Ong, Tiong in limelight over RM10m ‘gift’, use of private planes

Written by Chan Kok Leong, The Edge   

Unanswered questions about the usage of private planes by MCA president Datuk Seri Ong Tee Keat and disputed claims over a purported RM10 million gift to him by wealthy political leader Datuk Seri Tiong King Sing continued to hold the public’s attention yesterday.

While Ong, who is transport minister, vehemently denied yesterday morning having received such an amount, by the close of the day, the deputy CEO of Wijaya Baru Global Bhd (WBG) Datuk Faizal Abdullah, who is a close aide of Tiong, called it a “donation”, rather than loan, as it was referred to earlier.

The issue of airplanes used by Ong also remained unclear.

In the morning press conference, Ong confirmed that he had used private airplanes owned by a WBG subsidiary, Wijaya Baru Aviation Sdn Bhd (WBA), but denied that he was not going to pay for it.

“We are still waiting to be billed for the services,” Ong told reporters. “Till now, there have been no invoices for the usage of the planes. The onus of billing is on them, not us.”

Ong also indicated that it was normal for his ministry to use both private charter companies and regular airlines such as MAS and AirAsia for official purposes.

“We did not choose their aircraft only as there are other service providers,” he said.

However, Ong did not provide the dates, purposes and passengers for the trips.

“Those who went with me were ministry officials and not all the trips were at our request,” he said to a question.

“In Kuching, for example, I was invited to come back on one of the planes as it was late and there were no other commercial planes coming back to Kuala Lumpur,” said Ong.

He did not elaborate on the four other trips using WBA’s planes but said that he could provide details if necessary. The details were not disclosed to the media after the press conference.

Instead, he took Tiong, who is the CEO of Kuala Dimensi Sdn Bhd (KDSB), the developer and turnkey contractor of the controversial Port Klang Free Zone (PKFZ) project, to task for the timing of the revelations.

Tiong had alleged on Wednesday that he had given a RM10 million donation to Ong and that the MCA chief owed his company for usage of his planes.

The transport ministry is heading an investigation over alleged improprieties in the PKFZ project owned by the Port Klang Authority (PKA). On Tuesday, PKA chairman Datuk Lee Hwa Beng lodged a report against KDSB for “over billing PKA for a sum of around RM500 million”.

“I categorically deny that I’ve received a RM10 million loan as alleged by Tiong,” said Ong. “This is the work of people who want to undermine me and my ministerial position due to our investigation into the PKFZ scandal.”

Ong said that he had lodged a police report against Tiong for criminal defamation in Cheras in the morning and gave the Bintulu member of parliament seven days to retract the allegations and apologise.

Later yesterday evening, Faizal of WBG, the parent company of WBA and KDSB, told reporters that the RM10 million was not a loan but a donation to Ong’s party.

“I think Tiong said that it was a donation to MCA and not a loan,” he began after reading out a press statement.

But, when pressed for details of the donation, Faizal referred reporters to Tiong. The Kapar Umno Youth chief, however, confirmed that the money was not paid out by KDSB.

The Malaysian Insider news website said yesterday that Tiong stood by his allegations.

“I will not retract my statement,” said Tiong. “Why do I need to retract? I welcome him (Ong) to lodge a police report. He can go ahead and sue me.”

Tiong, who is the chairman of the Barisan Nasional Backbenchers’ Club, said he could provide a witness to the donation.

Tiong told The Malaysian Insider that he stands by his remarks given in a media interview yesterday.

“ I offered a cheque but Ong asked for cash because it was faster. I am very sincere in my intentions,” said Tiong.

On the planes, Faizal also disputed Ong’s version and said that the planes were not chartered out but “lent” to the minister.

“The planes do not have Chapter 135 approval from the Federal Aviation Administration from the US and hence they cannot be used for commercial purposes yet,” said Faizal.

He added that WBA was in the process of applying for the commercial licence.

Explaining why the planes were provided to the MCA chief, Faizal said: “We don’t have a personal relationship with Ong but because he is the minister, we couldn’t refuse his request.

“But this does not mean that we did not intend to charge him for the usage,” he added.

Faizal also dismissed the suggestion that Ong was using the planes for ministerial purposes as there was no “local purchase order or letters” from the ministry of transport. He said that although no invoice was given, he nevertheless expected Ong to “reimburse the company for the usage”.

According to Faizal, the fuel for the usage ranged from US$3,000-US$5,000 (RM10,590-RM17,650) depending on distance.

Ong was alleged to have used the planes on Feb 19, March 24 and April 20, 2009 for return trips between Johor Bahru and Subang. Another trip was between Kuantan and Subang on March 7, 2009.

“One of his officers made another request for a flight to Kuantan on April 24. But we told him that the planes were ‘not available’ as they had not paid us anything yet.

“Perhaps, he is sore with us for rejecting him,” Faizal added.

Ironically, this is no longer a laughing matter.

While the question of paying for “transport services” is relatively straightforward, the ethical issue involved in using the services of a company “under investigation” is a grey area.

And to avoid a messy lawsuit, Tiong has to come up with solid proof that he did “donate” the hefty sum to MCA.

Unless the many issues involved are cleared up, both Ong and Tiong could suffer damage to their public image.