ICAC urged to reopen HK$100m Malaysian 'dirty money' probe

Malaysian delegation hands over new evidence in bid to persuade ICAC to reopen money laundering and bribery probe linked to timber trade

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 16 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 16 December, 2012, 4:40am

Hong Kong's graft-busters are being urged to reopen a HK$100 million international money laundering and bribery probe.

Fresh evidence has been handed to the Independent Commission Against Corruption by anti-graft advocates from Malaysia.

The inquiry involves allegations of money being funnelled into a Swiss bank account via Hong Kong.

It is linked to the 2008 arrest of Malaysian timber businessman Michael Chia Tien-foh, who was caught trying to smuggle S$16 million in cash out of the city.

The ICAC launched a joint probe with its counterpart in Malaysia, but the investigation was dropped in October.

Three weeks ago, Rafizi Ramli, of the Malaysian opposition People's Justice Party and who is director of the anti-graft group National Oversight & Whistleblowers, lobbied the ICAC to reopen the case and met members of the Legislative Council.

He was also in the delegation from Malaysia that met ICAC officials last Wednesday to hand over the new evidence.

He said yesterday: "I'm confident the ICAC are looking at it seriously. This is the one of the biggest scandals to hit Malaysia and the public are angry."

The investigation centres on Chia, who is suspected of accepting kickbacks from logging companies in exchange for lucrative timber licences in the naturalresources-rich state of Sabah, in Malaysian Borneo. Chia has been linked to Sabah's chief minister, Musa Aman, of Umno, the dominant party in Malaysia's ruling coalition. The dirty money is alleged to have been channelled through a complex web of bank accounts in Hong Kong and Singapore managed by Chia and paid to Aman's lawyer in Sabah, Richard Christopher Barnes.

Barnes is alleged to have then transferred it to bank accounts held by Aman in Switzerland.

The previous ICAC investigation found the money was a political donation to Aman's party and not for personal use.

But Ramli said: "The people in Sabah are some of the poorest in Malaysia, but their chief minister is living in luxury."

Ramli said the delegation would also write to Hong Kong's director of public prosecutions, Kevin Zervos, to ask for the case to be reopened.

An ICAC spokeswoman said the closed case involved several Malaysian nationals, including a government official, who were suspected of breaching the Prevention of Bribery Ordinance.

"The ICAC is prepared to review the case if there is any further information or evidence which may assist the completed investigation," she said.