Friday, August 27, 2010

Sarawak Chieftain's US$1 Dollar Mansion

Written by The Sarawak Report
Thursday, 26 August 2010
ImageWe've heard of falling housing markets, but this seems extreme

The Sarawak Report, ( an NGO based in the east Malaysian state, has uncovered exhaustive evidence that the chief minister, Abdul Taib Mahmud, has looted Sarawak of hundreds of millions of US dollars and hidden the wealth in Canada, the UK, Australia and the United States. It now has found indications that Taib may have received a US$7 million home from a timber company which depended on Taib for a license to harvest timber. Asia Sentinel is pleased to print the latest of the Sarawak Report's examinations of the Taib family's wealth.

Abdul Taib Mahmud, the chief minister of the Malaysian state of Sarawak, appears to have acquired a Seattle, Washington, mansion valued at nearly US$7 million from one of his state's biggest timber barons for just US$1, records in the United States say, according to the NGO, Sarawak Report. Taib has controlled the issuance of timber licenses in Sarawak for the past 30 years.

The Seattle property, which covers 26,000 square feet in one of the most prestigious areas of the northwestern US city, was passed to a company owned by Taib in 1991 by a California corporation called CSY Investments, set up in 1988. CSY acquired the property in 1991 and then registered it under subsidiary company called WA Boylston Inc.

CSY are the initials of Chee S Yaw, who signs himself as the company's president in documents publicly available at the King County Land Registry. Yaw is one of the younger sons of Yaw Teck Seng, founder of the massive logging conglomerate Samling Global. Yaw Teck Seng is regularly featured in Forbes Asia's Rich List of Malaysia's top 40 richest individuals, as does his eldest son, Yaw Chee Ming, establishing them one of the richest families in Asia.

Details of a very nice property
Described as a "Top Grade Mansion" in 'very good' condition by the King County Department of Assessments, the property was valued at more than US$6.8 million in 2008. It has 6 bedrooms and 5 main bathrooms and an enormous living space of 9,020 square feet, plus a basement of 2,120 square feet. The house is surrounded by a large open porch and there is a big basement garage for the car-loving Taib family, plus a second, attached garage. The mansion is surrounded by gardens kept in manicured condition on grounds totaling 26,172 square feet.

Mysterious acquisition
The property, registered under the company W A Boylston Inc (California), has been in the possession of the Taib family since the early to mid-1990s. Family portraits of the chief minister, his deceased wife and four sons and daughters as small children adorn the elaborate rooms. They have all spent time in the mansion, which is not occupied by anyone else. The property forms part of the family's Sakti International Corporation, incorporated in California and managed by Hisham (Sean) Murray, Taib's son-in-law, out of his offices at 333 Preston Street, Ontario, Canada.

However, there is confusion in the Seattle public records as to how the property passed to the Taibs. Sarawak Report has been unable to obtain any clear record of the transfer from one owner to another or, importantly, the register of any payment that would normally be eligible for taxation. We have requested a statement from the Taibs to explain the situation.

Earlier this week Samling made international headlines when the Norwegian Government Pension Fund withdrew all investments after condemning the company as 'unethical', owing to illegal logging and environmental devastation in Sarawak. Taib's control over the issuance of Sarawak's timber licenses leaves clear questions over his incentives for favoring such a company.

It is no secret that Samling has based its business success on achieving numerous logging concessions in Sarawak. Over the period of the chief minister's rule, companies operating under his licenses have razed virtually all Sarawak's virgin forest, much of it taken without compensation from the indigenous peoples who had been granted these territories under Native Customary Land Rights.

Samling is one of the main companies involved in this destruction and it has used its base in Sarawak to launch similar logging operations in the Congo, Amazon, Russia and elsewhere, many of which have been heavily criticized by concerned NGOs across the world.

The US $1 Sale
How and why did the chief minister come by a mansion formerly owned by Samling? The only official record available of a transfer of the property in the King County Land Registry from CSY is the granting of a so-called Quit Claim Deed for just US$1. The transaction on 19th September 1991 placed the property into the subsidiary company W A Boylston Inc, incorporated a few days earlier on September 5th by CSY at its registered address, 2260 Douglas Boulevard, Roseville, California, which was the headquarters of CSY.

CSY and Boylston then immediately filed a joint letter to the King County Real Estate and Excise Tax Department declaring 'under penalty of perjury' that W A Boylston was a wholly-owned subsidiary of CSY Investments, thereby making the Quit Claim transaction exempt from excise tax.

However, our investigations have shown that there is no subsequent record in the Land Registry of the later transfer of ownership of W A Boylston from CSY (Samling) to the Taibs. According to rules published by King County such a transfer would normally require the payment of thousands of dollars of excise tax.

Proof of Taib ownership
Despite the lack of open records, Sarawak Report is able to confirm that there is definitive proof that the Taibs did take over the property from Samling's CSY. In fact they took up residence as the effective owners not long after the property was placed in the hands of the CSY subsidiary W. A. Boylston. Rahman Taib had an insurance assessment drawn up in 1996 (see above).

Furthermore, a significant alteration was made to the company's official address and official representative in 2000. In that year W A Boylston's annual Statement by a Domestic Stock Corporation to the State of California noted a change of address to that of the headquarters of Sakti International (the property company, which Sarawak Report has recently proved to be majority owned by the chief minister). Likewise, the company representative was altered from a CSY official to Rahman Taib, the Chief Minister's younger son.

How much did it cost?
Taib's salary as chief minister of the state of Sarawak is about RM50,000 (US$15,900) per month. If he had bought the Seattle home, the cost would have been about US$3 million at the time to purchase it from Samling. If he acquired it for US$1, there could well be tax implications for Samling and Taib in the states of California and Washington as well as the federal government.

There is a second Seattle Mansion!
If the Boylston mansion was indeed a 'gift' from Samling to the Chief Minister, then one cannot expect such a thing to be done by halves. Indeed, a second, equally gracious and prestigious mansion has also found its way from the Yaws to the Taibs in Seattle, by what would appear to be exactly the same route.

W. A. Everett Inc
2222 Everett Avenue East, worth $2,854,000 at its peak value in 2008, was also originally purchased by the Yaws. It was then registered under another California corporation, W A Everett Inc, set up on the same day as W A Boylston (5th September 1991). W. A. Everett Inc is likewise listed as a subsidiary of CSY in the King County Land Registry. This mansion also ended up in the hands of the Taibs.

The property is smaller, with four bedrooms and bathrooms, but has famously sought after views over the City.

Sarawak Report understands that the Taibs have mainly rented it out over the past two decades, but as with Boylston, the only information about a transfer of ownership of the company from Samling to the Taibs comes with an identical change of address and officers in 2000, from the CSY address in Roseville to Rahman Taib, at Sakti International's Headquarters in San Francisco. This leaves many questions about how the Taibs have acquired their wealth and property. Asia Sentinel

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