Key witness was ready to bribe PM to close Penang tunnel graft probe

Datuk Zarul Ahmad Mohd Zulkifli - Filepic

KUALA LUMPUR: A key witness in the corruption trial involving Lim Guan Eng on the Penang undersea tunnel project told the Sessions Court that he would “do anything” to protect the former Penang chief minister, including bribing the prime minister at that time to stop a graft probe into the project.

During a cross-examination by Lim’s counsel Gobind Singh Deo yesterday, Consortium Zenith Construction Sdn Bhd (CZC) senior executive director Datuk Zarul Ahmad Mohd Zulkifli said he gave RM22mil to then prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak through a middleman to stop the Malaysia Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) from investigating the undersea tunnel project.

Following his Aug 4 testimony admitting he made up the story in a media interview in July 2018 that there was no element of corruption in the project, the 23rd prosecution witness told the court yesterday that not all of it was a lie.

He said incidents involving harassment by individuals linked to the then Barisan Nasional government to pay were real.

On July 2, 2018, several news portals reported that Zarul Ahmad claimed he was pressured to the point where it was as if “someone was putting a gun” to his head to pay RM22mil to stop the MACC from probing the undersea tunnel project.Gobind: There were threats from conmen demanding protection money?

Zarul Ahmad: Yes.

Gobind: At that time you paid them in order to bribe the MACC?

Zarul Ahmad: No. It was not a bribe.

Gobind: So you paid them to close a graft probe, correct?

Zarul Ahmad: Yes.

Gobind: So you’re a person who is prepared to pay money to close probes of graft?

Zarul Ahmad: The probe was against YB Lim Guan Eng. Therefore, I would do anything I can to stop all these. I will try anything in my power to try to stop this. In fact, I did. I even tried to approach people on your side also during...

Gobind: Can you answer my question?

Zarul Ahmad: I’m giving the explanation, yes or no will not give any answer.

Judge Azura Alwi then intervened, telling Zarul Ahmad that he would be given a chance to explain.

Zarul Ahmad then admitted that he was prepared to pay to close a graft probe by the MACC “on a particular issue”.

He also agreed that the RM22mil was paid to businessman G. Gnanaraja, who claimed to be close to Najib.

He also clarified that from the RM22mil, he was told that RM19mil was meant for Najib and the other RM3mil was “purportedly” for Baling MP Datuk Seri Abdul Azeez Abdul Rahim.

Gnanaraja was charged in the Shah Alam Session Court on April 3, 2019, with three counts of cheating Zarul Ahmad of RM19mil into believing that he was able to settle a MACC investigation into the undersea tunnel project.

Gobind questioned Zarul Ahmad’s reasoning for wanting to bribe Najib to “protect” Lim, both of whom were on opposing political divides in Penang at that time, especially when the latter testified that he and his project in Penang had been under heavy criticism from Barisan.

Gobind argued that it made no sense for Zarul Ahmad to approach Lim’s arch-rival, who was also attacking his project in Penang, for help.Zarul Ahmad denied it and said it made sense to him because he was desperate to make sure they would not do anything to Lim.

Gobind: To protect the Penang CM, you approached them to close the probe.

Zarul Ahmad: Yes.

Gobind: You never approached them to protect Lim Guan Eng. You approached them to protect yourself. And that’s why you were prepared, under pressure, to implicate and fix up Lim Guan Eng.

Zarul Ahmad: I totally disagree.

Zarul Ahmad also testified that he did not instruct his colleagues to “fabricate” fake company documents to facilitate bribe payments to Lim, but only told them to do what was needed.

Zarul Ahmad was grilled further when he said he only knew later about his colleagues forging the documents.

When Gobind suggested that Zarul Ahmad was a person who was prepared to instruct others to do what’s wrong and untruthful in order to protect, the latter said: “Every businessman does that.”

Gobind then requested a printed copy of the text exchange between Gnanaraja and Zarul Ahmad from July 2017 to February 2018, which the prosecution said it would try to produce at the next hearing.

The trial before judge Azura Alwi resumes on Monday.

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 Zarul Ahmad’s company secure the project, 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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