Borneo kleptocrat’s secret Canadian businesses

Whistleblower commits suicide after being subjected

to systematic psychological torture by Borneo 'mafia'

Ottawa Canada real estate development secretly funded by Borneo ruler’s family

Sean Murray of Ottawa drops Catholic faith and converts to Hishem the Muslim

On Sunday 3 October 2010, Ross Boyert was found dead in a Los Angelas hotel. Ross had pulled a plastic bag over his head, taped it tight around his neck and suffocated. Unable to handle the systematic psychological torture to which he had been subjected, he had killed himself.

The following story is based on a chilling book, Money Logging, On The Trail of the Asian Timber Mafia, Lukas Straumann of the Bruno Manser Fund, Switzerland, tells the story of how an Asian chief minister became a multi-billionaire illegally plundering a virgin rainforest by clear cutting and leaving the natives in abject poverty. Then, a 12-year employee who blew the whistle on the criminal activity was driven to suicide by systematic psychological  torture.

On 20 June 2010, Clare Newcastle's Blackberry flashed. A curious message had landed in her inbox: "I was Sulaiman Taib's Chief Operating Officer in the US for twelve years. I have sensitive information and am ready to share it. But are you ready to fight with Taib? Careful, my phones are tapped and my computer is compromised. Ross Boyert."

Four months later, Ross Boyert was dead.

Clare Newcastle, a former BBC journalist, did not hesitate for long before contacting the Bruno Manser Fund. "We've got to meet Boyert at once," she said to Lukas Straumann over the telephone. "This man holds the key to Taib's secret real estate empire. We've got to go over to the US as soon as possible. I thought we'd never find him."

Two days later Clare Newcastle and Lukas Straumann were sitting in an aircraft bound for Los Angeles.

Clare Newcastle lives in London, England, now and is married to a brother of the former British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, but she spent her childhood in Sarawak, Malaysia, as the daughter of British colonial civil servants. She left at the age of eight, returning to the United Kingdom with her family. At the end of 2005, she travelled to Sarawak to attend an environmental conference and was shocked to find the country of her childhood unrecognizable.

Some 90 per cent of Sarawak's exploitable timber had been replaced by palm oil plantations. The indigenous inhabitants' longhouses were gone, and in their place were the logging companies' camps. The people in the countryside were poorer and worse off than they had been when Clare was a child, but in stark contrast, the mansions of the leading politicians and timber barons glistened in the towns and cities.

One man had ruled Sarawak for over thirty years: Abduhl Taib bin Mahmud, known in Malaysia as "Taib Mahmuad" or simply "Taib". With holdings in more than 400 businesses in twenty-five countries and off-shore financial centres, Taib's family is a global player. It is estimated that Taib's wealth is worth a total of 15 billion US dollars, making him one of the richest and most powerful men in Southwest Asia? Under Taib's rule, Sarawak had become a "hotspot" in the global crisis afflicting tropical rainforests.

"All the shares are formally held by Taib's brothers and children," Ross Boyert explained, "but the trick is that half the shares are held in trust for Taib personally. His name does does not appear in the share register, although he is the biggest Sakti shareholder." And in point of fact, in the column with the heading, "Number of Shares", it became clear for whom it was that Taib's brothers and children held the shares: "200 of which to be held in trust for Abdul Taib Mahmud" was the endorsement next to the 400 shares of his brother Onn. In the case of his brother Arip and his two sons, it was 100 shares each, Taib a total holding of 500 out of the 1,000 shares being held in trust for him. With the secret 50 per cent shareholding, it is also clear who had control over the company: the chief minister of Sarawak in person and he alone.

"Here, for the first time," says Lukas Straumann, "we had proof of the chief minister's secret wealth."

Ross Boyert, pursuing the American dream, had followed a safe academic road and became an accountant. He went on to specialize in real estate management. He held important positions in Texas and California. At the end of 1994, when he was in his mid-forties and well-experienced, he joined Taib’s Sakti International Corporation at its headquarters in San Francisco. At that time, the company was in serious financial difficulties.

Ross told Lukas Straumann and Clare Newcastle: “Taib’s son had squandered a huge amount of money in a very short period of time, and the company was on the verge of bankruptcy. He had absolutely no experience of business when Taib entrusted him with executing projects of which he hadn’t the faintest idea. He was in urgent need of an experienced real estate manager. It was a tailor-made job for me.”

Ross was hired by Taib’s younger son, Sulaiman Abdul Rahman…who had all the wealth he could ever need. An acquaintance, who stole a secret glance inside Sulaiman’s bank book one day, reports seeing the sum of four million dollars —presumably pocket money from his father, Taib.

In Ross Boyert, who was more than twenty years his senior, the 26-tear-old Sulaiman had found a capable and discreet manager for the properties owned by the family on the west coast of the USA. Ross set to work without delay. He began working from home, but after a few months moved into an office in Sakti’s headquarters in the financial district of San Francisco, with the cable cars rattling right past the doorstep. The historic building at 260 California Street had been built not long after the Great Earthquake of 1906, when the whole city still lay in ruins. In 1988, the Taibs had acquired the elegant eleven-storey building for 13 million dollars.

The Ottawa Connection

Sean Murray was born in 1963 and grew up in the affluent Ottawa suburb of Rockcliffe Park, as the child of Irish immigrants. Sean's father, Tim, had immigrated to Canada in 1957 after studying architecture in Dublin and Liverpool. Four years later, he and his brother Pat founded the architectural practice of Murray & Murray in Ottawa.

