Swiss Attorney General Probes UBS Over Malaysian Timber Proceeds

logs in Sabah
A logging dump in Sabah, Malaysia (Photo by David Edwards / Laurance Lab)


BERN, Switzerland, September 4, 2012 (ENS) – Switzerland’s Attorney General has opened a criminal investigation into the country’s largest bank, UBS AG, over suspected money laundering of timber corruption proceeds from the Malaysian state of Sabah on the island of Borneo.

The case against UBS was opened on August 29, following a criminal complaint by the Bruno Manser Fund over the bank’s close ties with Sabah Chief Minister Musa Aman.

logs in Sabah
A logging dump in Sabah, Malaysia (Photo by David Edwards / Laurance Lab)

The existence of the investigation was confirmed on August 29 by the Office of the Attorney General in the Swiss capital, Bern.

The Bruno Manser Fund accuses “Musa Aman and his nominees” of laundering more than US$90 million of corruption proceeds from the tropical timber business in Sabah, Borneo, through a number of UBS bank accounts in Hong Kong.

Musa Aman also has a personal bank account with UBS in Zurich.

According to the Bruno Manser Fund, UBS has failed to properly apply due diligence, as is required by law when dealing with “politically exposed persons.”

As head of the Sabah state government and also the brother of the Malaysian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Anifah Aman, Musa Aman qualifies as a politically exposed person.

The case is based on Switzerland’s tough anti-money-laundering legislation, which makes it a criminal offense for Swiss companies to be involved in laundering the proceeds of corruption and other crime in their worldwide activities.

Danum Valley
The Danum Valley Conservation Area is a 438 square kilometer area of untouched lowland forest in Sabah, Malaysia. (Photo by Mario Graziano)

The Swiss case comes just two weeks before the announced visit of the British royal couple, Prince William and Kate Middleton, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, to Malaysia. The royal couple are planning to visit Sabah on September 14 and 15. On September 14, they will travel to Kota Kinabalu, where they will attend a reception hosted by the Sabah State Government in their honor.

The Duke and Duchess will travel by government helicopter to Sabah’s largest remaining rainforest at Danum Valley on September 15, where they will meet Royal Society scientists and volunteers and experience the rainforest.

They likely will not see nearby logged rainforest land that was once one of the world’s most biodiverse habitats.

The Bruno Manser Fund alleges that Musa Aman “has personally benefited from the large-scale logging” of these rainforests near the Danum Valley.

The Bruno Manser Fund was founded in 1991 by Swiss-born conservationist Bruno Manser, who campaigned for the protection of Malaysian rainforests and the respect for human rights.

Between 1984 and 1990, Manser lived in the Malaysian state of Sarawak with the Penan, one of the world’s last nomadic peoples still inhabiting the rainforest.

Confronted with the destruction of the rainforest by the timber industry, he helped the Penan to resist further intrusion by the loggers and became the international mouthpiece for these threatened people.

He published a book entitled “Voices from the Rainforest” in 1992, held numerous lectures and drew attention through spectacular protest actions.

In 1993, Manser went on a 60-day hunger strike in front of the Swiss federal parliament building in Berne in the hope of obtaining an import ban on tropical timber and the introduction of mandatory declarations for timber.

In 1999, he landed on the roof of the Chief Minister’s residence in the Sarawak capital of Kuching on a motorized hang glider.

Manser disappeared after his last journey to Sarawak in May 2000. The last known trace of him was on May 25, 2000 in the Borneo rainforest, and several search parties have failed to find him. On March 10, 2005, the cantonal civil court of Basel-Stadt officially declared Manser missing and presumed dead.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2012. All rights reserved.

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