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Thursday, September 29, 2022

Disturbing questions over Najib’s ultra-luxury gifts

 


What business do prominent tycoons such as Francis Yeoh and Desmond Lim have making gifts of watches worth more than half a million ringgit each to the then prime minister Najib Abdul Razak? And what were they expecting in return?

Were there any offences committed during the process? Could it be a form of bribery for favours done? Should Najib have accepted such expensive gifts as the PM of Malaysia who wields considerable executive powers over many decisions? Must he declare the gifts and pay tax on them?

Should businessmen give such gifts knowing that the man they were giving them to has the ability to decide or have a major influence in deciding many projects in which they may be involved? Isn't it time that givers of bribery were also brought to court and not just the takers?

The story about the watches emerged in court hearings relating to the forfeiture of items held by Najib and his wife Rosmah Mansor which were seized in a raid at the Pavilion Residences condominium in May 2018. The Pavilion group of companies is controlled by Desmond Lim.

According to The Edge, Najib’s lawyers have submitted that three of the seven Richard Mille watches that were seized by police in the Pavilion condo raid in May 2018, worth a total of RM4.514 million, were gifts to the former prime minister.

The Edge report said: “Two of the watches, one costing RM1.58 million and the other RM500,400, were bought by Datuk (now Tan Sri) Yeoh Seok Ping of YTL fame, [lawyers] Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah and Tania Scivetti submitted during hearing of a forfeiture application in the High Court on Monday (Sept 26).

“Scivetti said the RM500,400 watch was paid for by Yeoh via Taman Equine (M) Sdn Bhd, while the RM1.58 million watch was paid via Sykt Pembenaan Yeoh Tiong Lay Sdn Bhd.

“The third watch, costing RM419,300, was paid for by Datuk (now Tan Sri) Desmond Lim, the lawyer said.”

The lawyers were essentially asking for the return of the watches since they were gifts.

“There is no evidence that the companies in question purchasing the watches are said to have received funds from 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB). This further showed that the money did not originate from 1MDB, as alleged by the prosecution,” Scivetti said.

The High Court has fixed Nov 14 to deliver its decision on the government's bid to forfeit 2,435 pieces of jewellery, seven expensive watches and 29 handbags said to be related to 1MDB under the Anti-Money Laundering, Anti-Terrorism Financing and Proceeds of Unlawful Activities Act 2001.

Serious implications

If what Najib’s lawyers are saying is true, both Yeoh and Lim bought very expensive watches for Najib, presumably when he was PM. There are serious implications and investigations need to be opened to determine that laws of the country were not broken.

The MACC Act has strict provisions against government officials abusing their position as well as for those who offer bribes under Sections 16, 17 and 21, providing for fines and prison terms.

Yeoh heads the YTL group which holds diverse interests in Malaysia, obtaining a lucrative independent power production contract in the 90s, the first such contract in Malaysia, under the Mahathir administration.

Lim has a strong presence in property development in Malaysia and through Pavilion is involved in the development of malls and office blocks. He also controls another property group, Malton, involved in various other property projects. He is also involved in the controversial Taman Rimba development in Taman Tun Dr Ismail in Kuala Lumpur.

Both business groups therefore have many projects which will require approvals from government agencies such as the Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) for Lim’s various property projects. DBKL comes under the Federal Territories minister who ultimately reports to the prime minister.

YTL’s projects include 1BestariNet, a multi-billion-ringgit project to provide broadband services to schools awarded in 2011, but which saw an additional allocation for spending some RM2 billion from June 13, 2014 to June 30, 2019. These sums were allocated during the period when Najib was PM from 2009 to 2018.

The project was heavily criticised in the Auditor-General’s Report for 2018 which urged the ministry to do a review of the project.

Another large project which involved the YTL group was the award of project delivery partner for the southern part of the proposed Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High-Speed Rail project (HSR). This was awarded to Syarikat Pembenaan Yeoh Tiong Lay Sdn Bhd (YTL) and TH Properties Sdn Bhd.

The cost of the entire HSR was variously estimated at the time to be between RM60-RM80 billion but the project was sidelined after Pakatan Harapan came to power in 2018.

When a former prime minister has been charged and convicted of corruption and his deputy at the time faces numerous charges of corruption and money laundering, it is time to fully admit without reservation that corruption pervades every level in Malaysia.

So much so that it has become the worst problem facing the country - not race, not religion, not the New Economic Policy or special privileges to some groups - all of which are foils used by those in power to perpetuate their stay in office by whipping people up into a frenzy over these issues.

Go after bribe givers too

When the Harapan government came into power in 2018 and the corruption trials of prominent politicians began, long-suffering Malaysians thought that at long last there was hope for this country of ours which was moving inexorably towards a disaster of its own making.

But the traitorous trio of Mahathir Mohamad, Muhyiddin Yassin and Mohamed Azmin Ali let Harapan lose power in favour of a bunch of corrupt parties.

Thankfully, despite the change in government and the attorney-general, prosecution continued although some of them appeared to be let off lightly while others allegedly made deals with the prosecutors which were very favourable to them.

In most of the 1MDB-related cases, it was basically misappropriation - money stolen from the self-styled national development company which was raised via massive bond issues. It was outright, blatant, shameless theft, and in most instances did not involve givers.

The corruption part of it was approval of dubious deals and the removal of checks and balances which would have ensured some semblance of governance.

But corruption, in the wider sense of the word, often involves a giver and taker, a bribe in other words. And in the fight against such corruption action needs to be taken against both the giver and the taker of bribes and the law provides for that.

It is high time that action is taken against givers as well to stamp out this rampant corruption in our midst. The forfeiture hearings have thrown up evidence to show that this could be happening in high places, and it warrants a complete investigation.

The costs of corruption are high and the more widespread it is, the greater the damage. As Transparency International puts it: “Corruption erodes trust, weakens democracy, hampers economic development and further exacerbates inequality, poverty, social division and the environmental crisis.”

Let’s hold to account everyone in this vile chain of corruption to break free from its shackles and really build a nation which benefits everyone. Surely, we all agree that corruption is an evil we - every one of us - must join hands to destroy. - Mkini


P GUNASEGARAM, a former editor at various online and print news publications, and head of equity research is an independent writer, author and analyst.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of MMKtT.

Zahid: Don't take too long on Thomas' book

 


Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi has urged Putrajaya to declassify the report by a special task force which probed claims made in former attorney-general Tommy Thomas’ book.

In a statement today, Zahid (above, left) said delays will only sow doubts, citing questions being raised about the delay in the probe against Court of Appeal judge Mohd Nazlan Mohd Ghazali.

Zahid said the report was important because it could potentially shed light on “selective prosecution” during the Pakatan Harapan administration.

He also claimed that the report might reveal details about interference in judicial appointments by a former prime minister.

“We hope that rumours of the current attorney-general recommending that the task force’s report not be made public is not true.

“We also hope that the cabinet will make the task force report public soon without hiding any of the facts.

“We are concerned (about this) because some of the present cabinet members were former cabinet members during the Harapan administration.

“Some cabinet members had cooperated with Thomas for 22 months. This raises the suspicion that they would want some things to remain secret,” said Zahid.

The cabinet is expected to meet tomorrow.

Last December, the cabinet set up a task force to probe Thomas’ book titled ‘My Story: Justice in the Wilderness’.

This book covered Thomas’ stint as attorney-general from 2018 to 2020. Among others, he addressed the appointment of judges, alleged interference by the executive in the judiciary and claims of selective prosecution.

The task force was headed by former Sarawak attorney-general Fong Joo Chung. - Mkini