Borneo Death Blow
Directed by Erik Pauser and Dylan Williams (2017)
This is a fascinating documentary about an activist group that campaigned hard to bring two major Malaysian corruption scandals to international attention – including one involving former Prime Minister Najib Razak and 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).
The story starts in the early nineties when Bruno Manser, a Swiss environmentalist, and Mutanga, a Penan tribesman in Sarawak, paired up to protest wholesale rainforest logging on the island of Borneo (Malaysia). After successfully blockading the logging trucks for more than nine months, the activists and their supporters were imprisoned and torture.
In 1992, they undertook a world tour to bring the plight of Borneo rainforests and the Penan. They visited 24 cities in 13 countries, including the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro and the UN. The response they received was underwhelming.
In 2000, Manser returned to Sarawak and was “disappeared” in the jungle. Fearing for his own life, Mutanga went into exile in Montreal.
Fifteen years after Manser’s death – – concerned about a controversial dam project that permanently displace an additional 50,000 indigenous Penan – Mutanga linked up with activists running Radio Free Sarawak shortwave station from London
Meanwhile the founder of the radio station Claire Rewcastle Brown partnered with the Bruno Manswer Foundation in Switzerland to research the $15 billion in private wealth the Malaysian forestrt minister Taib Mahmoud accrued for allowing foreign companies to illegally log Bornero’s pristine rain forests. It was an extremely complex scenario involving money laundering, off shore accounts and holding companies, as well as Goldman Sachs, UBS, HSBC and Deutsche Bank.
The went public with their findings at a Deutsche Bank shareholder meeting. Their presentation instantly focused international and social media attention on Malaysian corruption for the first time.
Taib was forced to resign, with the new forestry minister committing to ban both logging and new palm oil plantations.
Thrilled by the outcome, Brown subsequently undertook an investigation of the corrupt relationship between Malaysia’s prime minister and 1 MBD. In July 2015, she published a report revealing that personal bank accounts of Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak held nearly $700 million tied to state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).
The attention her report received led to a prolonged mass protests in Malaysia and the defeat of Razak in the 2018 general election.
*1MDB was a fund set up to finance various Malaysian development projects: Malaysia Corruption 1MDB Scandal