BMF requests Norway’s attention on Norwegian dambuilder in Malaysia

An international NGO, Swiss-based Bruno Manser Fund (BMF), has brought controversy-ridden Sarawak Energy Berhad Chief Executive Officer Torstein Dale Sjotveit to the attention of the Norway government for corruption.

BMF has asked Norway’s National Authority for Investigation and Prosecution of Economic and Environmental Crime (OKOKRIM), if it can investigate Norwegian Sjotveit following a corruption complaint lodged against him by the Penans (an indigenous community) in Sarawak, Malaysia.

In a letter to OKOKRIM, BMF stated, “We are aware that the international standards on resettlement of indigenous communities are not legally binding and therefore not tri-able. However Sjotveit’s involvements in corrupt practices in the context of the Murum Dam seem to be tri-able from our perspective.”

“We would therefore like to ask if OKOKRIM has any means under the Norwegian law to investigate this case.”

Sjotveit has been the CEO of SEB since 2009 and is responsible for the realisation of several controversial dams including the Murum dam in Sarawak.

In its letter to OKOKRIM, BMF stated that both SEB, and the Sarawak state government led by Chief Minister Taib Mahmud, have neglected the rights of the affected native communities and that the natives had lodged a report with the Malaysian Anti Corruption Commission (MACC) in Miri, in September.

The BMF letter to OKOKRIM made the news last Saturday, 20 October, with one of Norway’s largest newspaper, the Dagbladet, publishing a story entitled “Natives furious with Norwegian dambuilder”.

In the report, BMF also noted that in November 2010, SEB under Sjøtveit, granted power transmission line contracts worth over RM99 million to Universal Cable, a company whose key shareholder is Abu Bekir, Taib’s son.

Also in 2010, Sarawak Energy sold parts of its profitable manufacturing subsidiary, Sawarja Timur, to Universal Cable.

It also noted that in January 2012, three Malaysian banks issued Islamic bonds worth RM 2.5 billion on behalf of SEB.

One of these banks was Kenanga Investment bank, a subsidiary of K&N Kenanga Holdings, which is a joint venture between the Taib family and Deutsche Bank.

The BMF’s complaint on the Islamic bonds issue is backed by an investigation by Dutch research company Profundo.

Sjotveit abused his power

According to Profundo: “In January 2012, the second issuance [of bonds] under the Sukuk Musharakah Programme was managed by three Malaysian banks – AmInvestment Bank, Kenanga Investment Bank and RHB Investment Bank

“Two tranches totaling RM2.5 billion were issued with maturity dates in 2022 and 2027. Proceeds were destined to fund the progress payments of some of its power plants and transmission lines under construction as well as other capital expenditure requirement.”

Following the disclosure of this information, the natives accused Sjotveit of abusing his position to favour companies linked to Taib.

BMF also noted in its letter that the procedure of SEB and Sarawak government concerning the planning and the constriction of the Murum Dam as well as the resettlement of natives goes against international standards such as the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples or the standards of the International Finance Corporation.

The Murum Dam enters in final phase of construction with impoundment scheduled for early 2013.

The Penan community have been protesting against the dam since 2009. But since last month, the affected Penans have relentless mounted blockades on the access road leading to the construction site. They are demanding that the government keep its promises made to them four years ago.

The blockades are still ongoing.

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