A white Bentley wrapped in giant ribbon isn’t exactly the kind of gift the average Sarawakians were expecting, barely three weeks after they handed a landslide victory to Barisan Nasional in the state elections.
But for Toh Puan Raghad Waleed AlKurdi, the thirtysomething wife of Sarawak governor Tun Abdul Taib Mahmud, it was another dream come true as her 80-year-old husband presented her the RM1.5 million British luxury to celebrate their wedding anniversary.
It is understood that the Bentley was a gift from a VIP, and was given to Raghad during a glittering birthday bash for Taib, attended by among others deputy chief ministers Datuk Amar Abang Johari Tun Abang Openg and Datuk Amar Douglas Unggah Embas.
The ceremony had all the usual show of wealth for which Taib had come under fire from activists in the past.
The former chief minister has been accused of profiteering from illegal logging during his long grip on the state, marked by scandals and corruption claims including by anti-graft activists Global Witness.
In an explosive video published in 2013, the US-based group went undercover to reveal systemic corruption at the heart of the Taib administration, and showed how his family members and lawyers skirted laws and taxes to hide dirty money in Singapore.
Now, two years since assuming the governor’s post, Taib is in the news again, with photographs of him and his young Lebanese-born wife posing next to the Bentley widely shared by netizens, many clearly riled up that the octogenarian is detached from the average Sarawakians, many of whom live in abject poverty without basic infrastructure.
On May 7, despite an opposition campaign to highlight the failure of Barisan Nasional’s decades-old rule to eradicate poverty in the oil-rich state, the coalition under chief minister Tan Sri Adenan Satem, who has taken pains to stay away from his predecessor’s elitist image, swept 72 of 82 seats, leaving the already disunited opposition in further disarray.