Sarawak lawyers face probes

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PETALING JAYA: The two Sarawak lawyers implicated in the shady land deal sting have been referred to an independent body of peers to explain their actions. The Advocates' Association of Sarawak (AAS) also lodged a police report yesterday to enable the law to investigate contents of the secret recording by Global Witness, a UKbased activist movement.

It has now emerged that Global Witness has received funding from an organisation founded by currency speculator George Soros, according to news portal The Mole.

Lawyers Alvin Chong and Huang Lung Ong's conversations were secretly recorded by an investigator from UKbased non-governmental organisation Global Witness who pretended to be a 'foreign investor' wanting to purchase land in the state.

In the video, 'Inside Malaysia's Shadow State' uploaded on YouTube on Monday, Chong revealed how potential buyers were able to avoid paying Real Property Gains Tax (RPGT) and how he could "put into place a mechanism" to control the 51 per cent shareholding which must be held by Malaysian citizens.

Huang claimed Sarawak Chief Minister Tan Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud apparently receives kickbacks from land deals in the state with a lump-sum payment made upfront.

In a statement to The Malay Mail yesterday, AAS said they will refer the two Sarawak lawyers to the Inquiry Committee, an independent disciplinary body separate from the AAS, will be able to investigate "possible instances of professional misconduct under laws and regulations governing the legal profession in Sarawak". The decision was made after the AAS Central Committee met on Wednesday.

The Inquiry Committee is a statutory body established under the Advocates (Inquiry Committee) Rules 1988 with its panel members comprising of senior advocates appointed by the chief judge of Sabah and Sarawak.

AAS also lodged a police report yesterday in respect of the video.

"A police report was lodged for the purpose of enabling the police to investigate its contents and to take further action in the event there is basis to allege criminal infractions.

"The matter is now in the capable hands of the relevant authorities. Until investigations are concluded and more facts come to light, the AAS advises the public at large to allow the law to take its course and to refrain from speculation," said its president Khairil Azmi Mohd Hasbie.

The Malay Mail, had on Tuesday, alerted Khairil to the video following calls by senior lawyers that the two Sarawak lawyers had committed "serious breach of ethics".

Khairil had then said AAS will view the video and will lodge a report to the Inquiry Committee "if there is a breach of ethics".

The video also implicates Taib's cousins, sisters Norlia Abdul Rahman and Fatimah, in the alleged shady land deals. Taib dismissed the video calling it "naughty" and distance himself from Norlia and Fatimah saying that the cousins of his "cannot be trusted".

It was also revealed in the video how potential land buyers are able to skirt around RPGT by drafting two different sets of agreements and paying a nominal value in the country while the bulk of the money will be paid abroad.

According to the Inland Revenue Board, RPGT contributes to less than one per cent of the total income tax collection in Malaysia annually.

Some RM1.09 billion RPGT revenue was collected in 2011 and about RM1.24 billion last year.

A spokesman from IRB said those who evade RPGT can be penalised under Section 31(1) of the RPGT Act 1976.

Numerous attempts by The Malay Mail to contact Chong and Fatimah proved futile.

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