Sarawak Report has gained exclusive information about an extraordinary ex-parte hearing which took place in the Kuching High Court on Tuesday to request an injunction to freeze 50 million shares in the major Taib family conglomerate CMSB (Cahya Mata Sarawak Berhad) pending further litigation.
The individual who had brought the matter to court was none other than Rahman Sulaiman Taib, the former Kota Samarahan MP and second son of the present Governor of the state of Sarawak, Abdul Taib Mahmud.
His lawyer, Alvin Chong, has frequently represented Taib family members and was made notorious by his detailing of their corrupt practices caught on camera in the undercover expose Inside Malaysia’s Shadow State.
The defendant is Sulaiman’s own stepmother, Ragad Taib, as well as RHB Securities which apparently handled a transfer of these shares from his mother Laila Taib’s estate (administered by his elderly father) into Ragad’s possession.
According to the details of the case it has emerged there is another as yet unspecified plaintiff, which is suspected to be another of Taib’s four children.
Critically, it appears that this attempt to freeze the shares was enacted without informing Ragad (hence the ‘ex-parte’ hearing meaning the other side was not notified) in an apparent bid to prevent her from cashing in on the extremely valuable acquisition – CMSB shares are currently worth just over one ringgit each.
The untoward management of the deceased Laila Taib’s estate has long produced raised eyebrows in Sarawak, where Taib has ruled with an iron grip sucking up wealth through family enterprises since inheriting the position of chief minister from his uncle in 1981.
Much of that wealth has funnelled through CMSB which has acquired vast contracts and concessions thanks to its ownership predominantly by the chief minister’s own family, namely his wife and children. This family grip continues despite a dilution of ownership through a stock market launch.
When Laila Taib died in 20o9 the second largest tranche of 110 million shares in the company passed into her estate which was in turn directly administered by Taib himself.
The beneficiaries of that estate were cited as Taib and the couple’s four children, Jamilah, Abu Bekir, Sulaiman and Hannifah. However, some fifteen years later the distribution has yet to be made of those assets with Taib keeping a firm grip, at least until recently, on the estate.
Aside from the frozen inheritance all four children enjoyed further shares of their own.
The two daughters are the joint owners of the largest shareholder Majaharta Sdn Bhd (although the eldest Jamilah who has spent her adult life in Canada has seen fit to sue the Swiss NGO, Bruno Manser Fund, for suggesting she has profited from her father’s plunder of the state).
Oldest son, Abu Bekir, disposed of his own major shareholding in 2019, as documented by Sarawak Report at the time, most of those shares being apparently purchased by his younger brother Rahman Sulaiman.
Amidst signs of family conflict in the management of the company, Abu Bekir was later forced to stand down as a director amidst damning evidence of conflicts of interest. This decision was later stunningly reversed, allowing Abu Bekir to return to his post.
Hanifah’s businessman husband, Alsree Alwee, however remains ousted as Group Managing Director having fallen out with his brother in law over the issue. It means CMSB is now back under the control of the Taib brothers and, according to the latest shareholdings registered in the most recent annual report (above), Abu Bekir appears to have bought back the bulk of the shares he sold.
Meanwhile, the talk of Sarawak in recent months has been the apparent failing health and mental acuity of the family patriarch, the now Governor of the state. Taib was eased out of office and booted into the ceremonial role in 2014 following election reversals in the wake of the numerous kleptocracy scandals published by Sarawak Report.
Recently the elderly cancer survivor has frequently appeared confused in public, where he is increasingly seen to be guided and dependent on his buxom and fashion loving much younger Syrian wife, whom he married relatively swiftly in 2010, following the death of Laila.
There has been equal speculation about the likely poor relations between Ragad, who brought the two sons from her separate previous marriages over to Sarawak (where they have been favoured with economically useful ‘Bumiputera’ status) and her step-children who are all considerably older than she is.
A show of unity was put on last month as Ragad hosted an 87th birthday event in KL for her husband, attended by Jamilah and Abu Bekir. However, Rahman Sulaiman and Hannah are believed to have been absent and rumours have swirled about alleged suspicions of the children about Ragad’s controlling influence over her ailing husband .
What has now emerged through the court proceedings is that on 2nd June 50 million of the shares held in trust by the Leila Taib estate for her four children (i.e. nearly 50% of that inheritance) was transferred into the direct ownership of Ragad through RHB Securities.
Taib as the administrator of the estate is assumed to have signed off the transfer. However, this is argued to be in a direct contravention of Laila Taib’s will which had left the shares to be divided amongst her children.
In court, Alvin Chong was unable to specify the percentages for the division of those shares. However, plainly Ragad was not stated as a beneficiary in her predecessor’s will.
Was Laila, therefore, merely the titular owner of shares that were actually considered his own by the current head of state in Sarawak?
It is a question that the present legal spat ought to provide an answer for, with considerable implications in terms of how Taib’s claims about his family’s wealth are viewed and the legal status of Leila Taib’s estate.
The strongman has always attempted to argue that his close family were all self-made, as opposed to benefiting from or acting as proxies for corruptly acquired billions stolen from the state.
The attempt by Rahman Sulaiman to injunct the shares without Ragad being made aware of his move appears to have failed. The court held back from a decision in the absence of her being informed or pleading a defence.
On the other hand, the judge did agree to a rapid hearing of the case ‘inter-parte’ (i.e. with both sides begin allowed to make their case) as soon as Monday 19th June.
That has given Ragad a window of some three days to attempt to offload, sell or mortgage the shares. That might be ill-advised and it will soon be clear if she has done so.
Sarawak Report has exclusively learned of these developments. We suspect however the Malaysian press will be widely represented when the case returns to court on Monday.
Key questions on everyone’s lips will be whether others are now controlling the visibly fragile and apparently often confused Governor of the state; whether he was entitled to contravene the terms of his wife’s will (having delayed passing on the shares for years) and who really owned the assets in the Laila Taib estate to begin with?