The corruption trial involving Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng and businesswoman Phang Li Koon began in the Penang High Court today.
First witness blogger ‘Mamu Parpu’ admits:
- Being a supporter of PM
- Not knowing when the sales and purchase agreement for Lim’s house was signed
- Not knowing the property value of houses in CM’s house area
The trial, in connection with the conversion of land from agriculture to residential and the purchase of a plot of land and bungalow at below market value, began with the prosecution submitting amended charges to both the accused.
However, Lim and Phang pleaded not guilty to the amended charges, read out before judge Datuk Hadhariah Syed Ismail.
For the first amended charge, Lim was charged with using his position as a public officer, namely, Chief Minister of Penang, to gain gratification for himself and his wife, Betty Chew Gek Cheng, by approving the application for conversion of agriculture land to a public housing zone in southwest Penang to a company, Magnificient Emblem Sdn Bhd, of which Phang is a director.
Lim, 58, was charged with committing the offence while chairing the Penang State Planning Committee meeting at the operations room, Level 28, Komtar building, on July 18, 2014.
The charge under Section 23 of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) Act 2009 carries an imprisonment for up to 20 years and a fine of up to five times the sum or value of the bribe, or RM10,000, whichever is higher, upon conviction.
For the second amended charge, Lim was charged with using his position to obtain for himself a plot of land and a bungalow, located at 25 Jalan Pinhorn, George Town, from Phang for RM2.8 million, a price which he allegedly knew did not commensurate with the property’s then market value of RM4.27 million.
The charge under Section 165 of the Penal Code carries an imprisonment of up to two years, or a fine, or both, upon conviction.
Phang also pleaded not guilty to an amended charge with abetting Lim in obtaining the bungalow at an undervalued cost.
She was charged under Section 109 of the Penal Code, read together with Section 165 of the same law, which carries an imprisonment for up to two years, or a fine, or both, upon conviction.
Lim and Phang arrived at the court room at 8.50 am.
The supporters, clad in red t-shirt with wordings ‘Solidariti Bersama Guan Eng’ arrived as early as 7.45am to show support for Lim.
The prosecution team is led by deputy public prosecutor Datuk Masri Mohd Daud, while Lim is represented by a panel of lawyers, including Gobind Singh Deo, Ramkarpal Singh and RSN Rayer.
Lawyers Datuk V Sithambaram and Hisyam Teh Poh Teik acted for Phang.
The prosecution’s first witness was blogger Mohsin Abdul Latheef, 34, who goes by the handle ‘Mamu Parpu’ on social media.
DPP Datuk Masri Mohd Daud asked if anyone had pressured him to lodge the report with the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC), to which Mohsin said, “No.”
“I did it on my own will. I made the report so that the chief minister can clear his name of corruption.
Mohsin told the High Court that he frequently posts on his social media under the hashtag “#kamigengNajib.
Lim’s lead counsel Gobind Singh Deo suggested that Mohsin is pro-Barisan Nasional but the latter denied.
“It means I am a supporter of our country’s prime minister,” Mohsin said.
Gobind then suggested that he has a political interest in the case against Lim as seen in the complaint filed with the MACC over Lim’s house purchase on Pinhorn Road.
“It is not true. I lodged the report after watching the TV3 broadcast of a debate in Parliament between Shabudin and Lim Guan Eng,” Mohsin said.
The video of Tasek Gelugor MP Datuk Shabudin Yahaya raising the issue of Lim’s bungalow purchase in Parliament was then screened in court.
He could not reply when Gobind pointed out a discrepancy between the details in his MACC report and what was said in the TV3 video clip.
“Your report stated Lim bought the house in 2008 and yet in the video, Shabudin clearly said 2015, so where did you get the information in your report?” He asked.
Mohsin said he lodged the report two years ago so he could not remember.
Gobind then suggested that Mohsin’s report against Lim was a part of a political conspiracy against Lim which Mohsin denied.
After Gobind pressed him on the source for the information as contained in the MACC report, the Facebook marketer said he got it from a blog.
He later admitted that he did not know when the sales and purchase agreement for Lim’s house was signed.
He also admitted that he did not know the land and house value at that time but insisted that he had lodged the report because he believed Lim had bought his house at below market value.
He confirmed that he did not consult any property valuer or expert on the value of Lim’s house.
“So this means you do not know the market value of properties at that time and you do not if the price of Lim’s house was really below market value?” Gobind asked.
Mohsin replied that the purchase price of Lim’s house was unreasonable as he had read on Facebook that the house near Lim’s house along Pinhorn Road was sold a higher price than Lim’s house.
Finally, when Gobind put it to him that his evidence in court was arranged to frame Lim, he denied it.
Gobind asked him repeatedly if he knew the property value of the houses in Pinhorn Road which he finally admitted that he did not know.
Earlier, Mohsin confirmed that he often participated in protests against the Penang government and Lim.
A total seven witnesses were called in for the session in the morning and four were called in the afternoon.
The last witness for today, Public Bank Bhd northern regional manager Choong Sung Yean told the High Court that Phang took an RM2.125 million loan to purchase a house in Pinhorn Road in 2008.
The prosecution will be calling a total 54 witnesses to testify in the trial.
The court allowed the prosecution’ s request for the cases involving Lim and Phang to be heard jointly.
The hearing is expected to take 23 days.
Starting from today, it will last for a week before adjourning until April 9.
The case will then be heard from April 9 to 12, April 23 to 27, May 7 to 10 and May 21 to 25 this year.
Lim is the first chief minister in Penang to face a graft trial, although he has repeatedly decried the charges as political persecution.