Court told of Guan Eng’s meetings with Zarul in Komtar

(NST) – The corruption trial involving Lim Guan Eng today saw one witness testifying how the former Penang chief minister had met a businessman several times in his office at Komtar before the latter’s company was awarded the RM6.34 billion undersea tunnel project.

The witness, Lim’s former personal assistant Farida Hani Yacob, said the meetings were held at least five times involving her boss and Beijing Urban Construction Group (BUCG) managing director Datuk Zarul Ahmad Mohd Zulkifli.

Meanwhile, another witness from a company which also bid for the project but lost, testified how BUCG had obviously gained an advantage by attending meetings and discussions on the preparation of Request for Proposal (RFP) documents for the project even before the tender was called.

Ooi Bok Thian, who is the general manager of Syarikat WCT Bhd which had entered into a joint venture with Korean construction conglomerate Daewoo Group to form WCT – Daewoo, said this after he was shown minutes of the meeting between BUCG and Penang state officials.

However, Ooi was later subjected to a barrage of questions from Lim’s lead counsel Gobind Singh Deo who tried to get the witness to agree that there was nothing to be gained from the three meetings which were held.

The hearing today started with Farida taking the stand as the sixth prosecution witness. The 47-year old said she started working as Lim’s personal assistant from 2009 until 2018 and got to know Zarul in the course of her work.

She said that Zarul had attended at least five meetings in Lim’s office in Komtar but she could not remember the dates.

After she was done with her testimony, Ooi took the stand and explained how WCT had tendered for the project through its joint venture with Daewoo and had passed the pre qualification marks set by the state government.

He said the tender was submitted after the company got to know about the project through an advertisement which had been placed by the state government.

Ooi said Daewoo had vast experience in the construction industry and had also constructed the 8.3km Busan Geoje bridge tunnel which connects the South Korean city of Busan to Geoje Island.

He said the company only prepared its bid based on information provided in the RFP documents.

At this point Deputy Public Prosecutor (DPP) R Francine showed the witness the minutes of the meeting between Zarul and state officials.

After reading the minutes, Ooi said it was obvious BUCG had been told about the scope of work and other criteria for the mega project even before the RFP was called.

“They got first hand information, including alignment and location of the highways which the state government wanted to build,” he said.

To a question from DPP Wan Shahruddin Wan Ladin, Ooi said after the RFP was completed, BUCG was given 93 marks to win the project while WCT Daewoo only managed to get 59 points.

He also noted that state government officials had never visited Daewoo’s project in Korea, unlike a state delegation which had visited China on BUCG’s invitation.

Later, when cross examined by Gobind, Ooi acknowledged that Daewoo had never invited state officials to visit Korea for a briefing on its ongoing or completed projects.

He also acknowledged that Daewoo had only bid to construct three highways but not the undersea tunnel, unlike BUCG which had bid to undertake the entire project as required by the state government.

On the meetings and discussions with the state officials, Gobind pressed Ooi to acknowledge that these were just general discussions which did not benefit BUCG in any way.

However, Ooi maintained that BUCG had obtained early information on what was required but relented after Gobind attacked him with a barrage of questions that these were just general discussions with no specific details divulged.

Lim is facing four charges in relation to the undersea tunnel project. He is accused of soliciting a 10 per cent cut in profits from the project from Zarul.

He is also accused of seeking RM3.3 million in kickbacks to appoint Zarul’s company to undertake the project, and another two charges of dishonestly misappropriating RM208.7 million worth of state land to two companies.

The trial, which is heard before Sessions Court judge Azura Alwi, continues.