Climate champ Leonardo DiCaprio mired in Malaysian 1MDB scandal

Leonardo DiCaprio receives his Best Actor Oscar Award 2016 for his lead role in the Revenant.

Leonardo DiCaprio receives his Best Actor Oscar Award 2016 for his lead role in the Revenant.

Lately, his foundation made headlines announcing US$15.6 million in grants that have been awarded for various causes including wildlife and habitat conservation, indigenous rights, climate change and solving complex environmental issues.

Grant receivers and partners are happy… but not everyone.

The Swiss-based Bruno Manser Fund (BMF) suspects the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation (LDF) has received bribe money from Malaysians who are connected to the high-profile 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) corruption scandal, namely Riza Aziz, Low Taek Jho (“Jho Low”), Tan Kim Loong and Riza Aziz’s film production company, Red Granite Pictures.

Leonardo DiCaprio leads the role in the Revenant.

Leonardo DiCaprio leads the role in the Revenant.

The BMF has already written Swiss bank Julius Baer, the main bank linked to DiCaprio’s foundation and asked to provide information on their due diligence when it comes to the acceptance of donations from Politically Exposed Persons (PEPs) from Malaysia.

The bank responded it expects the LDF to conduct due diligence and prevent damage to its charitable goals.  The bank subtly distanced itself from donations the foundation had received from individuals connected to the 1MDB corruption scandal. DiCaprio, however, is yet to answer questions.

Citing legal reasons, Julius Baer’s Co-Head of Marketing, Marco Perroni, said he couldn’t disclose if the bank managed accounts on behalf of the LDF. However, he stated that all transactions handled by the bank were carefully examined and that it also expected its partners to accept and handle donations with due care.

The Julius Baer Group supports charitable goals via the Julius Baer Foundation and via partner organizations.

“In case of problems, we discuss appropriate measures with our partners in order not to affect or damage the charitable goals and the beneficiaries. Naturally, we also expect from our partners to conduct due diligence and take measures. […]”

We can assure you that transactions and financial flows handled by our bank are generally subject to scrutiny with respect to their origin and use and that, in case of suspicion, reports would be made to the authorities in charge.

Last month, the BMF wrote to DiCaprio, calling for transparency on his financial ties with Riza Aziz, the stepson of Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, and Jho Low, a key person behind the US$3.5 billion 1MDB scandal.

najib razak waving

Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak. Pic: AP.

The BMF said it recognizes the LDF’s important role in supporting rainforest protection and indigenous rights.

However, the organization also said DiCaprio and his foundation should never have accepted funds that proceed from corruption in Malaysia.

“Our long-term experience in Malaysian Borneo, as outlined in the book Money Logging, has shown that corruption has become of of the main drivers of rainforest destruction in South East Asia,”the BMF added.

The call for transparency has been taken up by numerous media around the world, including The Hollywood Reporter, The Guardian, Fox News, CBS News, El Pais, La Repubblica, Milliyet and others.French TV station TF1 broadcast a special eight-minute piece during its 50 minutes inside Saturday night prime time show.

The BMF has called on DiCaprio and his foundation to disclose their full financial relationship with all Malaysians connected to the 1MDB corruption scandal and to pay back all the money to the Malaysian people.

The suspicion, if true, could mar the integrity of the actor’s foundation and his advocacy.

The Guardian noted DiCaprio has joined high-caliber personalities in the fight to address climate change and various global issues.

[He became] a fixture at events focused on global challenges since 2014, dropping in at the Davos economic forum to pick up an award last January, and holding a private chat on the sidelines with Ban Ki-Moon, the United Nations secretary general, on the sidelines of the Paris climate negotiations last December.

DiCaprio joined the climate march alongisde 400,000 through the streets of Manhattan and was named as a UN climate change ambassador in 2014 where he delivered an address at the UN climate summit.

He has had private tutorials in climate science from some of the world’s best researchers including Michael Mann, a climate scientist at Penn State University.

