Malaysia’s former finance minister Lim Guan Eng was charged yesterday at the Special Corruption Court for soliciting a bribe over a controversial RM6.3 billion (S$2.1 billion) undersea tunnel project during his tenure as Penang chief minister. He pleaded not guilty.
The opposition leader was arrested on Thursday night at the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) headquarters.
The charge sheet alleged that he had asked for a bribe of 10 per cent of future profits from a company that was awarded a contract to build the undersea tunnel.
Lim, 59 – who is also secretary-general of the Democratic Action Party (DAP), which has the most seats in Parliament – is scheduled to be charged with further offences at a Penang sessions court next Monday and Tuesday, the MACC said in a statement.
The anti-graft agency said next Monday’s charges are related to the undersea tunnel project, while the Tuesday charge involves an unspecified case.
If found guilty of the tunnel project charges, Lim could be jailed for up to 20 years, and fined not less than five times the value of the bribe or RM10,000, whichever is higher. The bail was set at RM1 million.
Lim was Penang chief minister from 2008 to 2018, and early studies for the tunnel, designed to link Butterworth on the mainland to Georgetown on Penang island, began during his administration in 2016.
Lim told reporters after the court session: “This is a baseless allegation and it is politically motivated to tarnish and smear my reputation. I want to stress that I have never received any gratification and I have said this to MACC and they never asked me to show proof of whether I got millions or billions of ringgit in my bank account or whether I had millions of ringgit in cash in my possession.
“This project was by open tender, not by direct award, and to date not a single sen has been paid for the tunnel project.
“I will fight to prove my innocence in court. I believe that the truth will show that I have not received any gratification and there is no corruption.”
Lim’s son Marcus yesterday alleged that his father’s arrest was a political plot to undermine the opposition Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition.
Two cases involving Lim Guan Eng
THE UNDERSEA TUNNEL PROJECT CONTROVERSY
The proposed undersea tunnel project, linking Butterworth on the Malaysian mainland to Georgetown on Penang island, is part of the state government’s RM6.3 billion (S$2.1 billion) infrastructure project, which was approved when Lim Guan Eng was chief minister.
The project, awarded to Consortium Zenith in 2013, has attracted criticism over its price tag, delays and allegations of kickbacks from Zenith.
The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) began investigations into the contentious project in 2017, raiding several companies and arresting two company officials, but it appeared to have suspended the probe after the Pakatan Harapan coalition won federal power in the 2018 General Election.
THE BUNGALOW CONTROVERSY
Lim was charged in 2016 for allegedly receiving gratification by purchasing a bungalow from businesswoman Phang Li Koon below market value in 2015 when he was Penang chief minister.
He was also charged with abuse of power by approving the conversion of a plot of agricultural land into a public housing zone that was acquired by Magnificent Emblem, a company linked to Ms Phang.
Both Lim and Ms Phang were granted an acquittal by the Penang High Court in 2018, after the Attorney-General’s Chambers withdrew the case, soon after the Pakatan Harapan coalition won power.
The MACC described the acquittal as “shocking”.
He said the family had expected this to happen since the February collapse of the PH government, in which Lim had served as finance minister.
“Their plan is simple, to frame and capture those leaders who wouldn’t bow down to their dirty scheme,” Mr Marcus Lim wrote on Facebook.
DAP MP Tony Pua said the allegations against Lim were a form of political persecution.
The MACC had called Lim in for questioning on three separate days leading up to the charge, and questioned several prominent Penang politicians in recent weeks, including Lim’s successor as chief minister, Mr Chow Kon Yeow.
According to The Star news daily, the MACC is looking into allegations that the state government allowed the Penang Tunnel special purpose vehicle (SPV) company to sell state land rights worth RM3 billion despite a four-year delay in the construction of roads.
Investigators are also said to be looking into the feasibility and detailed design studies that have yet to be completed, even though payment of RM220 million was allegedly made to the SPV company.
This is not the first time Lim has been charged with graft.
He faced corruption charges over the purchase of a bungalow below the market price in 2016, but these were controversially dropped in 2018 by then Attorney-General Tommy Thomas, after PH won federal power.
De facto Law Minister Takiyuddin Hassan recently said the MACC could renew the probe into the bungalow purchase if new evidence emerges.