September 10, 2012

Wills and Kate caught in illegal logging row ahead of start of nine-day tour of Asia

Dilemma: The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are being propelled into the first diplomatic row of their fledging royal careers
It was to be a highlight of their official Diamond Jubilee tour on behalf of the Queen, a trip deep into the heart of Borneo to see one of its last areas of virgin rainforest.

In doing so, however, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, whose nine-day tour of Asia and the South Pacific starts today, are being propelled into the first diplomatic row of their fledging royal careers.

A week ago the politician ‘hosting’ their visit, the chief minister of Sabah, was implicated by Swiss authorities in a criminal investigation into alleged laundering of $100million (£62million) in profits from illegal logging.

Environmental groups had alleged that Swiss bank UBS handled vast sums for the region’s top politician, Musa Aman.

The chief minister has been instrumental in helping to arrange William and Kate’s trip and he is almost certain to welcome them on Friday.

Prince William is particularly keen to see the work being done by the Royal Society, of which is a fellow, to protect the precious ecology of the Danum Valley in Sabah, one of the two states that make up the Malaysian portion of Borneo.

Mr Musa is a controversial figure in Malaysia, praised by some for slowing deforestation but accused by others of taking ‘kick-backs’ from illegal loggers. He has previously dismissed such claims as a ‘political conspiracy’.

The issue over Mr Musa is headline news in Malaysia and last week prompted a demonstration outside St James’s Palace calling on the couple to boycott the meeting.

UBS is co-operating with investigators, but insists it has operated within the law, which requires it to report any money it suspects comes from criminal origins.

Opposition politicians called on the royals to reconsider the meeting. One, Jeffrey Kitingan, said: ‘We urge William and Catherine to avoid meeting Musa as it will give the wrong message to the world.’

St James’s Palace last night said the visit will go ahead but could not confirm if the couple would be meeting Mr Musa. A spokesman said: ‘Their primary reason for wishing to visit Sabah owes itself to the Duke’s interest in conservation.’

The Foreign Office said: ‘We would not seek to pass judgement on the allegations until they have been fully investigated.’

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