Australian groups under fire over misguided trade mission to Japan
TOKYO, JAPAN / HOBART, AUSTRALIA, February 1, 2013 –/WORLD-WIRE/– Australia’s Wilderness Society and the venerable Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) have come under fire over a clumsy move in support of Ta Ann, a Malaysian logging conglomerate with close ties to the family of Sarawak Chief Minister, Abdul Taib Mahmud (“Taib”).
Last week, representatives of the two Australian groups travelled to Japan for a trade mission organized by Ta Ann. Apparently, the conservationists hoped to gain the Malaysian group’s support for a Tasmania forestry deal in exchange for promoting their timber sales in Japan. Having lost two Japanese customers over environmental concerns, Ta Ann are desparately trying to rescue their international reputation.
“I would no sooner be going to Japan to say that woodchipping Tasmanian forests is OK than I would to say that killing whales is OK,” former Australian Greens leader and senator Bob Brown commented.
Jenny Weber, spokesperson for Tasmania’s Huon Valley Environment Centre said, “Ta Ann’s Tasmanian product is coming from proposed reserves where the forests have extraordinarily unique conservation values. This is not acceptable to the market.”
Last November, Japanese environmentalists lodged a protest against Ta Ann when Taib Mahmud attended the International Tropical Timber Organizations’s 48th annual conference in Yokohama.
Ta Ann is headed by Taib cousin Hamed Sepawi, a key business associate and suspected nominee of the controversial Malaysian politician.
In Sarawak, Ta Ann has been granted over 600,000 hectares of logging and oil palm plantations without public tender.
In 2011, Global Witness found Ta Ann to be responsible for clear-cutting orang-utan habitat in the Heart of Borneo.
The Taib family’s worldwide assets are estimated at USD 20 billion. Last month, the Bruno Manser Fund lodged a criminal complaint against four Swiss banks over the alleged handling of over 100 million USD on behalf of the Taib family.
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