Sarawak controversies

Global Witness, a corruption busting NGO focusing on resource-based industries, recently released a video sting on Sarawak land deals. The video features cousins of the long-time Sarawak Chief Minister Taib and two lawyers. They are shown explaining to the purported foreign investor how he might acquire oil palm plantation land and circumvent Malaysian regulations on foreign-ownership limits and evade real property gains tax by using nominees and effecting so-called secret payments via a Singapore entity.

source:, accessed 11pm on 22 March 2013

Khor Reports comment:

Stories about timber and oil palm links to corruption are not new. Various NGOs have been featuring similar issues in Sarawak. These include the Bruno Manser Fund and the Sarawak Report (run by Clare Rewcastle Brown, a sister-in-law of UK ex-Prime Minister Gordon Brown). Global Witness is a prominent NGO and its film about Sarawak land dealings is attention-grabbing. Sarawak issues may gain more global attention, building on other NGO exposes. Global Witness notes on its website: "Our campaigning led to the creation of the precedent-setting Kimberley Process Certification Scheme and to our joint nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize. Three years later we contributed to research and campaigning around the 2006 Hollywood blockbuster, Blood Diamond."

Indeed, the Global Witness report, "Corruption in Malaysia laid bare as investigation catches Sarawak’s ruling elite on camera," (weblink:, has garnered over 900,000 views on youtube in just three days (in English and Malay languages).

Sarawak is Malaysia’s remaining frontier for oil palm expansion, and various controversies have arisen in recent years. These include:

a)    The IOI–Pelita landmark case: At end March 2010, the Miri High Court declared four natives the winner in a class action suit against the Sarawak government, Land Custody and Development Authority and IOI Pelita Plantation Sdn Bhd. Reports on the RSPO website indicates that IOI subsequently lost control of the estate.
b)    Hundreds of pending land dispute cases: A listing of land disputes for 1995 to 2010 is available on various Sarawak linked websites, including here: 
c)    Sime Darby case: A former CEO of the largest plantation company in the world, stands accused of CBT over a Sarawak oil palm land deal apparently gone sour.

d)    Recent expansion: Some academic satellite imagery studies show significant oil palm development in Sarawak in recent years (including on peat land). This supports recent comments by Dorab Mistry, a key speaker on palm oil market and prices, that there has been significant expansion in the Sarawak palm oil sector.