Penang undersea tunnel project: No interference during land valuation, court told

PETALING JAYA: There was no coercion or external interference in the valuation of two plots of state land for the Penang undersea tunnel project, say two property valuers.

Former Valuation and Property Services Department senior valuer Zakariya Nayan and valuer Nurul Asshima Aminullah told the court that they were responsible for the valuations.

The land was subject matter to the graft trial into former Penang chief minister Lim Guan Eng’s undersea tunnel case.

Zakariya and Nurul Asshima said they conducted the valuation of Lot 702 in December 2014 and Lot 713 in November 2016 respectively after receiving applications from the Penang Land and Mines Office.

They also said they had evaluated the land independently and based on the market value at that time.

According to the land office, the land was meant for a swap with Ewein Zenith BUCG Sdn Bhd (Lot 702) and Zenith Urban Development Sdn Bhd (Lot 713) for mixed development projects.

Zakariya told the Sessions Court that his valuation of RM50mil for Lot 702 was based on the market value of RM3,360 per square metre for freehold land in 2014.

"I confirm the valuation stated for Lot 702 was not influenced by any form of meddling or pressure from any external parties," said Zakariya, the 25th prosecution witness.

He also said there was no difference in valuation for the land swap because the base value was the same, deriving from the market value at the time.

During a cross-examination by Lim's lawyer Haijan Omar, Zakariya agreed that the land value was far less than the development done by the developer, which was estimated at RM138mil.

Nurul Asshima, the 26th prosecution witness, said her valuation for Lot 713 was RM30mil in 2016, and completed without any pressure or interference from any parties.

Zakariya agreed that the state government benefited greatly from the land swap, following the difference in the initial land value and subsequent development.

Nurul Asshima also agreed that Lot 713’s initial value was less than what was spent by the developer, which was estimated at RM73mil.

They also agreed that the state government suffered no losses from the land swap.

When asked, both Zakariya and Nurul Asshima said they were not aware that the two plots of land were to be exchanged as part of a payment to Consortium Zenith-BUCG Sdn Bhd, which was awarded the undersea tunnel project.

Earlier, Lim's lawyer Gobind Singh Deo informed the court of his absence, as the Air Putih assemblyman had to attend the official opening of the new session of the Penang state assembly.

Gobind said he had informed the prosecution and said the defence wished to proceed with the trial without Lim's presence.

He suggested that the court invoke Section 264 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) that allows the dispensing of an accused presence for the trial.

Deputy public prosecutor Ahmad Akram Gharib said the prosecution had no objection but urged the court to put it on record.

Judge Azura Alwi then invoked Section 264 of the CPC before the trial resumed.

The hearing will resume on June 7.

Lim, 62, faces four corruption charges involving the proposed construction of an undersea tunnel and paired roads project in Penang.

For the first amended charge, Lim is charged with using his position as then Penang chief minister to corruptly receive RM3.3mil to help businessman Datuk Zarul Ahmad Mohd Zulkifli’s company secure the project in Penang worth RM6,341,383,702 between January 2011 and August 2017 at the Penang Chief Minister’s Office.

For the second amended charge, Lim is accused of soliciting 10% profits from Zarul Ahmad to help the company get appointed for the same project in March 2011 near The Gardens Hotel, Lingkaran Syed Putra at Mid Valley City.

Lim is also charged with two counts of causing two lots of land worth RM208.8mil owned by the Penang government to be disposed of by the developer linked to the undersea tunnel project on Feb 17, 2015, and March 22, 2017, at the Penang Land and Mines Office in Komtar.

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