KUALA LUMPUR: Former Transport Minister Tun Dr Ling Liong Sik has been acquitted over three charges of cheating the Government in relation to the Port Klang Free Zone (PKFZ) land deal.
High Court judge Justice Ahmadi Asnawi said he was satisfied that the defence has raised reasonable doubt on the prosecution's case over the charges against Dr Ling.
Dr Ling, 70, received the verdict calmly but the packed courtroom erupted with claps and cheers.
Well wishers hugged and congratulated his family members.
Justice Ahmadi said he considered the conduct of Dr Ling and his explanation about issues over the land was consistent with his innocence.
Justice Ahmadi ruled that Dr Ling could not be held accountable for mistakes, omissions, concealment, misleading information or inaccuracies presented in two Transport Ministry's (MOT) summaries and notes over the land.
"If any, the blame should be apportioned wholly and squarely upon the officers of MOT who drafted and prepared the same.
"It turned out that the accused then was not the numero uno of his ministry. He was the transporter," he said.
Justice Ahmadi said that there was no evidence who initiated the PKFZ project involving the procurement of the land.
"There is no evidence who broached the initiative to procure the land but the evidence is very clear that the accused did not initiate the purchase of the land," he said.
The court found that Dr Ling's evidence was corroborated by the testimony of former Prime Minister and then-Finance Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
"The accused testified that the cost to be incurred to procure the land was not his business.
"That would have been the job of the Finance Ministry, equipped with the needed resources, expertise, funds and the discretion and direction to impose the conditions of the procurement," he said.
He said Dr Mahathir had told the court that finance ministry officers were involved in every stage of the process of procuring the land and computing the total cost of the PKFZ project.
"He (Dr Mahathir) said that the Cabinet was very anxious to get the land because the PKFZ project could be very benefical to Port Klang and was convinced that it was a very good project for the country," he said.
The judge agreed with the defence's contention that it was very unlikely that the Valuation and Property Services Department's valuation of the land could have been concealed from the Cabinet.
He said that when the Cabinet decided to approve the purchase of the land by Port Klang Authority (PKA) from Kuala Dimensi Sdn Bhd (KDSB), the Cabinet knew that the value of RM25 psf did not include the total
amount of interest payable and interest of 7.5% would be payable over and above RM25psf.
He said that the testimonies of Dr Mahathir and former Cabinet ministers Tan Sri Dr Fong Chan Onn and Tan Sri Abdul Kadir Sheikh Fadzir showed that there could not be any concealment, deception, misrepresentation or inducement in respect of the interest element payable in the purchase of the land committed by Dr Ling.
"None of them harboured any belief that they had been misled, deceived, or cheated by the accused in respect of the land," said Justice Ahmadi.
He said that the purchase of the land was not decided over a single Cabinet meeting but rather it was deliberated periodically between March 1999 until Nov 6,2002.
The prosecution had called a total of 25 witnesses, while the defence adduced nine witnesses, including Dr Ling who testified under oath.
Dr Ling was accused of deceiving the Government by not revealing to the Cabinet an additional interest rate of 7.5% annually in the RM1.088bil (at RM25psf) purchase of the land for the project at the Prime Minister's Office in Putrajaya between Sept 25, 2002 and Nov 6, 2002.
He was also charged with deceiving the Cabinet into giving consent to PKA to purchase the land from KDSB.
Dr Ling also claimed trial on July 29, 2010 at the Putrajaya Sessions Court to two alternative charges of cheating, which carries a lesser penalty.
This is the first such case set for conclusion after a full hearing.
Dr Ling declined to comment when approached outside the court, saying he needed to gather his thoughts.
Deputy public prosecutor Manoj Kurup told reporters that the prosecution would have to study the grounds of judgement before deciding whether to appeal.