Leonardo DiCaprio and Penn University Scientist Michael Mann.

Leonardo DiCaprio and Penn University Scientist Michael Mann.

DiCaprio’s transformation as a climate champion began with his meeting with then vice-president Al Gore at the White House in 1998. DiCaprio, who has cited that meeting as the beginning of his climate activism, set up his foundation that same year.

This year, the LDF announces through its website the foundation’s largest-ever portfolio of environmental grants, increasing the organization’s total direct financial giving to over $59 million since 1998. Additionally, after a period of increased grantmaking and a goal of expanding its global impact, the foundation warmly welcomes veteran environmental leader Terry Tamminen as CEO.

US$15.6 million in grants have been awarded to the foundation’s partners.

The grants support works which range from major environmental conservation organizations to local partners who are fighting to protect and defend vital ecosystems and species that are gravely impacted by the global environmental crisis caused by climate change.

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Australian Senate investigates Malaysian money-laundering

Here’s a development of what has been going on in Adelaide in connection to the bribe allegations involving the former chef minister of Sarawak at Adelaide University. The Taib Mahmud Court has been defaced and renamed as Columbo Plan Alumni Court. Read story: Adelaide University renames campus plaza honoring controversial Sarawak Governor Taib Mahmud

Taib-Mahmud2

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Amid graft and corruption scandal in Malaysia involving Prime Minister Najib Razak,
green groups seized the moment to submit a Senate inquiry that will look into foreign bribery and money-laundering allegations against Sarawak Governor Abdul Taib Mahmud’s family.

Former Sarawak Governor Taib Mahmud is mired in bribe alegations involding his ties with a uni in Adelaide, South Australia. scandal

Sarawak Governor Taib Mahmud is mired in bribe allegations involving his ties with a uni in Adelaide.

An Australian Senate inquiry into foreign bribery will look into money-laundering allegations against the family of Abdul Taib Mahmud Sarawak, the current Governor and former Chief Minister of the Malaysian state of Sarawak.

Earlier this month, the Australian Senate Economics References Committee acknowledged receipt of a joint submission by the Swiss Bruno Manser Fund and the Australian Bob Brown Foundation that highlights the Taib family’s multi-million dollar real estate transactions in Australia and calls for tighter rules against money-laundering in the Australian real estate sector.

The submission calls for all Taib family assets held in Australia to be frozen and restituted to Sarawak. While the submission names 33 Australian companies with links to the Taib family, particular attention is given to the $55 million Adelaide Hilton hotel held by the Taibs on the South Australian capital’s Victoria Square.

The submission and its attachments, two NGO reports on Taib corruption, are protected by parliamentary privilege following their release on the Senate Committee’s website. “This means that you cannot be prosecuted or disadvantaged because of anything you have provided in evidence, or because you gave such evidence”, the Committee Secretary stated.

The Bruno Manser Fund welcomes the Australian Senate’s move and calls on Sarawak Chief Minister Adenan Satem and the Malaysian authorities to support the tracing and recovery of assets stolen by the Taib family. It is currently unclear how today’s dissolution of the Australian Parliament ahead of the 2 July election will reflect on the Senate inquiry.

Links:

Australian Senate inquiry into foreign bribery:

Terms of Reference:
http://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate/Economics/Foreign_Bribery/Terms_of_Reference

Submissions:
http://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate/Economics/Foreign_Bribery/Submissions

Malaysian PM urged to intervene amid Sarawak dam tension

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak has been asked to intervene in the escalating tension surrounding the Murum dam project in Sarawak.

A police squad was dispatched to the dam site to confront the barricade opposing Sarawak Energy Berhad’s (SEB) hydro energy project.

