GEORGE TOWN (Sept 3): Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng, who is the former Penang Chief Minister, and businesswoman Phang Li Koon has been acquitted by the High Court here today on corruption charges over the purchase of a bungalow below the market value.
Judge Datuk Hadhariah Syed Ismail discharged and acquitted Lim, 58, and Phang, 46, following an application by lawyer Ramkarpal Singh who was representing Lim and Datuk V.Sithambaram and Hisyam Teh Poh Teik, who acted for Phang, for their clients to be fully acquitted on the charges.
Hadhariah said she did not agree with the prosecution’s request for the charges to be withdrawn and both accused to be discharged not amounting to an acquittal (DNAA).
“The charges cannot be hanging over the head of the accused indefinitely. There must be a finality in this case. I cannot agree with the prosecution. We do not conduct cases on an instalment basis. There must be a stop, no coma, especially in criminal cases.
“After studying the case as a whole and the very long time to get a decision, I order that both the accused be discharged and acquitted,” she said.
Before she made the order, Hadhariah said so far the prosecution had called 25 witnesses to testify in the trial last March and now in September the prosecution had asked the case to be DNAA.
“Six months later, the prosecution may call for other witnesses. There is no such thing especially in public interest case. If the prosecution requests for DNAA, the court too cannot close the case,” she said.
As soon as the court delivered the verdict, Lim and Phang were seen hugging each other in the dock. The court was packed with his supporters and Phang’s family members.
At the outset, Deputy Public Prosecutor Datuk Masri Mohd Daud informed the court that the prosecution did not want to pursue the charges against the two accused under Section 254(3) of the Criminal Procedure Code.
“The prosecution had received representations from both the accused and after a scrutiny, the prosecution withdrew the charges based on the requirement of the law under Section 254 where the provision amounts a release without acquittal,”he said.
DNAA means the prosecution could pursue the same charges against the accused.
Ramkarpal argued that the prosecution could not stop the case today and continue later as there must be a finality.
He said the prosecution did not want to proceed the case and a proper order ought to be given by the court was for his client to be full acquitted.
“When the prosecution did not want to pursue this matter, the order should be to acquit the accused and not DNAA,” he said.
Sithambaram also said the prosecution could not prosecute the accused in instalment and there must be a fullstop in the case.
“Today the prosecution applies for DNAA and two or three months later the prosecution can bring the charges against the accused and it would be a nightmare to the accused,” he said and questioned the prosecution’s request for DNAA as they did not want to continue the case.
On July 30, Hadhariah has given Sept 3 as the final date for the Attorney-General’s Chambers to inform the court on the outcome of the representations by Lim and Phang after the prosecution told that they needed one month's time to decide on the matter.
On April 9, hearing of the case was postponed as Lim had to prepare for the 14th General Election, although the prosecution objected to it. The court then fixed May 21 for case management.
However, on May 21, after Pakatan Harapan won the general election, lawyers for Lim and Phang told the court that they were filing representations to the AGC to drop the charges against their clients.
So far, hearing of the case only took place for two days, on March 26 and 27, as the defence requested for a postponement because Lim and his then lawyer, Gobind Singh Deo, who is now Communications and Multimedia Minister, wanted to attend the tabling of the motion on the re-delineation of electoral boundaries as well as the Anti-Fake News Bill 2018.
To date, the prosecution has called 25 witnesses, and is expected to call another 29.
On the first count, Lim was charged with using his position as a civil servant, 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.
He allegedly committed the offence while chairing the Penang State Planning Committee meeting at the operations room, Level 28, Komtar building here, on July 18, 2014.
The charge under Section 23 of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) Act 2009 provides an imprisonment of 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.
Lim also faced a second charge of using his position to obtain for himself a plot of land and a bungalow, located at No 25, Jalan Pinhorn, George Town on July 28, 2015 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, provides for a jail term for up to two years, or a fine, or both, upon conviction.
Phang, on the other hand, pleaded not guilty to abetting Lim in obtaining the bungalow at an undervalued cost.
She allegedly committed the offence at the same place and date under Section 109 of the Penal Code, read together with Section 165 of the same law, which provides an imprisonment for up to two years, or a fine, or both, upon conviction.