Liong Sik-PKFZ: A huge gamble for Najib, all trails lead to Dr M

By Wong Choon Mei, Malaysia Chronicle

There is no getting away from it. However you look at the Port Klang Free Zone debacle, all trails go back to former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, who was also the finance minister.

A day after his shock arrest, the charges preferred against Ling Liong Sik, the former Transport Minister who had helped push through the huge project, seem to be deliberately crafted so that his lawyers can have them overturned with ease.

The 67-year old was charged under Section 418 of the Penal Code for misleading the Cabinet between Sept 25 and Nov 6, 2002, into agreeing to buy 999.5 acres of land on Pulau Indah at a price of RM25psf on a deferred payment method for a 15-year period, at a 7.5 percent interest rate.

The charge sheet went on to say the Finance Ministry had already valued the land at RM25psf – inclusive of compounded interest – and this fact was withheld from the Cabinet by the accused. The difference comes up RM720 million. Ling was therefore charged for cheating.

The PAC factor

Yet at last year’s high-profile inquiry conducted by the Public Accounts Committee, former secretary-general of the Transport Ministry Zaharah Shaari went on record to say that the land acquisition was done with the full knowledge of the Cabinet.

How can this be? Firstly, the PAC study showed the government would have spent RM442.13 million and saved RM645.87 million if the land for PKFZ was acquired in accordance with the Land Acquisition Act 1960.

Secondly, according to Zaharah, Ling knew about this and agreed with the Treasury secretary-general to buy the land in accordance with the Land Acquisition Act 1960.

Thirdly, the matter was then referred back to the Cabinet and Ling briefed Mahathir about it. Mahathir, who ruled Malaysia with a fist of iron for 22 years, has kept a conspicuous silence on Ling’s arrest.So too has his successor, Abdullah Badawi who continued the project after Mahathir resigned in 2003.

“The Cabinet then decided to acquire the land but when the central agency did not agree and gave its views, the Cabinet, if I am not mistaken, told the ministry to delay its decision to buy the land directly from Kuala Dimensi until a different decision was made,” was Zaharah’s testimony in the PAC verbatim report.

“I think after that the Cabinet agreed to its original decision to buy the land. I think based on that final decision, the ministry went ahead to allow PKA to purchase the land on that decision.”

Ultimately, Ling’s case will hinge on who is telling the truth and already, Zaharah’s testimony casts enough reasonable doubt to have the case thrown out.

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