KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 7 — Sabah has called allegations of widespread illegal logging in the state “wild and baseless” after Swiss prosecutors opened last week a US$90 million (RM279 million) criminal money-laundering probe into UBS bank over its alleged ties with Chief Minister Datuk Musa Aman.
The Swiss probe follows complaints filed by an environmental campaign group, accusing UBS of links to the proceeds of alleged illegal logging in Malaysia.
Musa (picture) was accused in the complaint brought by Switzerland’s Bruno Manser Fund in May of links to illegal logging and laundering up to US$90 million through UBS.
“We have reason to believe the unfounded allegations are politically motivated and not driven by any love for the environment,” Sabah Forestry Department director Datuk Sam Mannan said in a statement today.
While acknowledging that there was illegal logging in the state, Mannan said the US$90 million claim would be equivalent to 20,000 hectares of forests being felled, which he said is “exaggerated”.
Mannan also said the state’s practice of sustainable forest management has “improved by leaps and bounds” under Musa’s leadership.
“Short-term licences that cause tremendous damage to the environment are being drastically phased out and Sabah’s forest management credibility is at its highest — an open-book philosophy whereby logging and forest management areas are all open to third-party and NGO scrutiny.”
He also said that long-term logging licences “have been subjected to third-party auditing (independent audit) since 2010”, saying that “independent auditors would have detected such large-scale illegal felling.”
He said the size of forest reserves under the Totally Protected Areas (TPAS) category was “now reaching 1.3 million hectares or about 20 per cent of Sabah’s total land area”, exceeding international standards of 10 per cent.
Mannan added that the TPAS forest reserves area had the greatest expansion under Musa’s rule.
He said that “at least 800,000 hectares of Sabah’s forests are partially or fully certified under various internationally recognised systems such as the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), Malaysian Timber Certification Scheme (MTCS) or the Pan European Forest Scheme (PEFC).”
Sabah aims to have “all long-term licensed areas to be fully certified” by the year 2014, said Mannan.
The Forestry Department head also said the allegations would cause a drop in timber sales and cause Sabah’s forests to lose economic value.
He said this would eventually “hurt” Sabah’s forest conservation efforts as it will then be “dropped” as a state policy.
By Ida Lim