Insight: In Malaysia's election, a focus on rainforest graft

Allegations of corruption dogging the chief ministers of both Sabah and Sarawak, long-time rulers who hold vast sway over some of the world’s largest tracts of tropical forests.


Sabah Timber Corruption Scandal 2012
Corruption cases related to bribes, kickbacks,money laundering around timber concessions in Sabah involving several politicians, including 35 charges of corruption involving (USD63 million) RM243 Million

Directly implicated parties

Musa Aman
Musa Bin Haji Aman is the 14th and former Chief Minister of Sabah in Malaysia, in office from March 2003 to May 2018 for 15 years. He was also the Sabah finance minister, the chairman of United Malays National Organisation for Sabah, and the older half brother of Anifah Aman, former Foreign Minister of Malaysia.
UBS Group AG
UBS Group AG is a Swiss multinational investment bank and financial services company founded and based in Switzerland. Co-headquartered in the cities of Zürich and Basel, it maintains a presence in all major financial centres as the largest Swiss banking institution in the world.

Indirectly implicated parties

Implicated parties through circumstantance

Disclosing Parties



Niluksi Koswanage, Reuters,  (13 Apr, 2013).  Insight: In Malaysia's election, a focus on rainforest graft.  Retrieved 09 Jun, 2020,  from




Sarawak Report said the Hong Kong and Malaysian anti-graft agency documents it acquired showed that $90 million in illegal logging proceeds from Sabah were channeled to the UBS accounts. That prompted Swiss prosecutors to open a criminal money laundering probe into UBS last August.

The investigations into UBS and its relationship with Musa are continuing, a spokesman for the Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland said. UBS said it was fully cooperating with the authorities but declined to give more details.

As chief minister, Musa is in charge of the Sabah Foundation, which manages a state forest reserve covering 3,861 square miles, nearly half the size of New Jersey. The foundation allows timber companies to annually log a tiny fraction of that area. The logging proceeds are supposed to fund education and welfare projects in the state.

As chief minister, Musa signs off on all the logging permits that its board of directors agree to award to timber firms, or at least in one case, to a family member.

One of the Malaysian anti-corruption agency documents listed companies that won permits from the foundation. It shows the foundation awarded 2,000 hectares (7.7 sq miles) of primary forest to Musa’s younger brother, Foreign Minister Anifah Aman, at a special board of directors’ meeting on May 7, 2004.

The same Malaysian anti-graft document shows Musa consistently signed off on concessions that exceeded, or even doubled, the allowable timber cut. While not illegal, it shows the state was exceeding its own guidelines on deforestation.

Some of the companies on that list made payments into a UBS corporate account belonging to a former Musa associate, bank statements on the account obtained by Reuters shows. From the same account, withdrawals were made by the associate to fund Musa’s sons who were studying in Australia, the statements show.