Hwa Beng’s PKFZ book could harm Liong Sik’s case, court told
KUALA LUMPUR, July 13 — Datuk Lee Hwa Beng’s recently-released book on the Port Klang Free Zone (PKFZ) scandal drew criticism today during Tun Dr Ling Liong Sik’s cheating trial when the latter’s lawyer argued that it may create prejudice against his client’s case.
Dr Ling’s counsel, Wong Kian Kheong, pointed out to the High Court here that Lee, who was a former chairman of the Port Klang Authority and also a witness for the prosecution, had released the book shortly after his client was ordered to enter his defence in March this year.
“The adverse publicity has created a substantial risk of prejudice against Tun Ling, that Tun Ling will not be able to receive a fair trial,” he said in an opening speech to the court.
The lawyer also claimed that Dr Ling has been denied his constitutional right to fair trial as he was accused of an alleged wrongdoing only after he had left government in 2003.
Dr Ling took to the witness stand for the first time today to defend himself against charges of cheating the government over the purchase of land for the PKFZ project, which is said to have resulted in billions of ringgit in losses for the government.
The former MCA president, who served out a 17-year term in the transport ministry until 2003, also faces two alternative charges of deceiving the Cabinet into believing that the terms of purchase — at RM25 psf and 7.5 per cent interest — were acknowledged and agreed to by Valuation and Property Services Department (JPPH) despite knowing that there was no such agreement.
“The charges concern events that took place between 1999 until 2002. Tun Ling stepped down as Transport Minister in May 2003,” Wong said.
He argued that official documents relating to the PKFZ project are classified under the Official Secrets Act 1972 and Dr Ling was no longer allowed access to them as he had retired.
“In the circumstances, Tun Ling’s defence has been seriously prejudiced,” he said.
Lee’s book, “PKFZ: A Nation’s Trust - Betrayed”, which was released in April, chronicles the story of the project first mooted in 1997 and includes insights from his three years as PKA boss when the controversy erupted, as well as his role in the investigations.
In an interview with The Malaysian Insider shortly after the book’s launch, the former Subang Jaya assemblyman had said that despite five years of exposés on the RM12.5 billion PKFZ scandal, the authorities have only hit the “tip of the iceberg”.
“Outside of PKA, a lot of things happened. It might come out in the court cases. OC Phang’s trial will probably reveal even more facts,” Lee said of the former PKA general manager who served from 1997 to 2008, when the cost of the project ballooned from RM1.1 billion to RM4.6 billion.
She is currently on trial for three counts of criminal breach of trust involving over RM254 million related to the PKFZ.
“In the Transport Ministry, there are so many things that happened, which we won’t know about, that might not be revealed in the court cases. Only the police and Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) have the power to dig (these) out.
“The six that are on trial were not charged with corruption. Without that, the money trail won’t come out,” he said, referring to the prosecution of the half dozen individuals including two former transport ministers.
The project, initially estimated at RM1.1 billion after it was mooted by then transport minister Dr Ling in 1997, more than quadrupled in cost to RM4.6 billion by 2007.
A position review by top accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) revealed in 2009 that the total cost including interests from debt repayments could reach RM12.5 billion.
Since December 2009, six individuals have been charged in court including Dr Ling, and his successor as transport minister, former MCA deputy chief Tan Sri Chan Kong Choy. Both are accused of lying to the Cabinet.