The media hype for this book was annoying. In the lead-up to its launch in Yokohama, the publishers had stirred the interest of many. It got this reviewer scouring Melbourne book stores for a copy, only to discover that the exclusive mail order company operated out of Canberra and would take some days to ship. Stocks of the book had yet to arrive then and by the end of a two-week summer vacation, it didn’t look that a copy would be in the reviewer’s hands. Mail order in Malaysia was a tad slow too. The reviewer finally got a copy out of Kuala Lumpur’s biggest bookstore Kinokuniya at the KLCC. But you can’t find it there anymore.
Reading a documentary book such as this requires discipline. Money Logging by Lukas Straumann takes us on a long trail of the many episodes that the author had uncovered of the timber mafia and their dark operations – from better money-making through politics to money-laundering through global connected banks. The book centers on a string of characters, the most notable being the current Governor of Sarawak state in Malaysia, Abdul Taib Mahmud. It also implicates the big institutions such as UBS, HSBC and Deutsche Bank. The reviewer is left in awe, fascinated by the intrigues. It also prompts the reviewer to think of the battery of lawsuits that would emerge. It is not just Taib. The financial institutions bound by strict banking regulatory rules are apt to strike back in defence of their good name.
Straumann kicks-off like a thriller.
“An insider tells all: Rainforest despot Taib has amassed a worldwide real estate empire worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Even the FBI is one of Taib’s tenants. The nerve centre of the property empire is in an upmarket suburb of the Canadian capital, Ottawa. A secret rendezvous with the whistle-blower ends in a nightmare.”
The author does a neat job in methodically laying out the milestones of the timber trail. We are taken across continents to show the magnitude of the game – the history, the people, the players, the landscape, the logistics, the politics, the environmental impact, even the banks and to follow the money. There are stalkers, paranoia, suicide and possibly murder to spice up the book. There are graphics to underscore. What it does not have though is the supporting evidence to back the claims, especially those that seem exaggerated.
“One of the central arguments in this book is that while Taib and his family have committed untold crimes in Sarawak and under Malaysian law, they have also committed crimes in the process of moving their fortune abroad, including, but not limited to: fraud, tax evasion, and money laundering.”
The 300-page book goes on at length to speak of the many other companies and their global foot print in the timber destruction.
There is even a divorce where a disillusioned wife rants of 111 purported off-shore bank accounts.
“Shahnaz Abdul Majid had been married for 19 years to Taib’s elder son, Abu Bekir, before he abandoned her for a young Russian blonde. Shahnaz’s testimony also sent shock waves to Switzerland. However, her accusations could not be substantiated.”
For serious readers wanting more than just intrigues and catchy copy hooks, the book comes out somewhat hollow with not much rock-hard evidence offered. The adage, seeing is believing, rules. There isn’t much presented in the book to provide that conviction. Visuals presented in the book showed flora and fauna, logging works, riled activists, and Bruno Manser, the man to whom the book attributes its legacy.
Thus far, the Malaysian Anti Corruption Commission, the highest authority in the country, has found no evidence to charge anybody despite the claims. So where is the proof? Is it in this book? Sadly no.