‘I just wanted my RM19mil back’

KUALA LUMPUR: A key witness in the corruption trial involving Lim Guan Eng on the Penang undersea tunnel project says he tried to retrieve the money he gave a middleman to pass to then prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak in exchange for stopping a graft probe into the project.

During cross-examination by Lim’s counsel, Gobind Singh Deo, Consortium Zenith Construction Sdn Bhd (CZC) senior executive director Datuk Zarul Ahmad Mohd Zulkifli told the Sessions Court that he had instructed his lawyer to issue a letter of demand (LOD) to businessman G. Gnanaraja to retrieve the money.

However, when asked what he told his lawyer about why he wanted the money back, Zarul Ahmad said he “could not remember the exact words” but the gist of it was that “I want my RM19mil back”.

Previously, Zarul Ahmad told the court that he had engaged Gnanaraja to get Najib to stop a graft probe into the undersea tunnel project.

He said Gnanaraja’s threat of a money laundering probe and charges against him was “one of the reasons” he paid RM22mil to him – where RM19mil was meant to be delivered to Najib and the remaining RM3mil was purportedly for Baling MP Datuk Seri Abdul Azeez Abdul Rahim.

Zarul Ahmad said he subsequently lodged a complaint with the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Com-mission (MACC) over the threats.

When questioned further on whether the money was given to Gnanaraja to be held in trust or if there was a breach of contract, Zarul Ahmad did not answer and kept saying he only wanted his money back.

Gobind: “Your money was held in trust by Gnanaraja and you wanted it back.”

Zarul Ahmad: “The fact is I wanted it back.”

Gobind: “Before you can ask, you must tell your lawyer why you wanted it back, to begin with. You can’t remember what your instruction was to your lawyer. Was the money held in trust? Please answer if you agree or not.”

Zarul Ahmad: “I can’t remember the words.”

When Gobind accused Zarul Ahmad of being evasive in revealing the purpose of the money as stated in the LOD, the latter denied it and insisted that he could not remember the exact words.

Judge Azura Alwi then intervened and told Zarul Ahmad to answer.

“The purpose of the money was [that it was] supposed to be given to the prime minister. You have to ask my lawyer,” he said, adding that he only told his lawyer to get the money back and had no idea how the lawyer worded the LOD.

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

Earlier, Deputy Public Prosecutor Datuk Wan Shaharuddin Wan Ladin told the court that the prosecution could not produce a copy of the WhatsApp message exchange between Gnanaraja and Zarul Ahmad from May 2017 to January 2018 because the printout had been shredded.

This, he said, was normal practice as the investigation paper into the separate cheating case against Gnanaraja had been marked as KUS (kemas untuk simpan or arrange for storage).

The court was earlier told that Gnanaraja’s phone containing the message exchange could no longer be switched on after several years in storage.

But Gobind said this was “suppression of evidence” and that it was incorrect that the printouts were shredded and untraceable, as one “cannot shred electronic evidence”.

He insisted that the prosecution produce a reprinted copy of the message exchange in primary evidence, or the recorded version of the messages in writing in the witness statement, as secondary evidence.

DPP Ahmad Akram Gharib argued that the request had no relevance, as both witnesses in the message exchange could still be called to the stand, and that the printout was not part of the prosecution record.

“This is redundant, irrelevant and baseless,” he said, adding that the request should be rejected.

Gobind countered that the message printouts were necessary in case the witness lied during cross- examination.

He also said the defence was only asking for the full version of the evidence for better context than having just parts of it, and that it was not something that had never been presented in court before.

Justice Azura then decided that a date would be set for the mobile phone to be brought to the court to be “verified”.

“We will see if the messages can be retrieved or not. If there is any application from then on, I will deal with it later,” she said.

She also allowed Zarul Ahmad’s request to be excused early after a round of questioning, as he was not feeling well and needed to see a specialist as advised by his doctor.

The trial resumes today.

Lim, 62, a former Penang chief minister, faces four corruption charges involving the proposed construction of an undersea tunnel and paired road projects in Penang.

For the first amended charge, Lim is charged with using his position as 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% of profits from Zarul Ahmad to help the company get appointed for the same project in March 2011 near The Gardens Hotel, Mid Valley City, Kuala Lumpur.

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 in Komtar, George Town.

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