealth is itself being re-examined. The implication of Datuk Seri Mahmud’s demands on the courtroom steps is that what we are seeing is part of a long-running conspiracy with multiple players creating and then recirculating forged financial evidence.
For now, the Taib legal team’s staying silent. However, sources close to its investigation in the United States note that key evidence is held by the Department of Justice as a result of their conviction of Mr Johnson. Johnson himself could be called upon to give evidence in any criminal trial that emerges from his reported involvement with this case.