Ever since he married into it, Sean Murray, now Hisham Murray-Taib, has acted on the basis that money talks.
The Ottawa businessman runs the Sarawak governor Taib Mahmud’s multi-million dollar family companies across North America, including SAKTO Corporation Canada, with an aggressive stance against anyone who dares to point out that they have been funded through illicit transfers of purloined Malaysian assets by his kleptocrat father-in-law.
The big money strategy has involved buying deep into the Ottawa establishment, becoming known as a major political and charitable donor, whilst at the same time purchasing expensive and threatening lawyers and PR firms to ward off scrutiny.
Against Sarawak Report Murray has pitched the notorious London SLAPP suit litigators, Mission de Reya, to issue libel threats, as well as having hired no less than two now discredited ‘Black PR’ companies (Bell Pottinger and FBC Media) to personally defame and harass the editor through major online vilification campaigns.
These dirty, bully-boy tactics reached new heights more recently during Murray’s battles against the Swiss NGO, Bruno Manser Fund, which has sought to champion the native people of Sarawak whose lands have been decimated by the rampant, kleptocratic logging and plantation businesses controlled by the autocratic Abdul Taib Mahmud.
Murray initially achieved stunning results after hiring heavy handed lawyers and politically influential lobbyists in Canada, and then taking his offensive against the NGO right into the Swiss courts with a punishingly expensive libel action and criminal complaint.
However, a ruling by the prestigious international body the OECD on Monday, whilst slow in coming, has turned the matter on its head.
That ruling has condemned decisions by Canadian Government officials that earlier favoured SAKTO Corporation, and in the process it has revealed the exact nature of the big-money influence and pressure that Sean Murray brought to bear against the NGO, demanding that the Canadian authorities now take the matter properly in hand and repair the damage done to BMF.
Six Year Battle Finally Turns To Favour BMF
Sean Murray has pursued the NGO ever since it dared to suggest back in 2016 that his wife, Jamilah Taib’s family company in Canada, SAKTO Corporation, owed far greater transparency as an international corporation than the level of disclosure being provided to the Canadian authorities. SAKTO’s argument was that it is merely a multi-million dollar ‘family company’ and so exempt.
BMF had appealed to the international Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) to review the matter according to that organisations own rules which Canada is bound by through international treaties. The NGO was entirely within its rights to raise the complaint under the OECD’s own guidelines.
After all, BMF was concerned that financial information about SAKTO’s sources of income was being concealed which would have publicly confirmed that the company’s Canadian investments flowed from kleptocratic abuses in Sarawak (as demonstrated time and again by this site) as opposed to the Murray family’s myth that their wealth had nothing to do with the Taib’s but had come from their own earlier business dealings over two generations.
BMF’s complaint had initially received prompt and positive attention from Canada’s ‘OECD National Contact Point’ within the Ottawa government.
In October 2016 the NGO formally received an 11 page fully argued draft assessment of the OECD response which upheld each and every one of BMF’s concerns, and likewise denied the counter-arguments put forward by Sakto’s lawyers during the negotiating process – meaning that SAKTO Corporation ought indeed be defined as an international organisation and to therefore publish comprehensive financial statements.
The stark recommendation was that the OECD should ‘proceed to a full review of the Sakto Group and the complaints relating to its shortcomings’, referring in the process to the OECD guidelines supported by the Government of Canada.
However, at that point matters suddenly stalled and the influence of hidden hands started to become only too apparent. As Sarawak Report detailed in March 2017:
BMF eventually became aware of a considerable delay in proceeding to the review. When the NGO enquired about the delay the OECD officials explained:
“The NCP has received extensive commentary from Sakto’s legal counsel, which we are now in the process of reviewing. We thank you for your understanding. Please be assured that the NCP is doing its best to move this process forward as quickly as possible.”
Six months later, however, instead of proceeding to the review, the Canadian OECD Contact Point completely reversed its original recommendations, without providing a single explanation why!
A new Draft Assessment was created, which consisted of a mere one and a half pages, simply dismissing the complaint, without any of the detailed breakdown provided by the original document that had supported the BMF concerns.
