Malaysia’s High Court has ordered former Umno leader Isa Samad to enter his defence on all but one of the 10 charges against him in relation to the purchase of a hotel six years ago when he was chairman of key government agency Felda.
In his judgment, Judge Mohd Nazlan Mohd Ghazali said there was credible evidence against Isa over nine graft charges involving the inflated purchase price of the hotel.
“As such, I now call upon (him) to enter his defence in respect of the nine charges,” the judge was quoted as saying by The Star daily.
Isa, 70, is accused of receiving over RM3 million (S$976,188) in kickbacks for approving the RM160 million purchase of Merdeka Palace hotel in Kuching, Sarawak in 2014.
The former Umno vice-president had pleaded not guilty in December 2018 to one count of criminal breach of trust (CBT) and nine counts of receiving gratification amounting to over RM3 million, by approving the purchase of the hotel by Felda Investment Corporation, a Felda subsidiary. He was acquitted on the charge of CBT.
Merdeka Palace, a five-star hotel with 213 rooms, was supposedly worth only RM110 million at the time it was bought.
Isa had taken charge of the Federal Land Development Authority (Felda) in 2011 and stepped down in January 2017 after the agency and its listed arm, Felda Global Ventures, racked up debts and suffered financial losses.
Felda’s debt stood at RM8 billion at the end of June 2018, forcing the former Pakatan Harapan (PH) government under Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad to provide RM6.23 billion in financial aid to the agency last year. A government audit in 2016 found that under Isa’s leadership, Felda invested in dubious projects which collectively lost more than RM100 million.
The former Negeri Sembilan chief minister was not fielded in the 2018 election as he was being probed by anti-graft investigators.
In September that year, he quit Umno to run as an independent candidate in the Port Dickson by-election against Parti Keadilan Rakyat president Anwar Ibrahim but lost.
Isa’s trial will resume on Aug 17.
If found guilty of corruption, he could face a jail term of up to 20 years and a fine of at least five times the amount in bribes.
His trial is one of several involving or connected to former top leaders from Umno, which was toppled by PH in the 2018 polls. Umno has since become part of the government again as a member of Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s administration.
Former Umno chief minister Musa Aman was acquitted on June 9 of all 46 criminal charges involving corruption and money laundering related to timber concessions in Sabah. Last month, money laundering charges against Riza Aziz, the stepson of former premier Najib Razak, were dropped. The charges stemmed from US$248 million (S$345 million) related to state fund 1MDB.