A widening probe by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) and the tax authorities into a multibillion-dollar infrastructure project featuring an ambitious undersea tunnel linking the island of Penang to the peninsula could spell trouble for the top leadership of the Democratic Action Party (DAP), which rules the state.
In raids early this week, officials from the MACC and Malaysia’s Inland Revenue Board stormed the offices of Ideal Property Group, which is involved in the tunnel project, and detained former Penang Port Commission chairman Jeffrey Chew Gim Eam for questioning, according to government officials and lawyers familiar with the matter.
Government officials said two other Penang-based property companies are also being investigated.
Mr Chew is a senior DAP official and is under remand until today, according to MACC officials.
Ideal Property’s major shareholder Alex Ooi Kee Liang is a businessman who enjoys close relations with top party leadership, including secretary-general Lim Guan Eng, who was the finance minister during the two-year reign of the Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition government. The firm did not respond to a request for comment.
A senior DAP official acknowledged that the detention of Mr Chew and the raid on the offices of three property firms that are connected to the tunnel project were cause for concern and there are growing fears among the party’s rank and file that the probe into the tunnel project could escalate into a crackdown on other senior leaders, including Mr Lim, who served as the chief minister of the state for a decade until 2018.
Yesterday, MACC officers turned up at the state government’s headquarters in George Town to question DAP state councillors P. Ramasamy and Zairil Khir Johari.
Political analysts noted that the anti-graft probe that is targeting the DAP will surely fuel charges of political harassment by the government of Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, who snatched power controversially in March, when his Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia abandoned the previous multiracial PH coalition government to form a new partnership with two of the country’s most established ethnic Malay-Muslim parties – Umno and Parti Islam SeMalaysia.
The move by MACC and the tax authorities to turn up the heat on the infrastructure plan spearheaded by the DAP state government is also set to put more stress on the fraying PH coalition that is headed by opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim.
The tunnel project was a central plank of a major economic policy initiative of the state administration during Mr Lim’s tenure as chief minister.
The first phase of the huge undertaking is already in progress, with reclamation works for 50ha along the island’s famed Gurney Drive tourist destination and the creation of a separate island covering 308ha for a new township.
Political analysts noted that the anti-graft probe that is targeting the DAP will surely fuel charges of political harassment by the government of Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, who snatched power controversially in March, when his Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia abandoned the previous multiracial Pakatan Harapan coalition government to form a new partnership with two of the country’s most established ethnic Malay-Muslim parties – Umno and Parti Islam SeMalaysia.
The land reclamation is aimed at financing a clutch of highway networks and the undersea tunnel that will become the third link from the island to the mainland, supplementing the two existing bridges.
The construction of the road and tunnelling works was awarded in early 2013 to a consortium comprising Malaysian contractor Zenith Construction and China’s Beijing Urban Construction Group).
The price for the construction was tagged at RM6.34 billion (S$2 billion).
The massive infrastructure plan quickly attracted opposition from Penang civil society groups and the MACC because of allegations of kickbacks to politicians from DAP and Umno, which at the time was the linchpin of the then Barisan Nasional coalition government in Kuala Lumpur.
Government officials and lawyers close to the situation noted that the MACC began its probe into the infrastructure project in late 2017, and in January the following year, obtained statements from senior executives of Zenith Construction on alleged financial misdeeds involving Penang and federal government politicians.
That probe was shelved after the PH coalition won the May 2018 general election.
Government officials said that the MACC decided to reopen the case last month after it received fresh information over the tunnel and road projects.