Wednesday, March 20, 2013

What Do We Do About THAT Video?

By now you must have seen the video recorded undercover by Global Witness allegedly implicating Sarawak Chief Minister Tan Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud, his family members, lawyers as well as state authorities in alleged fraudulent land dealings and tax evasion.

Malaysians have rightfully called for a probe following the “revelations”. Let’s deal with the legal eagles first.

If the allegations were proven true, the lawyers would be in breach of Legal Profession (Practice & Etiquette) Rules. A probe should also be carried out by the Advocates’ Association of Sarawak against the Sibu and Kuching-based lawyers featured in the video.

Police reports should be lodged. The evasion of Real Property Gains Tax (RPGT) is a big loss to the government and if a lawyer is involved, it is in breach of the Legal Profession Act. If two agreements (on land transfer) are drafted, then the parties would be paying minimal RPGT and this is a clear case of defrauding the government.

The Advocates’ Association of Sarawak said it would not hesitate to take action against any member involved in illegal dealings.

Its president Khairil Azmi said they will view the video to establish breach of legal ethics. If there is a breach, they will lodge a complaint with the inquiry committee which is an independent body.

Lawyer Alvin Chong should be aware that the Singapore Wall, Chinese, Swiss or otherwise, does not quite act as a buffer to the official inquiry of a Malaysian tax officer.

A perusal of the Malaysia-Singapore Double Taxation Agreement, especially Article 26, reveals that ‘information can be exchanged between the two nations for for the prevention or detection of evasion or avoidance of taxes’.

Any tax officer worth his salt would be able to make a solid case for the resultant profits to be subject not to RPGT but to Income Tax, leading to not only higher taxes but a host of other unwelcome consequences as well.

While the fine under Section 114 - Wilful Evasion is RM20,000, the offence brings with it three years in the slammer as well.

The other lawyer concerned, Huang Lung Ong has claimed that he was trapped. He was consulted on legal matters regarding land, he said.

“I may have uttered some words out of frustration as he (the 'foreign investor') kept on asking me many questions. I was pressured,”.

Huang claimed that what he had said to the "foreign investor" was mere “coffeeshop” talk.

Taib on his part suggested that his cousins and others implicated in the video exposé were promoting themselves to be his agents to solicit favors.

“It has nothing to do with me. I think it is a bit naughty of them. They are using their big powers to blacken my name,” the Sarawak chief minister said when approached by reporters in the state capital Kuching.

So what’s being done about the video?

MACC director of investigations Mustafar Ali said a file had been opened based on previous corruption allegations against Taib. The investigation is under way, Mustafar said and added that with the new evidence that has emerged the MACC will act accordingly.

The MACC had two years ago confirmed that they were investigating Taib over allegation of timber corruption.

“We are investigating Taib Mahmud and whatever our action is, we cannot reveal at this moment as the investigation is ongoing,” MACC commissioner Datuk Seri Abu Kassim Mohamed said in June 2011.

Meanwhile 22 Swiss MPs have filed a motion in their Parliament urging the immediate freeze of assets belonging to Sarawak Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud and his family that are being held by Swiss banks.

The British government will be monitoring the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission’s (MACC) investigation into Sarawak Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud as well.

The Spanker says:
The MACC and other relevant authorities like the Internal Revenue Board must investigate' and confirm if tax evasion has taken place. The attorney-general, the Companies Commission and police must also investigate the allegedly illegal dealings; and Wisma Putra must come up with a clear statement on Singapore’s cooperation regarding banking information.

All these bodies must act without fear or favor and not delay investigation into this video. Firm and decisive action must be taken to sort this matter out once and for all as Malaysians have a right to know the truth.

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