(Petaling Jaya, Saturday): The Deputy Prime Minister and UMNO Deputy President, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, said yesterday that money politics, corruption and abuse of power had resurfaced in UMNO in the current UMNO branch elections and that he had received information that some of the UMNO branch heads had used money, organised trips for members and had deprived members of their right to attend branch meetings.
Money politics, corruption and abuse of power, whether in UMNO or in government, cannot be checked or contained so long as the top political leaders do not set an example.
This is why the case of the Selangor Mentri Besar and UMNO Vice President, Tan Sri Muhammad Taib, is such a critical test case as to whether the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad and the Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, are really serious and committed in their various public pledges not to compromise in the fight against corruption.
Muhamad Taib has repeatedly brought ridicule and odium to Malaysia in the international arena with the foreign mass media reports about his RM2.4 million cash caper at the Brisbane International Airport last year, resulting in his being arrested and charged in the Brisbane court, and his various expenditures and Australian properties.
Last Tuesday ( 8th April 1997), for instance, the Brisbane Courier Mail carried another report on Tan Sri Muhammad’s caper in Brisbane, under the heading "A matter of a suitcase of cash and a Malaysian minister", which reads:
"When the official opened the suitcase, he lifted the lid on an incident that has sent shock waves through the Malaysian Government, angered its acerbic Prime Minister and given Australia a diplomatic headache. Inside the luggage were bundles of money - Malaysian ringgit, Singapore dollars and crisp New Zealand dollars worth $A1.26 million.
"The 51-year-old Malaysian, Muhammad Taib, was in trouble. Under Australian law, it is an offence to carry more than $5,000 in cash out of the country without declaring it.
"On Friday, he is scheduled to appear in the Federal Court in Brisbane to explain himself.
"There is much at stake for Muhammad, much more than the cash or the maximum penalty of a $10,000 fine or five years in jail. As Chief Minister of Selangor, Malaysia’s most important state, he would be aware that public perception is everything in politics.
"Two of his former aides are being investigated by Malaysian anti-corruption police about another pile of cash found in their possession. Muhammad also is under fire for being unusually rich for a man barred by law from earning anything more than his take-home salary of less than $A13,350 a month.
"Investigations by The Courier-Mail have found that Muhammad’s wife has properties in Queensland worth more than $3 million, and Muhammad has been asked in Parliament how he managed to pay a reported $8 million in alimony to a daughter of the Sultan of Selangor."
The report later continued:
"Muhammad has not been charged with corruption, nor been found guilty of any offence but his arrest has become hot political gossip, fuelled by allegations that he has given three different explanations for the money. Attempts to interview Muhammad have been unsuccessful.
"Days after his arrest, he spoke by telephone to the Sultan of Selangor, who later said: ‘Muhammad has explained to me that the money was for the purpose of buying a house for his children, who will be pursuing further studies in Australia.’
"Malaysia’s Domestic Trade Minister, Abu Hassan Omar, gained a different impression when he phoned Muhammad. He said he was told the cash was for shopping. But at a press conference in January, Muhammad said two of his brothers - both businessmen - gave him the cash to buy a Gold Coast property for them, but the purchase had been delayed. He said the money was not his.
"He has not commented on later reports that his wife has properties in Queensland registered in her name. On her trip last December, the couple checked one of them, the 4500 ha Currajong Park holding about 320 km west of Brisbane, which they bought three months earlier for $2.54 million.
"Muhammad also inspected a $500,000 house he was having built on another property worth $459,000 at the exclusive Sovereign Islands development at the Gold Coast. This also is listed as belonging to his wife, Asbi Rohani Binti Asnan. The Anti-Corruption Agency in December searched the home of two of his former aides and found $750,000 in a car."
So far, Muhammad Taib has maintained a very extraordinary silence about these revelations by the Brisbane Courier Mail about his various properties in Australia, as he is entitled to vindicate his legal rights if there is no basis to the Brisbane Courier-Mail reports and institute defamation proceedings against the Brisbane newspaper to clear his name and reputation.
The Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, should direct Muhammad Taib to publicly explain the RM25.4 million worth of various expenditures and properties which had been reported by international press and linked to him, namely (I) that the RM2.4 million cash for which he was arrested in Brisbane was intended to purchase furniture and fittings for his new Gold Coast home; (ii) that he is building a RM2 million Gold Coast home at Sovereign Islands; (iii) that he had bought a RM5 million ranch in Queensland; and (iv) that he had paid RM16 million as a divorce settlement with Tengku Puteri Zahariah Bte Sultan Abdul Aziz Shah (Ku Yah).
Muhammad Taib should confirm or deny each of these four specific allegations, and to sue the Brisbane Courier-Mail if there is no basis whatsoever in these allegations; or explain how he could have expended RM25 million on these four items, the origin and source of these wealth which are clearly disproportionate to his known sources of income; what are his other unreported expenditures and properties; and to declare his total assets, including that of his wife and next of kin.
If Muhammad Taib is not prepared to be bound by the fundamental principle of accountability and is allowed to continue to defy public opinion in Malaysia that he should publicly and satisfactorily account for these international reports about his unusual wealth and extraordinary expenditures, he is doing the country a great disservice as he is sullying the good name of Malaysia in international circles as well as undermining national efforts to establish integrity in public life.