Guan Eng Trial: Witness unaware of transactions involving state land

KUALA LUMPUR: A former director of the Penang Land and Mines Office was unaware of some alleged transactions made by a developer to exchange two lots of state land linked to the undersea tunnel project.

Datuk Akmar Omar, the 35th prosecution witness to testify in the graft trial involving former Penang chief minister Lim Guan Eng, told the Sessions Court that he had no knowledge of certain payments amounting to RM74 .8mil made between November 18, 2013 and March 30, 2015, by Ewein Zenith Berhad to Consortium Zenith BUCG Sdn Bhd (CZBUCG).

Deputy public prosecutor Ahmad Akram Gharib, in his examination-in-chief, asked Akmar if he was aware of the transactions.

Laying out the details of the transaction, he said the first alleged payment was RM12.5mil on Nov 18, 2013; followed by RM800,000 on Dec 23, 2013; RM500,000 each on March 24, April 4 and April 24, 2014; RM3.3mil on May 3, 2014; RM3.5mil on September 5, 2014; and RM48.2mil and RM5mil as at 30 March 2015.

Ahmad Akram: Did you know that since 2013, CZBUCG has received payments from Ewein Zenith for the land swap?

Akmar: Not as far as I know.

Ahmad Akram: On March 30, 2015, who owns the land?

Akmar: The state government of Penang.

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To a question, Akmar said that no other company has received special treatment as given to CZBUCG before it, such as lower land fees and ease in changing land titles.

However, during cross-examination by lead defense counsel Gobind Singh Deo, Akmar agreed that they were not given special treatment but only greater focus by the state government, as it was a major infrastructure project.

He also agreed that the project needs special attention and permission where applicable, as it involves major works.

Gobind: Is the project unique in Penang?

Akmar: Yes.

Gobind: Since this is a big project that needs special attention, the state government will definitely give focus to this project?

Akmar: Right.

Gobind: So this is not special treatment but just to ensure the smooth implementation of the project?

Akmar: Yes, that’s right.

CZBUCG, whose owner is Consortium Zenith Construction Sdn Bhd (CZCSB) director Datuk Zarul Ahmad Mohd Zulkifli, was awarded the undersea tunnel project.

A former state exco member, Datuk Lim Hock Seng, the third prosecution witness, testified earlier that the state government gave two plots of land totaling 2.3 hectares to CZBUCG upon completion of feasibility studies and detailed design (FSDD) works for the three road pairs of the project.

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These plots were later used for the development of City of Dreams serviced apartments by Ewein Zenith.

The founder and executive chairman of Ewein Bhd, the late Datuk Ewe Swee Kheng, who will be called as the 15th prosecution witness in the trial, was found dead after a fatal fall from his condominium in Pulau Tikus on Oct 5, 2021.

Earlier, both the defense and prosecution teams went to war after Gobind asked DPP Nik Haslinie Hashim to be thrown out of the trial for allegedly suppressing evidence.

He said Nik Haslinie was part of the prosecution team in a separate and earlier case in the Shah Alam Sessions Court, involving some of the same witnesses.

Gobind said the witnesses, including Consortium Zenith Construction Sdn Bhd (CZCSB) director Datuk Zarul Ahmad Mohd Zulkifli, lied in their testimonies about who would receive the RM2mil involving both payment vouchers and check, as shown in the forensic report from the Shah Alam court that there were two different versions of the statements in the two courts.

In the Shah Alam case, businessman G Gnanaraja was charged in 2019 with defrauding Zarul Ahmad of RM19mil by the court.

However, he pleaded guilty to an alternative charge under the Companies Act in December 2020 and was fined RM230,000. The cheating case has been classified as “no further action (NFA)”.

Zarul Ahmad is currently on the witness stand in the ongoing trial, while Gnanaraja is expected to be called as a prosecution witness soon.

As the defense attempted to recuse Nik Haslinie, Gobind said the prosecution’s witnesses had lied and questioned how he would fare against the prosecution if he was a material witness for the defense.

DPP chief Datuk Wan Shaharuddin Wan Ladin objected to the denial, saying the allegations were made without evidence.

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“It is too early to say that the prosecution witnesses are lying because they are still in the middle of giving their testimonies in the trial.

“It is also premature to raise the claim about Nik Haslinie. What my learned friend said was that Nik Haslinie had lied in court.

“There is no basis to say that he lied in court unless it comes from witnesses,” he said.

Wan Shaharuddin also said he has no problem if the defense wants to call Nik Haslinie as a defense witness during the trial later if Lim is ordered to enter his defense, as long as there is a subpoena.

“But at this stage, there is no reason to recuse Nik Haslinie,” he said.

Weighing in, DPP Ahmad Akram pointed out that the defense team may cross-examine witnesses about the allegations later, while the prosecution’s case against Lim is still ongoing.

Judge Azura Alwi said she will only give consideration when there is a formal written application from the defense team for Nik Haslinie’s refusal.

Lim, 62, is facing an amended charge of using his position as then prime minister to demand RM3.3mil in bribes as an inducement to help CZBUCG owner Zarul Ahmad get the project worth of RM6,341,383,702.

Lim allegedly committed the offense at the Penang Chief Minister’s Office, Level 28, Komtar, George Town, between January 2011 and August 2017.

In the second amended case, Lim is accused of demanding a bribe of 10% of the profit from the company as satisfaction to secure the project.

The offense was allegedly committed near The Gardens Hotel, Lingkaran Syed Putra, Mid Valley City here in March 2011.

Lim is facing two other charges of causing two lots of land worth RM208.8mil owned by the Penang government to be disposed of to two companies linked to the state’s undersea tunnel project.

The trial will continue on Thursday (July 20).

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