Selangor Mentri Besar, Tan Sri Muhammad Taib will be appearing in the Brisbane magistrate’s court on March 21 on the charge of trying to leave the Brisbane International Airport on December 22 last year with RM2.4 million of undeclared foreign currency - a charge Muhammad had publicly admitted, pleading that he did not know it was an offence. The Australian law provides for a maximum fine of A$10,000 and/or five years’ jail. Illegally carried cash may be forfeited.
However, Malaysians are not as interested in the outcome of the Brisbane magistrate’s court case as in the origin, source and purpose of the RM2.4 million cash found on Muhammad Taib’s person at the Brisbane International Airport before leaving for New Zealand, especially as his subsequent explanations have raised more questions than provided answers.
Muhammad had said that the RM2.4 million belonged to his brothers and were for the purchase of property in Gold Coast, Brisbane meant for their children so that they have a place to stay when they go to Australia to further their studies.
Muhammad said that he had gone to Gold Coast to transact the property deal for his brothers Dato Othman and Dato Raduan but had to bring back the money because both of them were not there to sign the Sale and Purchase Agreement - which is a most incredible explanation, as it cannot be reconciled with Muhammad’s statement that his two brothers could not join him on the trip as their children were getting married.
I have just received a copy of a Brisbane Courier Mail report which contradicted the version and explanation of Muhammad Taib and the Selangor Mentri Besar and UMNO National Vice President owes a public duty to clarify, reconcile or refute in the interest of public accountability.
The Brisbane Courier Mail dated December 31, 1996, in its write-up on Muhammad Taib’s RM2.4 million cash caper in Brisbane, under the heading “MP’s $1.2 mil for property” under the by-line “SEAN PARNELL and world agencies” carried the following report:
“The Chief Minister of Malaysia’s Selangor state, Muhammad Muhammad Taib, said his brothers had entrusted him with the money.
“Muhammad told Malaysia’s Bernama news agency that he was not aware of the Australian law requiring him to declare the money.
“’I did not realise that I had to declare the cash to be taken out of Australia,’ he said yesterday.
“People leaving Australia must declare and justify any amount worth more than $A5,000.
“The laws sets a maximum of $10,000 fine and/or five years’ jail. Illegally carried cash may be forfeited.
“The 51-year-old Muhammad, who was recently re-elected vice president of Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s ruling United Malays National Organisation, was on holiday in Australia from December 16.
“He was about to take a flight to New Zealand when he was stopped by Customs officers at the Brisbane airport.
“He did not plead guilty to the charge during a court appearance on December 23 and was released on bail until March 21.
“It had been believed the money was intended to purchase furniture and fittings for Muhammad’s new Gold Coast home.
“A near-completed house at Sovereign Islands is built on land registered to Muhammad’s wife, Asbi Rohani binti Asnan.
“The 740 sq.m. lot was purchased in June for $459,000 and Muhammad is believed to have contracted Gold Coast builder Eric Roth to build a house.
“Mr. Roch said yesterday he met the owner of the house earlier this month - a man he presumed to be Muhammad - but has otherwise dealt with Gold Coast solicitor Robert Lehn.
“’Everything I’m doing I’m not actually doing with him (Muhammad), I’m dealing directly with the lawyers,’ he said.
“’I’ve only met the guy (Muhammad) once, the owner, and Robert Lehn of course I have constant negotiations with...but everything goes through his trust account and is paid by cheque to me. I go down and pick it up and deposit it in my account.
“’I don’t know about anything else and I don’t want to get involved’.
“Mr. Lehn, who Mr. Roth said has the power of attorney for the owner of the house, refused to comment.”
Muhammad should explain whether he had bought property in Gold Coast with a near-completed house at Sovereign Islands, which is about 20 km from Surfers Paradise, the City of Gold Coast, and 30 km from Bond University, the only private university in Australia - and why he and his brothers have decided to choose Bond University for their children’s university education.
The source who gave me the Brisbane Courier Mail report said the “fiasco of Mentri Besar of Selangor was a joke over here (Brisbane)”.