A police officer fires his gun in the air at the Murum dam blockade site. (Photo: Supplied)

About 30 police officers reportedly bullied 300 protestors on Thursday. Ngang Buling, chairman of the Peleiran Murum Penan Affairs Committee was arrested and brought to the Belaga Police Station for questioning in relation to his involvement in the blockade. A police officer fired a shot in the air to disperse the protesters, sources said. Following the arrest of Ngang, the protesters also asked the police to arrest them. Some of the villagers chased the police vehicle carrying Ngang who is to be held at the station for four days.  SAVE Rivers is reported to be dispatching a human rights lawyer to take care of the case.

On Friday, Buling was released on bail but will face court next month on criminal trespass charge, local media reports.

Protesters marched to the dam site following the impoundment of the dam which started on September 22. According to anti-dam NGOs who contacted Asian Correspondent, residents were not given notice while resettlement agreements have not been put in place.

Earlier, representatives from the Penan community affected by the dam went to Miri to lodge a police report against SEB and the Sarawak State Government for impounding the dam without giving them notice.

Penan people’s representatives at a local police station. (Photo: Supplied)

Community spokesperson Lugan Usang from Long Tangau said in a press statement that the safety and livelihood of his people are at risk. Above the Murum dam, there are still many Penan and Kenyah communities that have yet to move and are still living at their respective villages of Long Luar, Long Tangau, Long Menapa, Long Singu, Long Malim, Long Wat and Long Umpa.

Houses, livestock, farms, fruit trees, and other livelihood are said to be at risk without notice of compensation from Sarawak Energy or from the Sarawak government. If destroyed, there would not be any evidence to claim compensation, Lugan said. The spokesperson also pointed out that the Penans and Kenyahs are not ready to move because the resettlement site at Metalon has yet to be completed.

“The crops and fruit trees which were promised to us by the government to sustain our livelihood have yet to be planted…. The same goes for the school and the clinic, it is not built yet. How are we going to live at Metalon?” Lugan asked.

SEB confirmed  communities directly affected by the proposed Murum Dam Project consists of 353 households with 1,415 people (as of August 2011) comprised of 335 Penan households with 1,304 Penan and 18 Kenyah Badeng households with 113 Kenyah.

The site of the Murum hydro power dam. (Photo: Supplied)

Penans chase SEB CEO  Sjotveit

The Penans chased Torstein Dale Sjotveit, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of SEB out from the dam site for failing to meet the demands of the Penans and Kenyah communities.

The Penans accused Sjotveit of being arrogant with no interest at all in negotiation. They said he wanted the blockade to be dismantled and the protesters driven from the area. The Penans chased him out of the site instead, which forced the police to intervene and to take Sjotveit away to a secure location.

Resettlement solutions

SEB has released a 168-page Resettlement Action Plan (RAP) document containing compensation policy by the government. The properties eligible for compensation include longhouses, crops including fruit trees, grave yards, community halls and churches, as well as land.

Most of the key elements of the compensation package were approved by the government in February 2011 and communicated to the affected people, according to the energy company, although local communities say there was no public consultation.

Residents are left on the sidelines while they watch incoming trucks to the dam site. (Photo: Supplied)

However, the Sarawak Report detailed a dark side of the plan which is tantamount to “ethnic genocide“.

A clandestine copy of the RAP reportedly shows that the proposals do not represent any “fair compensation for the displaced hunter-gatherer communities who have lived in the Murum territories for generations and who have lost their jungles and livelihoods to logging, oil palm and soon floodwaters”.

Furthermore, the proposed level of compensation consists of a monthly allowance which falls far below poverty levels even in Sarawak. “State assistance of just RM500 per family (US$157) will run out after just 4 years,” the report said.

Alternative media also reported the hidden details of the RAP which ”tell the shocking truth about the lives of the Penan and their total neglect by the government that plans to wipe out the land which has been their home and provided their livelihood for generations.”

The Penan protesters are urging the prime minister to intervene and to immediately stop the impoundment and displacement of people.

Blog LInk: The Green Journal/Asian Correspondent