For Lukas Straumann, the Director of BMF, the change represented an outrageous and unexplained volte face by the Canadian office of the OECD. He later told Sarawak Report:
“The Canadian NCP of the OECD produced an extensive initial draft assessment that was highly detailed and closely argued, according to the legal position and guidelines on OECD policy. That process had taken over a year.
Then, suddenly, a last minute heavy intervention by Sakto’s lawyers was allowed to delay the entire process and the NCP went completely silent about what new representations were being made or what other interferences were taking place. The outcome has been a total reversal of their original closely explained findings, which has been replaced by a one page rejection of our submissions, without analysis or explanation.”
BMF pressed for an explanation and after they did not receive one they took the step of making public their copy of the original draft assessment in order to issue their complaint over the extraordinary handling of their case and the failure by the Canadian officials to provide a single explanation, beyond some interesting acknowledgements in their published statement that pressure had indeed been brought to bear.
That statement tellingly referred to “Sakto involving a Member of Parliament during the confidential NCP assessment process; (…) Sakto’s aggressive challenge of the NCP’s jurisdiction; (…) Sakto’s legal counsel making submissions to the Government of Canada’s Deputy Minister of Justice…”
After BMF released the proof over the OECD’s apparent volte face the local office issued a ‘Final Statement’ in which it criticised BMF for releasing the confidential earlier document as if that was a reason for the decision to dismiss the complaint against SAKTO. In fact, their decision had of course been made before BMF published the contradictions in the OECD’s findings. They had only done so after being provoked by the OECD officials’ own lack of transparency.
Later, a great deal more has come out about the reasons behind the change of heart thanks to an expose by the Canadian news outlet Ricochet which detailed how Sean Murray had picked up the phone to influential political pals who then unleashed a campaign together with his lawyers against the Canadian officers of the OECD (it was plainly very important to Sean Murray that he should not be required to be transparent about SAKTO’s sources of income).
Sarawak Report covered the story in 2019 which revealed Sean Murray had turned to a family friend and neighbour who happened to be their local Ottawa MP (the Murrays had recently accommodated the MPs daughter at one of their London apartments).
Andrew Leslie MP was led to understand by Murray that the environmental and human rights NGO had been conducting a “troubling campaign” against his super-wealthy pal, according to correspondence obtained by Ricochet, so the MP abused his position to intervene in the official process, even threatening the jobs of those Canadian OECD staff members if they did not pull back from their conclusions about SAKTO’s obligations under international rules:
The individual to whom Sean then directed his call, as his lawyers have now acknowledged to Ricochet’s reporter Tim Wilson, was the Ottawa MP Andrew Leslie, who has now issued a statement admitting he responded to Sean’s request by seeking to influence the OECD position on the matter.
“Sakto reached out to Andrew Leslie as the Member of Parliament at the time for Ottawa-Vanier to make him aware of the OECD proceedings,” wrote [SAKTO] lawyer Duncan Fraser in an email.
In a personal letter to the Murrays dated May 28, 2018, Leslie said that they had asked him for help as the MP “overseeing the Ottawa-Vanier riding office” in November 2016. Leslie recounted that the Murrays had drawn his attention to “the troubling campaign against you and your family by the Swiss activist group Bruno Manser Fonds.”
Leslie apparently started lobbying on SAKTO’s behalf in the matter with the Minister of International Trade. At the same time the company’s lawyers made submissions to Canada’s Deputy Minister of Justice. The pushback clearly upset the team at the OECD, which revealed at the time to the Bruno Manser Fund that it was dealing with “extensive commentary from Sakto’s legal counsel’ which was causing delay in finalising its draft findings.
In fact, the OECD at the time complained at this very interference:
.. It was critical of Sakto for mounting an “aggressive challenge of the NCP’s jurisdiction,” noting that Sakto had involved an MP in the confidential process and that Sakto’s legal counsel had made submissions to Canada’s Deputy Minister of Justice [Francois Champagne].
Eight months after the NCP’s decision, Leslie wrote his letter to Champagne. In it, he defended his intervention in the NCP process and told the minister of international trade that BMF had a “vendetta” against Abdul Taib Mahmud, who remains a controversial political leader in Malaysia.
