20 June 2018
|A major expose by America’s prestigeous New Yorker magazine into Britain’s former top PR company Bell Pottinger has revealed more ‘dirty tricks’ commissioned by Sarawak’s billionaire politician, Taib Mahmud against this website and affiliated radio station, Radio Free Sarawak.
It had earlier been revealed that the PR company, which closed after engaging in a campaign in South Africa to stir up racial hatred on behalf of the notorious Gupta brothers, was also hired to defame and undermine targets of Taib.
A sting by the UK based Bureau of Investigative Journalism in 2011 revealed that the company had been engaged to secretly alter Wikipedia sites and search tools to undermine Sarawak Report and its Editor and family and offered to do the same for a bogus client from Uzbekistan:
“The [Bell Pottinger] executives also discussed what they called the “dark arts” of optimizing Google searches and editing Wikipedia pages in favor of clients. Collins said that Bell Pottinger’s goal would be “to get to the point where, even if they type in ‘Uzbek child labor’ or ‘Uzbek human-rights violation,’ some of the first results that come up are sites talking about what you guys are doing to address and improvethat, not just the critical voices saying how terrible this all is.” [New Yorker Magazine]
However, the New Yorker has now received exclusive inside information showing that the campaign against Sarawak Report went far further.
These claims were lies made by the real authors from PR firm Bell Pottinger
On behalf of its client, Taib Mahmud, the Bell Pottinger team set up a number of online campaigns, including a website called Sarawak Bersatu, which purported to represent an anonymous group of young Sarawakians, who were concerned that foreign activists with ‘hiden agendas’ would ruin the economy of the state and destroy their future prosperity.
The full New Yorker article can be found on their website. The section about Sarawak is below:
In 2011, during the Arab Spring, Bahrain erupted in protests against the royal family. At the time, Bell Pottinger was advising the Bahrain Economic Development Board, and on occasion its brief extended to advising the Bahraini government more generally. The government responded to the protests with a repressive backlash. Bell Pottinger’s digital team prepared for its Bahraini clients a list of the most influential dissidents on social media. An employee involved in this work does not know the fate of the individuals on the list, but he remains troubled by the fact that Bell Pottinger performed this service at a time when Bahraini officials were imprisoning and torturing people who spoke out against the regime. The Bahrain account brought in three and a half million dollars annually.
In the same period, the firm also worked for Abdul Taib Mahmud, the chief minister of Sarawak, a state in eastern Malaysia. He had held the post since 1981, and was seeking his eighth term. Opposition figures frequently called Taib corrupt. One journalist who criticized Taib was Clare Rewcastle Brown, who lives in London but was born in Sarawak. She is the sister-in-law of Gordon Brown, the former Labour Prime Minister of the U.K. In 2011, Rewcastle Brown was subjected to a series of smears by a blog called Sarawak Bersatu, which described itself as representing a “group of Sarawakians who aim to protect Sarawak against the influences—and hidden agendas—of foreign political groups and activists.” Material posted on Sarawak Bersatu, and on a related Twitter feed, impugned the motives and the reporting practices of Rewcastle Brown and called her an agent of British socialism. The site promoted stories falsely claiming that one of her colleagues had engaged in sexual improprieties. According to a former Bell Pottinger employee with knowledge of the site, the firm generated Sarawak Bersatu’s material. This was “fake news” before it had a name. When I informed Rewcastle Brown that Bell Pottinger was behind Sarawak Bersatu, she said that she had “no idea this was being run out of London.”
A former Bell Pottinger partner expressed shock when I described the Bahrain and Sarawak accounts. It was possible, he said, to draw a straight line between these episodes and the South African scandal. The partner said the Sarawak work suggested that certain people within Bell Pottinger had “a playbook.”
