|Taib Mahmud, chief minister of Sarawak for 33 years & consummate robber baron|
A sad tale of the Asian timber mafia and the man who did more than anything to create it, Abdul Taib Mahmud. By Lukas Straumann, Bergli Books. Softback, 313 pp. Available in major bookstores.
On Oct. 3, 2011, a depressed, paranoid former chief operating officer for a San Francisco-based property company called Sakti International named Ross Boyert slipped a plastic bag over his head, taped it tight and suffocated himself to death in a Los Angeles hotel room. He was 61.
But Boyert, however delusionary he was when he died, left behind him an explosive legacy – the details of virtually all of the properties owned by Abdul Taib Mahmud, the longest serving public official in Malaysia. It is a breathtaking collection according to the documents that Boyert - who was fired by the Taib interests - gave to a crusading journalist named Clare Rewcastle Brown. They show that Taib, through nominees, family members and other subterfuges, is worth in excess of US$21 billion.
Taib is not mentioned on the Forbes list of Malaysia’s richest, but if he were, he would be worth almost twice as much as the man listed as richest - Robert Kuok, whose fortune is in property, sugar, palm oil and shipping. He would also be about halfway up the list of the world’s 50 richest billionaires although his name is not mentioned there either. That is because, according to this book by Lukas Straumann, Taib amassed his entire fortune illegally, as undoubtedly a handful of others have around the world that remains hidden. Nonetheless, according to Boyert’s documents and the research by Rewcastle Brown and Straumann, he is an engine of corruption the likes of which the world has never seen.
Taib built his real estate empire in Canada, the United States, Australia and the East Malaysia state of Sarawak on timber. Into the process, in his 33 years as chief minister, he staged some of the most depressing environmental destruction on the planet. An estimated 98 percent of the old-growth timber of Sarawak, a state three times the size of Switzerland, is gone, sold via timber permits to logging companies, many of them connected to him, that shipped the logs to Japan, China and across much of the rest of the world.
[Read the full review here.]