Shahrizat’s leave a Putrajaya attempt at damage control

(The Malaysian Insider) – Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil’s three-week leave from ministerial duties from today is being seen as Putrajaya’s plan for damage control for the Wanita Umno chief and her party following allegations of financial improprieties in her family-run cattle-farming project funded by the government, say sources.

The Malaysian Insider understands that the Najib administration felt this was the best move in the current situation although some in the Umno rank-and-file including members of Shahrizat’s family felt her break from work is an admission of guilt in the scandal-hit National Feedlot Centre (NFC) project.

It is also learnt that there could be possible punitive action taken against Shahrizat’s husband and children after the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) and police complete their probe into the NFC, which received a government soft loan of RM250 million in 2008. The Auditor-General’s Report 2011 had described the project as a mess.

“Going on leave is the best thing for Shahrizat and for Umno apart from giving a breather to the Najib administration,” a government source told The Malaysian Insider.

He said senior government ministers had discussed the issue with Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak before it was suggested to Shahrizat that she should take a short break.

“She initially refused but finally saw wisdom in taking leave,” he added.

The women, family and community development minister said in a statement yesterday that she has asked Najib to give her three weeks’ leave starting today.

“I hope the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) will be able to investigate whether or not I was involved in any of the decisions made by the government on the NFC in which my husband, Datuk Seri Dr Mohamad Salleh Ismail, is the executive chairman,” she said.

The Wanita Umno chief refused to comment earlier yesterday when asked by reporters about PKR’s latest allegation involving the national cattle-farming project.

PKR had disclosed an email yesterday detailing how NFC’s lawyer allegedly told a MACC advisory board member that an official in the company had been tricked into paying money to a “conman” to influence a police probe into the project.

According to the email, the lawyer told the advisory board member how the NFC official had been tricked into paying money to a “conman” — understood to be Datuk Shamsubahrin Ismail — to allegedly influence ongoing investigations by the police.

Tan Sri Megat Najmuddin Megat Khas confirmed to The Malaysian Insider that he authored the email which PKR presented earlier today as proof that a top NFC official had allegedly tried to bribe the police.