KOTA KINABALU: A Swiss investigations into a money-laundering trail with its roots in the rainforests of Sabah is threatening to embarrass Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak and his Barisan Nasional coalition government.
Najib who is on a two-day visit to Sabah to bring a fractious state Umno headed by Chief Minister Musa Aman into line ahead of general election, is faced with discomforting international exposure that his government is corrupt to the core.
The timing of Swiss investigations into links between UBS, Switzerland’s biggest bank, and the proceeds from illegal logging in Sabah couldn’t be worse for the premier who is hoping to mollify the state which has increasingly shown signs that it is swinging over to the opposition.
Najib and his entourage will be visiting the Kg Rampayan Laut in Kota Belud today for a carnival-like political event where he hopes to prop up shaky support for his Barisan Nasional coalition government.
The premier who is also Umno president was in Sandakan on Saturday for a meeting with his state party officials.
Talk of a shake-up in Sabah Umno has been quashed by party officials close to Musa and spun as a gambit by his rival, Shafie Apdal, the current Semporna MP who is a trusted man of Najib, and is said to being eyeing the post of Sabah chief minister.
Umno insiders are warning of serious repercussions should Najib refuse to reinvigorate the BN. They claimed that party’s interest must be put first and ahead of any personal agendas and failure to do so would be disastrous for the BN.
Reuters news agency yesterday reported that Swiss prosecutors have opened a criminal money laundering probe into UBS after environmental campaign group, Bruno Manser Fund, filed a complaint accusing it of links to the proceeds of alleged illegal logging in Malaysia.
The investigation could be a new embarrassment for the Swiss bank, fined for helping clients dodge US taxes in 2009 and facing similar accusations – which it denies – in Germany. It comes as Switzerland is trying to clean up its image as a haven for ill-gotten gains.
A spokeswoman for federal prosecutors said they had opened a criminal investigation into allegations of money laundering.
She confirmed that UBS was being investigated in connection with its relationship with Musa Aman.
Musa was accused in the complaint brought by Switzerland’s Bruno Manser Fund in May of links to illegal logging in Borneo. The chief minister has previously dismissed graft allegations as a political conspiracy.
UBS has said it was cooperating with the investigation.
“UBS complies with the rules and regulations in all the markets where it operates,” a spokesman who noted the bank is obliged to report to authorities fighting money laundering if it finds evidence it is holding assets of criminal origin, was quoted as saying.
In its complaint, the Bruno Manser Fund, which campaigns to save tropical rainforests in Borneo and the people who inhabit them, accused UBS of breaching its duty of care by accepting more than $90 million it said was earned from logging in Sabah. Citing documents it presented to Swiss prosecutors, it said the money was banked at UBS in Hong Kong and Zurich.