Taib-Linked Group Faces Tasmanian Protests

A unit of Ta Ann Group Bhd, a Sarawak-based timber giant closely linked to Sarawak Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud, is being accused by an Australian lawmaker of invading a protected 430,000-hectare Tasmanian forest that was supposed to be protected by a national-state intergovernment agreement.

Tasmanian Sen. Bob Brown, the leader of Australia’s Greens, said that although the governments had signed an agreement earlier this year to protect the forests until an independent verification process was completed, Ta Ann had already begun logging.

“Four months later not one hectare has been protected and Forestry Tasmania continues to fell these magnificent trees as fast as they can put the roads in. All up, more than 10 square kilometers of our wild forests will be destroyed,” Brown said.

In an effort to stop the logging, a young woman name Miranda Gibson climbed into a structure high above the forest with a vow to sit there to stop the logging, which began last Monday.

That is the latest protest against the company, which has been operating in Tasmania for some time, ostensibly receiving A$10 million in direct public subsidies and being housed in Tasmanian state premises that cost A$22 million. Ta Ann Tasmania has reported net losses of A$18 million although the parent company declared a 25 percent profit margin on annual sales of more than RN800 million.

Ta Ann Holdings Bhd, headed by Taib’s cousin Hamed Sepawi, is comprised of at least 31 Sarawak-based companies in three broad sections including timber harvesting, palm oil plantations and various other interests. The company, with a market capitalization of RM1.24 billion (US$388.6 million), employs 6,000 people and began expanding overseas n 2007, according to the group’s website.

Taib himself is under fire from a plethora of NGOs from six different countries demanding that he and 13 members of his family be arrested and prosecuted for massive fraud, theft, corruption, illegal appropriation of land and abuse of public office and that he is at the epicenter of the operations despite the naming of family members to head ancillary operations. They allege that the looting of Sarawak’s rich timber and other natural resources has earned Taib’s family billions of US dollars through investment in as many as 400 companies in 25 countries.

Research released earlier this month by the Switzerland-based Bruno Manser Fund said official documents show the Taib family stake in 14 Malaysian companies alone is worth US$1.46 billion. The fund has uploaded all of the documents onto the Internet. They can be found here. Billions more are believed to be held in other countries.

Environmentalists accuse the Tasmanian unit of claiming it exports rotary peeled veneer manufactured only from regrowth and plantation Eucalyptus logs supplied by Forestry Tasmania. However, the environmentalists say, “the reality is that Ta Ann is sourcing timber from Tasmanian old growth forests, from world heritage value and high conservation value forests.”

The Tasmania-based Huon Valley Environmental Center accused Ta Ann Tasmania of receiving wood timber from logging areas containing old growth forest is processing wood acquired from the logging of old growth forests, high-conservation value forests and forests with recognized world heritage values in Tasmania

“Ta Ann’s demand for native forest wood and its large wood supply contract is driving logging in some of Tasmania’s most important and contentious forest areas,” the environmental group said in a statement. “Logging for Ta Ann is also breeching the current Intergovernmental Agreement between the Australian and Tasmanian governments which has demanded logging be stopped in 430,000 hectares of high conservation value forests. Ta Ann’s operations here in Tasmania are far from eco-friendly and must rank amongst the worst logging practices globally,” said Jenny Weber, a member of the Huon organization.

Global Witness, an environmental NGO, in 2010 accused Ta Ann of clear-cutting vast amounts of Orangutan habitat. Ta Ann holds five timber concessions in Sarawak covering more than 360,000 hectares of rainforest and three plantation licenses covering another 313,000 hectares.

The Sarawak Report, an NGO that has been investigating Taib family interests for months, said Sarawak “is notorious for its destruction of the Borneo jungle.” It said Ta Ann’s attempts to brand itself as “environmentally conscious” were a sham and that “None of the wood that Ta Ann has so far used from Tasmania qualifies as sustainable.”

In fact, the Sarawak Report said, “all of the logs so far taken by the company have come from old growth forests, many in high conservation value areas that form crucial habitats for some of the world’s most endangered species. These include Tasmania’s Wedge Tailed Eagle, the Quoll and the Tasmanian Devil. And no plantation wood is being used by Ta Ann in its veneer processing mills in Tasmania.”

Brown, in a prepared release, said the Australian and Tasmanian governments are taking too long to implement the intergovernmental agreement.

“If they can get their act together to offer contractors exit packages then they can honor the conservation agreement as well." He added.