Witness tells court why he paid middleman

KUALA LUMPUR: A key witness in the corruption trial involving Lim Guan Eng on the Penang undersea tunnel project told the Sessions Court that the threat of a money laundering probe and charges against him was one of the reasons why he paid RM22mil to a middleman to settle a graft probe into the project.

During 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 received a threatening message from businessman G. Gnanaraja, who claimed to be close to then prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak in 2017.

He testified that the threat was not the only reason why he paid the money to Gnanaraja.

Gobind: You received a WhatsApp (message) from Gnanaraja, in which you were threatened with Amla (Anti-Money Laundering, Terrorism Financing and Proceeds of Unlawful Activities Act) proceedings, right?

Zarul Ahmad: Yes.

Gobind: You remember that, isn’t it?

Zarul Ahmad: Yes.

Gobind: You remember what the message said?

Zarul Ahmad: My name and my IC number.

Gobind: What did he say about it? He said that you will be charged under Amla, isn’t it?

Zarul Ahmad: Yes.

Gobind: And that’s what made you make the payments, correct?

Zarul Ahmad: Yes.

Gobind: That there was a charge against you.

Zarul Ahmad: Yes.

Gobind: And it would have linked back to your company, correct?

Zarul Ahmad: Yes.

Gobind: That’s the reason you made the payment of RM19mil, correct?

Zarul Ahmad: I disagree. There was more to it than that.

Gobind: But that’s the reason, that’s the trigger, isn’t it?

Zarul Ahmad: It’s not the only reason.

Gobind: I put it to you that it was the only reason.

Zarul Ahmad: No.

Gobind: I put it to you that, in the investigation, you said that was the reason.

Zarul Ahmad: I don’t agree.

Zarul Ahmad, however, did not reveal the other reasons why he gave the money to Gnanaraja, as the court had to be adjourned following a technical glitch in the sound system.

The 23rd prosecution witness had previously told the court that he was willing to bribe the then prime minister to stop the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) from investigating the project and prevent harassment from individuals linked to the then Barisan Nasional government.

By engaging Gnanaraja as the middleman, Zarul Ahmad said RM22mil was paid to him, with RM19mil meant to be delivered to Najib and the remaining RM3mil “purportedly” for Baling MP Datuk Seri Abdul Azeez Abdul Rahim.

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

In the proceedings yesterday, Gobind also reiterated his request for the prosecution to produce a printed copy of the message exchange between Gnanaraja and Zarul Ahmad from May 2017 to January 2018, which the prosecution had agreed to produce.

However, DPP Datuk Wan Shaharuddin Wan Ladin said the prosecution was “not obliged” to help the defence, as the burden to establish evidence was on them.

When judge Azura Alwi asked about the status of the copy, Wan Shaharuddin said he would check with the investigation officer of Gnanaraja’s case and reconfirm it when the trial continues today.

Lim, 62, a former Penang chief minister, 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 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 Lands and Mines Office at Komtar.

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