Guan Eng trial: Witness unaware of transactions involving state land

KUALA LUMPUR: A former Penang Land and Mines Office director was not aware of several alleged transactions made by a developer to swap two plots of state land linked to the undersea tunnel project.

Datuk Akmar Omar, the 35th prosecution witness to testify in the graft trial involving former Penang chief minister Lim Guan Eng, told the Sessions Court that he had no knowledge of several payments amounting to RM74.8mil made between Nov 18, 2013 and March 30, 2015, by Ewein Zenith Berhad to Consortium Zenith BUCG Sdn Bhd (CZBUCG).

Deputy public prosecutor Ahmad Akram Gharib, in his examination-in-chief, asked Akmar if he was aware of the transactions.

Laying out the transaction details, he said the first alleged payment was RM12.5mil on Nov 18, 2013; followed by RM800,000 on Dec 23, 2013; RM500,000 each on March 24, April 4 and April 24, 2014; RM3.3mil on May 3, 2014; RM3.5mil on Sept 5, 2014; and RM48.2mil plus RM5mil on March 30, 2015.

Ahmad Akram: Do you know that since 2013, CZBUCG had received payments from Ewein Zenith for the land swap?

Akmar: Not to my knowledge.

Ahmad Akram: As of March 30, 2015, who owns the land?

Akmar: The Penang state government.

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To a question, Akmar said no other company had received such special treatments as those given to CZBUCG before this, such as a lower land premium and ease in land title conversion.

However, during cross-examination by lead defence counsel Gobind Singh Deo, Akmar agreed that they were not given special treatment but merely greater focus by the state government, as it was a major infrastructure project.

He also agreed that the project needed special attention and permission wherever applicable, as it involved massive undertakings.

Gobind: Is the project such that there is no other similar one in Penang?

Akmar: Yes.

Gobind: Since this is a major project that warrants special attention, the state government would surely give focus to this project?

Akmar: Correct.

Gobind: So this is not special treatment but merely to ensure smooth project implementation?

Akmar: Yes, correct.

CZBUCG, whose owner was Consortium Zenith Construction Sdn Bhd (CZCSB) director Datuk Zarul Ahmad Mohd Zulkifli, was awarded the undersea tunnel project.

A former state exco member, Datuk Lim Hock Seng, the third prosecution witness, had testified earlier that the state government gave two plots of land totalling 2.3ha in size to CZBUCG upon completion of the feasibility studies and detailed design (FSDD) works for the project's three paired roads.

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These plots were later used for the development of the City of Dreams service apartments by Ewein Zenith.

Ewein Bhd founder and executive chairman, the late Datuk Ewe Swee Kheng, who was to be called as the 15th prosecution witness in the trial, was found dead after a fatal fall from his Pulau Tikus condominium on Oct 5, 2021.

Earlier, both the defence and prosecution teams got into a war of words after Gobind sought for DPP Nik Haslinie Hashim to be recused from the trial over an alleged suppression of evidence.

He said Nik Haslinie was part of the prosecution team in a separate and earlier case at the Shah Alam Sessions Court, which involved several of the same witnesses.

Gobind alleged that the witnesses, including Consortium Zenith Construction Sdn Bhd (CZCSB) director Datuk Zarul Ahmad Mohd Zulkifli, had lied in their testimonies about who was the recipient of RM2mil involving the same payment voucher and cheque, as shown in the forensic report from the Shah Alam court that there were two different versions of the statements in the two courts.

In the Shah Alam case, businessman G Gnanaraja was charged in 2019 with cheating Zarul Ahmad of RM19mil court.

However, he pleaded guilty to an alternative charge under the Companies Act in December 2020 and was fined RM230,000. The cheating case has since been classified as "no further action (NFA)".

Zarul Ahmad is currently on the witness stand in the ongoing trial, while Gnanaraja is expected to be called as a prosecution witness soon.

In the defence bid to recuse Nik Haslinie, Gobind said the prosecution witnesses had lied and questioned how she could appear for the prosecution when she is also a material witness for the defence.

Lead DPP Datuk Wan Shaharuddin Wan Ladin then objected to the recusal bid, saying the allegations were made without evidence.

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"It is premature to claim that prosecution witnesses lied because they are still in the midst of giving their testimonies in the trial.

“It is also premature to raise the claim about Nik Haslinie. What my learned friend said made it sound as though Nik Haslinie lied in court.

"There is no basis for saying she lied in court except if this comes from the witnesses," he said.

Wan Shaharuddin also said he had no problem if the defence wished to call Nik Haslinie as a defence witness during the trial later if Lim is ordered to enter his defence, as long as there is a subpoena.

"But at this stage, there is no reason to recuse Nik Haslinie," he said.

Weighing in, DPP Ahmad Akram pointed out that the defence team can cross-examine the witnesses about the allegations later, while the prosecution's case against Lim is still ongoing.

Judge Azura Alwi said she would only give a consideration when there is a formal written application from the defence team for Nik Haslinie’s recusal.

Lim, 62, is facing an amended charge of using his position as then chief minister to solicit RM3.3mil in bribes as an inducement to assist CZBUCG owner Zarul Ahmad to secure the project worth RM6,341,383,702.

Lim allegedly committed the offence at the Penang Chief Minister’s Office, Level 28, Komtar, George Town, between January 2011 and August 2017.

In the second amended charge, Lim is accused of soliciting a bribe of 10% of the profit from the company as gratification to secure the project.

The offence was allegedly committed near The Gardens Hotel, Lingkaran Syed Putra, Mid Valley City here in March 2011.

Lim faces two more charges of causing two plots of land worth RM208.8mil belonging to the Penang government to be disposed of to two companies linked to the state’s undersea tunnel project.

The trial continues on Thursday (July 20).

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