Datuk Seri Najib Razak had issued three minutes to the Home Ministry to facilitate the appointment of Ultra Kirana Sdn Bhd (UKSB) in the Foreign Visa System (VLN) project, the High Court heard today.
Former Home Ministry (Immigration Affairs) senior assistant secretary Azman Azra Abdul Rahman @ Md Salleh said the minutes were issued to the then Home Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, a week after he was appointed to the position.
Azman, 43, who testified as the second prosecution witness said Najib, who was then the prime minister, issued the minutes in response to three letters from UKSB that he received after the 13th General Election in 2013.
“UKSB sent in the first letter to Najib on May 23 to seek continual consideration support from the government regarding the VLN project.
“Najib had on the same day, issued a written minute to Zahid stating that the project must proceed.
“Zahid then conducted several meetings to discuss the Immigration Department’s application system as well as the visa application One Stop Centre (OSC) operator for South Asia and Myanmar.
“Based on the meetings, the ministry produced a consideration letter which included UKSB to maintain the VLN with support from the Immigration Department technical team,” he said in his witness statement today.
Azman said UKSB had sent the second letter to Najib on Jan 20, 2014, asking for the government to maintain the company as the sole operator for Malaysia-China visa management.
He said Najib then sent the second minute to Zahid stating – ‘YB Datuk Sri Zahid, Sila Bantu Dalam Hal Ini. Kontrak ini perlu diteruskan’ (Zahid, please help in this matter. This contract needs to be maintained).
“On Feb 28, 2014, an agreement between the government and UKSB was inked for the latter to supply an integrated VLN system for six years between Nov 1, 2013, and Oct 31, 2019.
“Based on the agreement, UKSB has the obligation to implement the E-Visa which is an effort to implement VLN through online.
“Due to this, the company had sent its third letter to Najib on Oct 27, 2015, asking the government to speed up the E-visa,” he said.
He said Najib, in response, sent his third minute to Zahid stating that E-Visa can be launched on Jan 1, 2016.
Azman, during the re-examination by Zahid’s counsel Datuk Ahmad Zaidi Zainal, agreed that the minutes were an ‘order’ for him from his boss to continue the VLN project.
“According to the minutes, he (Zahid) was not given any other options whether to proceed or to scrap the project,” he said.
Earlier, Azman testified that Ultra Kirana first mooted the foreign visa system through its letter to Hishammuddin in March 2010.
He said the ministry, however, rejected Ultra Kirana’s proposal, adding that the Chinese tourists’ visa applications exceeded the system’s capacity to handle them.
“The ministry was of the view that Ultra Kirana’s proposed system could not reduce the workload of consulate officers in the visa applications,” Azman said.
The witness said Ultra Kirana submitted another letter in April 2010, making a new suggestion to create a One Stop Centre (OSC) system in Malaysian consulate offices all over China. The OSC was meant to reduce the consulate officers’ workload in processing tourists’ visa applications and serve as a screening tool to curb human trafficking activities.
“The consulate officers only need to focus on approving and issuing the visa,” Azman said.
To a question by deputy public prosecutor Wan Shaharuddin Wan Ladin on whether Ultra Kirana’s contract was terminated after Pakatan Harapan took over the government, the witness said the PH government did not do so.
Under cross-examination by Zaidi on whether there was any breach of contract by Ultra Kirana, such as the company allegedly compromising the immigration system, Azman said the company had not done so.
“Since they had done a fair job, there was no reason to terminate their contract?” Zaidi asked, to which the witness agreed.
Azman also agreed with the lawyer’s suggestion that Zahid never instructed his officers to approve the implementation of the integrated foreign visa system with OSC.
Zahid pleaded not guilty to 33 alternative charges for receiving SGD 13.46 million from UKSB as an inducement to extend the company’s contract as the operator of a OSC in China and the VLN system as well as to maintain the agreement to supply VLN integrated system paraphernalia to the same company by the Home Ministry.
He is also facing another seven charges for accepting SGD1,150,000, RM3,000,000, €15,000 and USD15,000 in cash from the same company which he knew had connection with his function as then Home Minister.
The trial before Judge Datuk Mohd Yazid Mustafa continues on May 27.