One publicist who helped write the Bell Pottinger playbook is Mark Turnbull, who worked at the firm from 1995 to 2012, and often focussed on geopolitical accounts, including in South Africa and Iraq. He subsequently became a top executive at Cambridge Analytica, the British firm that advised Donald Trump’s 2016 Presidential campaign. The company fell apart earlier this year, after its harvesting of Facebook user data was exposed. Shortly before Cambridge Analytica’s collapse, undercover journalists at Channel 4 News, in London, secretly recorded Turnbull describing his modus operandi. He bragged about the deployment of misinformation against a client’s political opponents. “We just put information into the bloodstream of the Internet, and then, and then watch it grow, give it a little push every now and again,” Turnbull explained. “It has to happen without anyone thinking, That’s propaganda. Because the moment you think, That’s propaganda, the next question is: Who’s put that out?”
For the rest of the article:
The full New Yorker article can be found on their website
The cleansing sweep of GE14 has flushed out the Federal Government and also sent Sabah’s Musa Aman packing. Yet, one glaring piece of unfinished business remaining among various pockets of entrenched corruption is Sarawak and its limpit of a leading politician, Governor Taib Mahmud.
Social media over the past two days has buzzed with footage of the ageing Governor, apparently disabled down his right side as he stretches out his left arm from a seating position to great Aid Fitr guests.
Taib has dominated the state for nearly four decades, during which he has acquired ownership of much of the local economy, along with estimated billions of dollars of kleptocratic spoils, squirrelled away abroad. He should be got rid of and the money returned.
However, signs are the present leadership plans to allow the potentate to remain, at least until Sarawak voters get their say in state elections some way off. Prime Minister Mahathir has been indicating to some that he doesn’t wish to move against a veteran leader, who is plainly becoming frail (also, some note, a key ally from the past).
Such indulgence to an elder politician may be generous spirited on a personal level, but many Sarawakians will view the matter differently, not least because the disgraceful poverty, substandard education and insufficient services suffered by so many of the native people in Malaysia’s wealthiest state, owes to the decades Taib prioritised his own bank balances and continuing power over their welfare.
This website has not hesitated to put its view that none of the enormous wealth that lies within the grasp of the stupendously rich Mahmud clan has been legitimately obtained. Sarawak Report agrees with very many others that all these ill-gotten riches ought to be nationalised back to the state for health, education and general economic progress from which it was diverted.
Ragad’s own family and various close companions pass a lot of time in and around the Taib family home and over the past months she has managed to secure the adoption of her two sons by Taib, along with ‘native status’ for all three of them. They are now poised to inherit Taib’s fortune equally with his actual adult children and also to engage in land dabbling and other concessions exclusively allowed to ‘natives of Sarawak’.
The former issue can only have worsened the rivalry and tensions within the Taib family itself, whilst the later has infuriated just about every denizen of Sarawak. Neither is Ragad’s ostentatious, flashy and flirtatious style perceived as dignified on the arm of the elderly Governor: people find it hard to believe that her heart is really in the job and suspect instead that her eye is on the money.
All of which has thrown into sharper focus the pressing matter of a review of the Taib family entitlement to any of that money in the first place. With Taib failing and his offspring and siblings left fuming impotently on the sidelines, Ragad is feared to be readying herself to depart the scene with a hoard that will have made her decade in Sarawak more than worth its while.
There are concerns that this political wife now stands between every transaction conducted between the Governor and his once loyal private secretary, to the extent that rumours have circulated that Taib remains incarcerated in a locked room for considerable periods – the key being on the outside of the door. If half the rumours are true, then this Head of State is no longer in control of state affairs nor indeed of his own vast financial empire.
All of which is worrying for Sarawak.
A starting point for addressing these matters would be for the suspended MACC report into Taib’s financial misappropriations from the state to be re-opened. The matter of the Governor’s physical and mental health and state of independence ought also to be transparently addressed. Since his daughter has now become a public figure, she should come out with a statement of her own position on this matter and assessment of her father’s situation.
Meanwhile, the federal government must not hold back from reforming outrageous inadequacies in the anti-corruption legislation brought through by the previous BN government, which has protected corrupted ministers. Under these rules the likes of Taib only had to exit the cabinet roon during the moment decisions were made that benefited them personally, in order to avoid culpability for blatant self-enrichments.
That ‘get-out’ needs ending and the money Taib stole needs to be returned in trust to the State of Sarawak.