Monday 3 June 2019

Jamilah Taib Murray continues campaign against Swiss NGO

Back in February of this year a Swiss court ordered the Malaysian-Canadian entrepreneur Jamilah Taib Murray and her Canadian husband Sean Murray to pay C$220,000 in damages, as well as C$26,000 in court costs, to the Swiss NGO Bruno Manser Fonds (BMF), which campaigns on behalf of rainforests and the people who live in them.
Jamilah Taib Murray

The initial ruling was upheld at the end of May, with the Court of Appeal ordering payment of an additional C$18,000 in damages and $C13,500 in court costs.

But this battle is far from over. Directly after the loss of the appeal, Thomas Weibel, the Swiss lawyer for Jamilah Taib Murray and Sean Murray, confirmed that the defamation lawsuit against BMF and its Executive Director, Lukas Straumann, was continuing.

As with the initial attempt at an injunction, the claim is that BMF and Straumann have engaged in a multi-year campaign of unfounded allegations against the Taib Murrays. On the Canadian front, the Taib Murrays' Canadian lawyers at noticia LLP, via the website, have said that the "full legal attention" of the complainants will now be directed at resolving the defamation suit.

Specifically, the Taib Murrays and their real estate firm Sakto Corp have invoked the statutory right to claim so-called “infringer’s profit”. This means that BMF will have to account for the ways in which it has raised money to finance its campaign against Sakto and the Taib Murrays.

It is unclear how effective this policy will be. As has previously been reported, La politica has been in contact with Dominik Bucheli, BMF Chairman, and he has declared that "BMF's legal strategy in Canada has been fully endorsed by the Board of BMF,” further stating that “BMF members are annually updated on BMF's finances and activities, and have the opportunity to question and discuss the use of funds at the annual general meeting.”

Part of the argument presented by Wiebel is that BMF has, in fact, done little to help the people of the rainforest. Given that BMF is named after the Swiss environmental activist Bruno Manser, who devoted his life to saving the rainforest in Borneo, the argument is that BMF has put more effort into its legal campaigns than into environmental work.

This is a remarkable and audacious claim, given that BMF's core argument is that it is in fact Jamilah Taib Murray, via her relationship with her father, Abdul Taib Mahmud, the former Chief Minister of Sarawak, Borneo, who has benefited financially from the destruction of the rainforest. As a further irony, it would presumably be money from these alleged illegal practices that is now helping to finance the campaign against BMF.

As it stands, Mrs. Taib Murray has to date been unable to account for her astounding wealth. She has never worked for anyone other than herself, yet beginning in the 1980s she began accruing a real estate portfolio that is now worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Her father and her extended family are also awash in cash and real estate. Like her, they have never explained how this "rags to riches" story came to pass.

According to BMF, the answer is simple enough. During his decades in power, Abdul Taib Mahmud oversaw the destruction of over 90% of Sarawak's rainforest, and its conversion to palm oil plantations. The theory is that Abdul Taib Mahmud, who is considered by some to be among Asia's most accomplished kleptocrats, employed a number of corrupt practices to ensure that revenue from timber concessions came his way.

Incredibly, Sakto has written to BMF’s Board of Directors to "question the legitimacy and validity of the campaign against Sakto and its founders in Canada, asking about any measurable benefits to the indigenous tribes and the rainforest in Malaysia after Lukas Straumann’s decade-long effort."

One counter-argument is that, should Sakto and its owners come clean as to the origins of their remarkable wealth, there might be an opportunity to provide funds in support of the indigenous people of Sarawak, who have seen their ancestral lands devastated, leaving them impoverished. As it stands, Jamilah Taib Murray and her husband are active in philanthropic circles in Ottawa, but appear to have little interest in the poverty suffered by the people of Borneo.

Given Jamilah Taib Murray's access to such significant wealth, with no legal requirement for her to account for where her money came from, or how it is spent, we can expect this legal action to extend for many more months - if not years.

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