Sakto Link to Malaysia Graft Rejected as Judge Tosses Lawsuit

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(Bloomberg) -- A Swiss environmental group’s attempt to link a Canadian real estate company to Malaysian corruption failed because the advocates didn’t come up with enough evidence.

Bruno-Manser-Fonds sued in Ontario last year in an attempt to get information from banks that it believed would back its claims that Sarawak Governor Abdul Mahmud Taib’s family used money to fund the expansion of Sakto Group’s C$250 million ($196 million) real estate empire.

“The links between the assets of the Sakto Group in Canada and the alleged corruption of Mr. Taib in Malaysia depend upon conjecture and suspicion more than evidence,” Ontario Superior Court Justice Sean Dunphy wrote in the Feb. 7 ruling dismissing the lawsuit. The environmental group is “looking not only to determine who committed a particular crime and how, they are looking to find if any crime has been committed at all.”

The Swiss nonprofit that works to conserve tropical rainforests sued Royal Bank of Canada, Toronto-Dominion Bank, Manulife Financial Corp. and Deloitte & Touche for information about the flow of money into Sakto, using the corruption allegations against Taib and his family to support its claim.

The group didn’t have enough evidence to pursue a private prosecution, as allowed by Canada’s laws, the judge said, so it tried a novel approach.

Private Investigation

“They ask this court to lend its inherent jurisdiction to advance a private investigation of alleged crimes before there is enough evidence to justify private prosecution,” the judge wrote. “A civil search warrant in aid of a private criminal investigation ought to be a vanishingly rare occurrence where no criminal search warrant could be issued.”

Sakto is run by Sean Murray and his wife, Jamilah Taib Murray, who began the company in her early 20s and is Taib’s daughter. Her father had been investigated by a Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission task force. Those investigations ended in 2016 with no findings.

Sakto, founded in 1983, owns several offices and residential towers in Canada’s capital. It also owns the 158-unit luxury condo building, The Adelaide.

The case is Re: Bruno-Manser-Fonds and Royal Bank of Canada, CV-17-578861, Ontario Superior Court of Justice (Ottawa).

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