KOTA KINABALU (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Malaysia's anti-graft agency has raided offices of logging companies in Sabah as it probes logging deals awarded by the previous Barisan Nasional state government.
Sources told The Star the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) carried out simultaneous raids at the "big three" logging companies in Sandakan and Tawau who have major concessions across Sabah.
The Sabah Forestry Department headquarters in Sandakan was also searched on Wednesday (Aug 1). "They were looking for certain licensing documents," said a Forestry Department source.
The investigating team was looking for logging deals signed by the previous Barisan Nasional state government, headed by former chief minister Tan Sri Musa Aman.
Neither MACC deputy commissioner for operations Azam Baki or Sabah MACC chief Sazali Salbi could be reached for comment over the raids.
The raids came in the wake of new Sabah Chief Minister Mohd Shafie Apdal ordering a log export ban that was, among others, aimed at breaking up a timber cartel that had been monopolised by one party for more than a decade.
Datuk Seri Shafie had said that the timber "extraction, buyer and seller" were all one group that had monopolised the trade, bringing little benefit to Sabahans and the state economy.
A crackdown on illegal logging last month revealed that government-linked and public-listed companies were among more than 10 concessionaires investigated for breaching forestry laws in Sabah.
Over 40,000 logs, worth millions of ringgit in taxes alone, were seized from commercial forests and forest reserves in Tongod, Sandakan, Ranau and Kalabakan between July 5 and 14.
According to sources, a complex network of loggers worked with state officials, who turned a blind eye to illegal logging operations carried out by licensed timber concession holders, as well as illegal operators.
"There has been a lot of hanky-panky going on for years. Kickbacks run into tens of millions," said a source who was aware of the ongoing probe.
The source said the state lost considerable revenue as some loggers did not pay royalty to the state or premium to Yayasan Sabah, the state's largest timber concession holder.
Apart from illegal logging, some licensed timber concession holders were also known to have encroached into forest reserves - without being checked by the forestry authority.
The new state government has restored the special committee under the Chief Minister's Department to oversee all logging-related activities and to also enforce and execute laws under the Forestry Enactment 1968.