KUALA LUMPUR, July 18 ― The cheating charge against ex-Sime Darby Bhd chief executive Datuk Seri Ahmad Zubir Murshid yesterday over native land bought in Sarawak has prompted the DAP to push for a White Paper into the government conglomerate’s operations, which posted a massive RM1.7 billion in losses from its engineering unit in 2010.
The 55-year-old was the only one charged with two counts of criminal breach of trust (CBT) and cheating in acquiring Native Customary Rights (NCR) land under the plantations-to-property giant’s Sarawak Upstream Expansion Plan in 2008 and 2009. He pleaded not guilty and is out on a RM200,000 bail.
“It comes as a complete surprise after all the brouhaha over alleged mismanagement and abuse in the Sime Darby Engineering division which caused Sime to record massive RM1.7 billion losses, (that) Zubir is now being charged for alleged CBT for the purchase of a piece of NCR land in Sarawak,” DAP publicity chief Tony Pua told The Malaysian Insider.
Those in the plantation industry were puzzled over Zubir’s charges, pointing out that the Sarawak expansion was then spearheaded by Datuk Azhar Abdul Hamid who headed Sime Darby Plantations from 2006 to 2010. He then replaced Zubir who was forced to quit in late 2010.
Azhar is now chief executive of the government-owned MRT Corporation Bhd that is developing the 51km Sungai Buloh-Kajang MyRapidTransit (MRT) city train line.
“We call upon the government who are the major shareholders of the company to disclose in full via a White Paper on the Sime Darby scandal. We fear that scapegoats are being created to cover up for the multibillion ringgit scandal in Malaysia’s largest conglomerate,” said Pua, who is also the Petaling Jaya Utara MP.
Zubir, who is already facing civil suits by Sime and the government over losses incurred by the conglomerate, was arrested on Monday by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) over the plantation land deal.
In the first charge, he is accused of failing to take or instruct legal action between November 17 and 28, 2008 to rectify the award of NCR lands in KJD/Lower Julau, Sg Julau/Sg Pitoh/Sg Jiet and part of Merurun/Meluan/Entabai in Sarikei to Vertical Drive Sdn Bhd, thereby causing Sime to incur losses amounting to RM85 million for having to acquire the company.
He is also accused of a similar offence involving Nature Ambience Sdn Bhd, over NCR lands at the confluence of Btg Rejang/Btg Baleh, Kapit and the remaining eastern half of the Merurun/Meluan/Entabai and Julau from November 17, 2008 to December 4, 2009, causing Sime RM16.8 million in losses.
The charges under Section 409 of the Penal Code carry a jail term of up to 20 years, whipping and a fine. He faces two alternative charges of cheating under Section 418 of the Penal Code in failing to inform Sime’s board of directors on November 28, 2008 and December 4, 2009 respectively that the NCR lands in Sarikei had instead been awarded to Vertical Drive and Nature Ambience.
He faces up to seven years in prison, a fine, or both, upon conviction under the Section. The offences were allegedly committed at the Sime Darby Berhad office in Wisma Sime Darby, Jalan Raja Laut, Kuala Lumpur.
Sime’s unit, Sime Darby Plantation Sdn Bhd, announced on December 7, 2009 that it had acquired the entire stake in Nature Ambience Sdn Bhd from Common Enhance Sdn Bhd for RM16.82 million to develop oil palm plantations in Sarawak on NCR land.
“The acquisition will enable the Sime Darby group to develop oil palm plantations in Sarawak under the state government’s new concept of development for NCR land, in conjunction with Sarawak’s Land Custody and Development Authority (Pelita) and the natives holding native customary rights in the land.
“It is the intention of the group to adopt a differentiated approach to cultivate the NCR land, which is to be developed pursuant to the NCR joint-venture agreement, in compliance with the relevant guidelines issued by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil,” the company said in a statement.
It added Nature Ambience, which was incorporated in December 2008 and would be principally involved in oil palm cultivation and palm oil production, had on October 2, 2009, been granted approval from Sarawak’s ministry of land development to invest in or develop 26,211ha of NCR land in Kapit and Julau in accordance with the state government’s new concept of development on NCR Land.
Sime said in the approval letter that the state’s ministry of land development had asked Pelita to issue a formal offer letter to Nature Ambience incorporating the basic terms and conditions to be entered into among relevant parties, the NCR joint-venture (JV) agreement, subsequent to the confirmation of interest by Nature Ambience.
It said the JV was expected to be between Nature Ambience, as a JV vehicle, Sime Plantation and Pelita’s subsidiary, Pelita Holdings Sdn Bhd, acting for itself and as trustee for the natives holding the rights in the NCR land.
Under the NCR land development scheme, the equity structure of the JV held by the investor, landowners and trustee would be 60:30:10, it added.
It said the scheme was an effort by the Sarawak state government to bring together the landowners with their land and the private sector with its capital and expertise to develop the land for commercial farming on a joint-venture basis, for the benefit of both parties.
“The objective of the NCR land projects is to turn idle NCR land into productive commercial assets and enhance equitable economic wealth distribution in the state,” the conglomerate said.