Nevertheless, the zeal with which the MP pursued his aim of protecting his friends from a ‘vendetta’ of public scrutiny by the Bruno Manser Fund (which campaigns for indigenous rights in the face of timber corruption in Sarawak) is surely quite exceptional, in that he even went after staff at the OECD involved in the report.
It seems to have worked a treat:
Leslie then suggested that the minister’s office “conduct an investigation into the conduct of the relevant officials” handling the NCP process. It is unknown if anything came of this proposed investigation.”
Even after Murray got his revised judgement to dismiss a complaint that had once been accepted he didn’t let the matter go. The statement which had been released still made clear, after all, that he had been interfering in the OECD process, so he interfered further to remove that evidence of the interference.
A whole year later in May 2018 the Canadian National Contact Point (NCP) office replaced its original ‘Final Statement’ online with a new even shorter second Final Statement in which all references to “multinational” were removed, as was any mention of Sakto involving an MP and making submissions to the Department of Justice.
The criticism of BMF for releasing the initial draft document however remained, even though it had done so only to highlight the suspicious and unexplained inconsistencies in the OECD rulings after the event.
Thus the Taib Murrays had been left at last with a clean slate and had achieved a black mark against BMF with this latest update of the ruling, which could not have been more opposite to the OECD’s original conclusions.
Murray Moves To Attack
With the complaint thus dismissed, albeit under highly dubious circumstances, by the OECD NCP in Canada Sean Murray was triumphant. Citing the dismissal of the legitimate official request by BMF as if it were a court judgement against the NGO, his lawyers swiftly moved to bring a libel action against the fund in Switzerland targeted at inflicting punishing costs and damages, whilst demanding the NGO remove everything it has ever written about the Taib family and timber corruption anywhere in print and online.
And, he did not stop there, bringing a major criminal case at the same time against BMF Director Lukas Straumann for alleged wrongdoings against the Taib/Murrays. In the complaint they alleged Straumann had committed 8 crimes (fraud, criminal mismanagement, misappropriation, coercion, false accusation, misleading the judicial authorities and two types of defamation).
Despite the costs of that legal action BMF have held out against the years long case, raising support in the home town of the naturalist and activist Bruno Manser from those who care about deforestation, Sarawak and its people. The criminal report was finally dismissed this August by the Swiss authorities as a baseless complaint by Murray.
Meanwhile, the NGO and other supporting organisations, including the integrity group OECD Watch (which cited longstanding weaknesses in Canada’s NCP in its adherence to OECD rules) mounted an official complaint to the OECD’s top Investment Committee about the whole affair, and specifically the undue political pressure brought to bear against the organisation’s local officials by an elected member of the Canadian government.
This complaint was taken up and today’s top level OECD ruling was entirely in favour of BMF, castigating the Canadian government’s handling of the affair and condemning the final revised report saying that it:
- Lacked transparency and was limited in its accountability
- Was not fully equitable
- Contributed towards a perception of lack of impartiality
- Lacked predictability
- Was not fully compatible with the Procedural Guidance set by the OECD Investment Committee
Significantly, the OECD Investment Committee also said it took seriously the concerns about the harm that had been done to BMF by Canada’s lamentable handling of the case through their National Contact Point. It was an obvious reference to the opportunity given to Sean Murray to open his legal proceedings against the NGO on the grounds their complaint against the company had been found unjustified.
The committee recommended that the Canadian Government address this concern by following up with the parties and taking “any appropriate measure within its mandate to mitigate the adverse effects, if any, of this specific instance [complaint]“.
[see BMF press release].
The turnaround has utterly vindicated BMF and enormously exposed the Taib Murray family who will now be under immense pressure to open up their accounts which they have resisted for so long.
With Sean Murray’s tactics so blatantly exposed it seems unlikely his political allies will once more seek to protect SAKTO against the final, top-level ruling of the OECD or to sanction the under-hand tactics that he used.
Meanwhile, over in Europe the Swiss libel suit has surely been holed under the water? Murray’s argument, which has seemed at times to have found favour in the court, was that since no official body has yet to uphold a case or confirm wrongdoings against Sarawak’s politically protected leading family and their assets (despite the litany of evidence of grand kleptocracy available against them) they should not have been subject to the criticism of BMF
Today that claim to reputation looks far less intact following this ruling by the OECD.