The two Murray brothers were certainly talented architects and skilful networkers in the Irish-Canadian community, and were soon core members of the Ottawa River establishment. They quickly built up an excellent reputation for themselves and managed to land numerous public contracts: building Ottawa's international airport, renovation work on the headquarters of the time-honoured Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and modernisation of the Canadian Supreme Court, among others. Ottawa’s new city hall, the Saudi-Arabian Embassy, and even the Papal altar for John Paul II’s visit to Canada in 1984 were designed on the Murrays’ drawing boards.

They sent their sons to prestigious Ashbury College in Rockcliffe Park. Sean and his brother, Thady, managed to complete their college studies, as did their cousins (Pat’s sons): Patrick, Brian, and Christopher. Sean’s sister, Sarah, and their cousin, Fiona, meanwhile attended Rockcliffe’s equally prestigious girls’ school, Elmwood, with its lofty motto Summa summarum (the highest of the high). Many of these relatives were later to play an important role in the Taibs’ family business.

Rockcliffe Park is one of the wealthiest residential districts in all of Canada, and, with 2,000 inhabitants, functions like a village. Everyone knows everyone else, and even the mansions of the super-rich boast no sort of protective fence. Sean Murray’s uncle Pat was mayor of Rockcliffe Park for 15 years until the community lost its autonomy in 2001 to become part of Ottawa.

In the early 1980s, a family from Malaysia appeared, seeking good schools for their children — and a safe haven for their flight capital. The head of the family had a long ministerial career in Kuala Lumpur behind him, and had become chief minister of Sarawak. The Taibs and their assets — huge even in those days — were welcomed with open arms in Rockcliffe Park. In this family Sean found Jamilah, rich and beautiful, the woman of his dreams.

Sean Murray gave up his dream of becoming an engineer and instead applied to study business management at Ottawa’s Carleton University, the same subject that Jamilah had decided to pursue. To do business together seemed to be the passion of the two young lovers.

The liason was extremely propitious for both the Taibs and the Murrays. A potentate’s daughter from Borneo joined with the son of an Irish-Canadian tycoon; fresh capital from the Far East joined with political connections in Ontario. In Rockcliffe Park, this is what dreams are made of.

The lovers’ fellow students remember Jamilah giving her darling Sean a red Mercedes convertible so the pair could cruise the streets of Ottawa. But for both it was a serious relationship. Five years after finishing school they married. For Sean, love was a strong enough motive for him to forsake the Irish-Catholic legacy of his forebears. He converted to Islam and it was under the name of Mohammad Nor Hisham Murray that he married the daughter of the chief minister of Sarawak in 1987. From then onwards, his Malaysian in-laws called him Hisham, but Sean Murray did not make use of his new Muslim name in Ottawa.

Jamilah’s connection with Sean — the son of a respected family of architects — was the ideal camouflage for the Taibs. It was the perfect opportunity to step up Sakto’s business. Many believed that Satko’s properties were actually owned by the well-known architects Murray & Murray. Further weight was given to that impression by the fact that gradually more and more Murray brothers and cousins took on jobs at Sakto. Sean’s elder brother, Thady, took over the presidency of Sakto’s sister company, City Gate International. His cousin, Chris, was catapulted to the top of Ridgeford Properties in London. And another cousin, Brian, took charge if the rental side of the Sakto properties in Ottawa.

The truth is that the famous architects — Sean’s father Tim, and his uncle Pat — never had any role in Sakto, and there is no indication that they ever invested money in Sakto either. Many years later they sold Murray & Murray to a large international architectural group.

The Sakto group still appears in public today — along with its “sister companies” City Gate International in Canada, Ridgeford Properties in London, and Sakti in the USA — as a family business owned by the Murrays. Insiders like Ross Boyert know, however, that it is just a smokescreen, which the Murray’s have helped create in order to avert critical eyes from the true ownership, as well Taib’s secret control over a global real estate empire worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

“When I took over at Satki at the end of 1994, Sean Murray and his brother-in-law, an architect from Ottawa, were working on a contract to renovate Sakti’s head office in San Francisco. However, the project ran out of control financially, and I had to put a stop to it only a few months after taking on my new job. Sean hated me for doing that, and I had no contact of any sort with him for the next ten years.”

The turning point came in 2005, when the career of Taib’s son, then aged 37, suddenly suffered a significant setback. Malaysia’s central bank refused to confirm Sulaiman as chairman of the RHB Bank. The central bank, Bank Negara Malaysia, which had gained a strong and independent supervisory authority in the aftermath of the Asian crisis of 1997, obviously regarded Sulaiman as unsuitable for a position of such responsibility at the head of one of the country’s biggest banks.

For Ross Boyert, who had been appointed and protected by Sulaiman, the glitch in the career if Taib’s favourite son had calamitous consequences.

Taib lost his trust in Sulaiman’s business acumen and ordered a reorganisation of his real estate portfolio abroad. In September 2005, Sean Murray, operating from his base in Ottawa Canada, took over responsibility for the Taib properties in the USA. Sean Murray had not forgotten the conflicts with Ross Boyert ten years before. He was eager to settle accounts.

Ross Boyert was to say, “Taib in person instructed Sean Murray to take over the management of my firms. At first, I simply refused to believe that I could be dropped so easily, but Sulaiman finally sent an official notice of dismissal. It was a gigantic shock for me.”

Ross was worried about what would happen to his share of the Seattle profits, which Sulaiman had only promised verbally. Ross resisted handing the business over to Murray — but in vain. At the end of October 2006, the Taib’s lawyers handed him a document containing the signatures of all of the Sakti shareholders, in which they declared their approval of the nomination of Sean Murray as sole director.

Ross Boyert ran a running battle against the Taib/Murray clan that ended in his suicide Sunday 3 October 2010 when he could no longer handle the systematic psychological torture to which he had been subjected, and with the book Money Logging, On The Trail of the Asian Timber Mafia, by Lukas Straumann of the Bruno Manser Fund, Switzerland, upon which the above account is based.