The London-based solicitors for current Sarawak Governor, Abdul Taib Mahmud, today categorically denied bullying the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) into shelving an interview with Lukas Straumann, director of the Bruno Manser Foundation and author of the controversial book “Money Logging: On the Trail of the Asian Timber Mafia”.
Straumann had previously alleged that law firm Mishcon de Reya’s claim that the book was “full of errors” was devoid of evidence.
However, when contacted today, James Libson, a partner of the firm, categorically denied the “bullying” allegation.
He said that, in accordance with normal practice, it was the BBC that had contacted his firm via telephone seeking a response to Straumann’s claims.
Referring to Mishcon’s letter to the BBC dated January 15, 2015, a copy of which was provided to FMT, Libson explained, “We did not bully the BBC. We wrote to the BBC once we understood it was conducting an interview with Dr Straumann.
“We pointed out that Dr Straumann’s book was defamatory; that it contained very many untrue allegations; that we had provided the rebuttal for many; and that Dr Straumann had refused to properly engage with those rebuttals.”
The letter went on to read, that should the BBC wish to publish any allegations (sic.) about either their client or the firm, the broadcasting company should put it in writing to them first, providing a reasonable time to respond.
“All this is completely standard practice,” Libson reiterated.
In a separate letter dated January 15, 2015 from Mishcon to Straumann, Mishcon had sought to rebut several allegations said to be contained in the book.
“Dr Straumann’s quotes are not accurate. He has a habit of selectively and misleadingly quoting from our letters and failing entirely to deal with the substance of them,” added Libson.
One much repeated allegation “found to be untrue” by a Japanese court was that Taib had used his brother, Onn Mahmud, to control the export of timber, and that Onn had abused his powers to secure “kickbacks” from Japanese shipping companies. According to Mishcon, the suggestion that Onn had control over exports was “nonsense” since no licence was needed for the export of timber from Sarawak in the first place.
The letter also asserted that the Japanese shipping lines involved had issued payment pursuant to a freight agreement entered into with Dewan Niaga (Sarawak) Sdn in 1981, prior to Onn securing a partial interest in that company.
Mishcon further asserted that these payments were the subject of scrutiny by the Japanese authorities and had been declared legitimate. The letter further pointed out that a subsequent defamation lawsuit taken out by Taib centring around the very same allegations was settled in Taib’s favour with Malaysiakini, the defendant in the suit, who issued an apology and retraction of the allegations.
Mishcon’s letter also slammed another allegation which suggested that the family of a timber tycoon had sold a multi-million dollar property to Taib’s family for a nominal sum, which it said was untrue and contained an “implicit” allegation of bribery.
Straumann had claimed in the book that the Yaw family had sold to the Taib family a parcel of real estate at 1117 Boylston Ave E in Seattle for a mere US$1.
However, according to Taib’s solicitors, the Yaw family had in fact transferred the property via a Quit Claim Deed for a nominal sum to W A Boylston Inc, a special purpose vehicle company set up by the Yaws themselves and based in California. A copy of this was provided to FMT.
Mishcon further asserted in its letter to Straumann that the Taib family had no involvement whatsoever in that transaction but that it subsequently acquired the property from W A Boylston legitimately and “at full market value”.
When asked by FMT, Libson said to the best of his knowledge, the BBC has yet to broadcast any programme or interview relating to Straumann’s book.