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Friday, 22 February 2019

Jamilah Taib and Sean Murray ordered to pay $220,000 to Swiss NGO

A Swiss court has 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).

(For an update on this story, see Jamilah Taib Murray continues campaign against Swiss NGO.)

This decision is the first round in a larger defamation suit. Jamilah Taib Murray and Sean Murray, who are active in philanthropic circles in Ottawa, are continuing to seek a permanent injunction that would ban 255 publications and 1,100 “infringing statements” allegedly made by BMF. The Ottawa couple are specifically named as plaintiffs in the suit, as are two of their companies, Sakto Corporation and Sakto Development Corporation.
The BMF team after the court victory in Basel, Switzerland

BMF, named in honour of the late Swiss environmentalist Bruno Manser, has been running a campaign against deforestation in the Malaysian state of Sarawak, on the island of Borneo. It claims that over many years Jamilah Taib Murray, as the daughter of Sarawak’s chief minister, Abdul Taib Mahmud, has received significant financial support from her father, who is alleged to have engaged in corrupt practices in Malaysia.

Jamilah Taib Murray and Sean Murray file main civil court proceedings

The most recent Swiss court decision rejected the argument that there was an urgent need for an injunction. In response to the decision on Friday, February 8, lawyers for Jamilah Taib Murray and Sean Murray immediately followed up by filing main civil court proceedings against BMF.

This next stage of the court proceedings, which was not unexpected, could now take years to resolve, with Jamilah Taib Murray and Sean Murray’s stated goal being for the court to “order the permanent removal of the defamatory material from the public domain.”

All told, BMF estimates that Jamilah Taib Murray and Sean Murray control over $250 million in real estate assets in Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom, the United States and Malaysia. In Ottawa, the couple own Preston Square, which consists of three office towers and a condominium complex west of downtown. They also own a significant amount of real estate in London, England.

Thomas Weibel, attorney at law and partner at VISCHER in Switzerland, has asserted that the Ottawa couple “will pursue every legal avenue” in the hopes of restoring their reputation, further stating that the application for an injunction “was only the first step” in the legal action in the Basel civil court.
Jamilah Taib and Sean Murray

This recent court decision is a rare piece of good news for BMF. For years, the Swiss NGO has alerted authorities around the world, alleging that Jamilah Taib Murray and Sean Murray have been engaged in money laundering. Not one jurisdiction – including Canada – has pursued the allegations.

Most recently, BMF took the couple’s flagship Canadian company, Sakto Corporation, to court in Ontario in order to obtain confidential financial information from some Canadian banks and investment firms. In February 2018, the judge in that decision, Sean Dunphy, rejected BMF’s claim, stating that much of information relating to the corruption allegations "is of the hearsay variety," with none of it having been proven in court.
Deforestation in Borneo

The court in Switzerland, however, was in no rush to comply with an injunction against BMF. The case was first heard on December 7, 2018. It took two months for the judge to rule not only that there was no urgency to the defamation concerns, but also that Jamilah Taib Murray and Sean Murray were on the hook for significant court costs and legal fees.

Sakto Corporation seeks BMF financial records

During this next stage of the case, the lawyers for Jamilah Taib Murray and Sean Murray have the legal right to claim so-called “infringer’s profit,” which would give them legal access to BMF’s financial records.

Specifically, lawyers for the couple have called into question BMF’s fundraising practices. They have expressed concern that supporters of BMF may be misinformed, and unaware of the extent to which they are donating funds to support an ongoing legal campaign, as opposed to activities specific to saving the rainforest.

In response to a query from La politica, BMF Executive Director Lukas Straumann stated that in the past two years BMF has spent C$771,000 in legal fees and court costs in Canada. The annual budget for BMF is over C$2,750,000.

“Please be assured that BMF's legal strategy in Canada has been fully endorsed by the Board of BMF,” Dominik Bucheli, BMF Chairman, told La politica. “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.”

BMF is also fighting back. Late last year the NGO lodged a criminal complaint in Switzerland for defamation against two employees of the influential Geneva public relations (PR) agency Cabinet Privé des Conseils (CPC). BMF alleges that CPC, which Jamilah Taib Murray and Sean Murray have engaged, sent a letter with “allegations against the honor of Lukas Straumann.”

With most recent decision, BMF documents still available

As a result of the recent decision by the Swiss court, the BMF documents alleging wrong-doing on the part of Jamilah Taib and Sean Murray remain accessible to the public.

These include the book Money Logging, written by Straumann, which includes a section specific to the allegations against Jamilah Taib Murray and Sean Murray.

They also include the BMF-sponsored document Safe Haven Canada, which maps out Jamilah Taib Murray’s remarkable ascent into upper echelons of Ottawa’s business elite. As a young, unemployed student in 1983, Jamilah Taib Murray began acquiring significant amounts of property in the Ottawa area. She once claimed her website that her unlikely success was due to "a little luck, coupled with a great team, and a ‘can-do’ attitude."

As the next stages proceed, BMF will be under intense scrutiny to defend the accuracy of its allegations. Jamilah Taib Murray and Sean Murray will also be afforded the opportunity to indicate why the allegations against them are false. Should the power couple present a legitimate narrative that supports their remarkable business success, it would be a strong counter to the persistent allegations that they owe their success to criminal activity.

One challenge to BMF has been that Abdul Taib Mahmud has significant influence and political protection within Malaysia. This may be slowly changing, however, given that on February 19, offices in Sarawak were raided by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC).  In the past, MACC has largely ignored Sarawak, but now its probe into alleged corruption and bribery within the Companies Commission of Malaysia (CCM) is intensifying. Specifically, MACC has been investigating the CCM over allegations that it bypassed the open-tender process in the award of contracts. This has been a standard practice that has allowed Abdul Taib Mahmud, his family, and cronies, to profit from the logging of the rainforest and subsequent investment in palm plantations.

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