Koon Swan saga: Will the truth emerge?

Was the former MCA president’s political career cut short due to a hideous plan?

Was Koon Swan trapped in truth and emotional pain for the past 10 years despite instinctively knowing that one day, the truth would emerge just like the Chinese proverb, “shui luo shi chu” (when water recedes, the rock (truth) comes to light)?

Stanley Koh, FMT

The concept of history is often than not, taken for granted. Events which happened in the past seem to be separated by time and space like compartments, disconnected with the present.

Yet, the truth in history, seemingly buried in the capsule of time, can be stranger than fiction.

Take the illustrative example of former MCA president and reborn Christian Tan Koon Swan and his conviction over his involvement in the Pan El saga.

The truth is history can burn indeed through the pages in time.

For more than 10 years, Koon Swan could have prayed hard since his jail imprisonments in Singapore and Malaysia, seeking a truthful answer over his traumatic and painful experiences on the CBT charges in both Pan El and his role in the Malaysian Multi-Purposes Holding Berhad respectively.

His prayers were answered in 2010. Reportedly, the former chief prosecutor of Singapore, Glenn Knight at a seminar apologised for having wrongly prosecuted Koon Swan in the Pan El crisis in the mid-80s.

Koon Swan apparently had kept his silence on the matter until today.

Knight had apparently devoted a chapter of his publication, “Glenn Knight-The Prosecutor” narrating the Pan El debacle and Koon Swan’s involvement.

According to press reports, Knight wrote, “…as Koon Swan was the head of MCA. I put a paper on his involvement in the Pan El saga but left it to my superiors to decide his fate as he was out of Singapore and in Malaysia.”

Singapore decided to prosecute Koon Swan in late 1985 and he was found guilty which led to his two-year imprisonment there.

Upon his release, Koon Swan was re-arrested in late 1987 to face another set of charges by the Malaysian government over his involvement in the management of the Multi-Purpose Holdings Bhd, the main investment arm of his party, MCA.

Was Koon Swan trapped in truth and emotional pain for the past 10 years despite instinctively knowing that one day, the truth would emerge just like the Chinese proverb, “shui luo shi chu” (when water recedes, the rock (truth) comes to light)?

The light at end of the tunnel shone in 1996 in a similar CBT case where Singapore Chief Justice Yong Pung How concluded that Knight had charged Koon Swan under a wrong section for the offence and therefore, was wrong in law.

Knight wrote, “Chief Justice Yong was of the opinion that the section I charged Koon Swan with was wrong in law for we could not charge a person for stealing from a company because he was a director. It was not a breach of the law in that sense.”

According to Knight, many people had asked if Yong’s judgment could be used to set aside the conviction of Koon Swan but unfortunately jurisprudence in Singapore did not allow this though technically Koon Swan could still have been granted a pardon.

A conspiracy?

Much water has flowed under the bridge. Perhaps, Koon Swan has learnt to live in peace having reconciled with his traumatic and troubled past. Yet many of Koon Swan’s political supporters even today still harbour the belief and perception that their leader was “politically” persecuted over the commercial CBT charges.

But there is no evidence to prove it was politically motivated. The truth was known only to those who had masterminded it and Koon Swan himself.

If there was conspiracy, Koon Swan had still kept his silence for more than two decades, 26 years to be exact.

As for the public, many especially the Chinese community still remember Koon Swan’s predicament over the Pan El affair, shortly after his party election victory over the then acting MCA president Neo Yee Pan.

Conspiracy theorists including Koon Swan’s staunch supporters speculated that Koon Swan could have been a victim of political persecution by certain high-powered Umno leaders at that time.

Could it be that Koon Swan was sternly reminded by certain Umno quarters not to contest against Yee Pan? The latter took over as acting president when Lee San Choon abruptly resigned in April and formally left the party in May 1983.

“San Choon’s departure precipitated a savagely acrimonious power struggle within the party. His choice of his protégé and close ally, Yee Pan, as acting president met with the disapproval of an influential group of top-ranking leders led by Koon Swan, the architect of MCA-initiated economic reforms within the Chinese business community,” wrote Dr Heng Pek Koon in her book, “Chinese Politics in Malaysia-A History of MCA”.

Yee Pan using his presidential powers in expelling Koon Swan’s 14 key supporters in various leadership levels and the membership phantom issue triggered a 20-month party crisis. The crisis ended following an extraordinary AGM and elections on Nov 11, 1985 which saw Koon Swan ushered in as the new president.

Sudaram Jomo wrote, “By late 1985, (soon after Koon Swan’s victory), however he was involved in the Pan El scandal, which triggered stock market collapse in both Singapore and Malaysia, leading to his arrest in Singapore.”

Following immediately on the heels of the arrest was another blow when two of his closest associates were implicated in a scandal involving 24 deposit-taking cooperatives (DTCs) and were charged in early 1987 with CBT in connection with the demise of a large MCA-sponsored saving cooperative, Komuda.