Sarawak entrepreneur Mahmud Abu Bekir Taib today demolished suggestions made by his former wife that he is a multi-billionaire, telling a Shariah court here instead that 90 per cent of his stake in Cahya Mata Sarawak was pledged with banks as collateral for loans, while purported offshore bank accounts were false.
“My personal liabilities in loans for my businesses are substantial,” he said.
Mahmud revealed this in the Shariah High Court here during re-examination by his counsel before Judge Muhamad Abdul Karim Wahab in a RM100 million ‘mutaah’ divorce claim brought by ex-wife Shahnaz Abdul Majid against him.
Shahnaz had previously claimed that Mahmud held 111 offshore bank accounts in Canada, the US, the Caribbean, France, Luxembourg, Monaco, Hong Kong and Switzerland, and owned substantial properties both locally and abroad.
Shahnaz’s allegations apparently led Sarawak Report, operated by British political activist Clare Rewcastle Brown, and the Bruno Manser Fund to repeat similar allegations globally against Mahmud and his father Sarawak Governor Abdul Taib Mahmud, as well as other members of his family.
They also led to Swiss lawmakers demanding that its banks disclose full details of Mahmud’s accounts, while the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) began investigations on the local front.
“This court has not been shown any evidence or proof that these accounts exist,” Mahmud told the court earlier. “Neither have these offshore banks been called in to testify as to their existence.”
“They are not real,” he had earlier told the court, adding that the claim made by Shahnaz were “forgeries masquerading as hacks.”
Asked to clarify how they were obtained, Mahmud explained, “The forged documents were obtained by my former wife and her legal team at a time when the fraudsters involved were running away from the arms of the law.”
It had been widely reported that Cullen Johnson and Elaine White were extradited to the US from a Turks and Caicos prison on April 10, 2013 on charges of money laundering, tax evasion and several charges of fraud valued at over US$1 million. Johnson and White were caught and arrested by the FBI and have now been indicted and jailed.
Mahmud also pointed out to the court a Harakah Daily news report which Shahnaz had tendered in evidence earlier, which he said showed that Sarawak Report had carried the allegedly defamatory reports.
When asked what led to their separation and ultimately, their divorce, Mahmud testified that there had been no common understanding between them and that there were no attempts by his former wife to arrive at any compromise. As a result, the husband-and-wife relationship deteriorated.
They went on to live separately in different rooms and eventually in different residences for 12 years and 4 months before divorcing in 2011.
On claims that he had assets amounting to over RM1 billion, Mahmud told the court that the report by his former wife’s appointed audit firm Ferrier Hodgson MH was not credible. He claimed that auditor Andrew Heng who had prepared the report had not verified his shareholding either with him or with the corporate secretaries of the companies in question, and therefore was not in a position to determine his true wealth.
“The report had failed to take into consideration my liabilities and the loans taken by my companies and me when assessing my wealth,” Mahmud testified.
He also said that the audit firm had even made gross mistakes such as claiming barren bush land to be productive oil palm plantations with harvest potential.
In addition to the RM100 million conciliatory gift (mutaah) which was the subject matter of the present claim, Shahnaz had also filed several other claims seeking RM500 million in matrimonial assets.
She, however, lost a RM141 million claim for child maintenance, when the Appellate Court ruled unanimously in Mahmud’s favour on July 14 that Shahnaz could not make the claim on behalf of their only son Raden Murya Abdul Taib Mahmud who had achieved the age of majority and was competent to do so in his own capacity. Shahnaz had sought child maintenance in the form of a terrace house in London (RM60 million), two Aston Martins (RM5.5 million), and a private trust fund (RM40 million to be held by her).
The court was also told that both father and son have an excellent relationship, with Raden currently working for Mahmud in one of his companies.
Written submissions for the mutaah claim are to be submitted by October 30 and the verdict is scheduled for January 11, 2016.
Mahmud was represented by Zainul Rijal Abu Bakar and Saadiah Din, while Mohd Rafie Mohd Shafie and Akberdin bin Abdul Kader acted on behalf of Shahnaz.