KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 26 ― Sabah timber tycoon Michael Chia Thien Foh was sentenced to a one-year jail term and one stroke of the rotan today after a Sandakan Sessions Court found him guilty in a decade-old cheating scandal involving some RM2.5 million.
Chia ― who has previously been alleged to have close ties to the Sabah administration led by Chief Minister Datuk Seri Musa Aman ― was charged with tricking Datuk Agus Hassan of RM2.5 million in a logging-related matter in 2004 by claiming that it was meant for Umno's political funds.
The court, however, allowed an application by Chia's lawyer Rowiena Rashid to defer the sentence while he files for an appeal at the High Court, the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) said in a statement today.
Chia was charged under Section 420 of the Penal Code, read together with Section 511 of the same law.
The businessman was said to have cheated Syarikat Peluamas Sdn Bhd's Agus into believing that he needed to pay RM3 million in political funds for Sabah Umno as one of the three conditions to obtain a letter for a timber-logging operation in the state's Kalabakan Forest Reserve.
The two other conditions were the surrendering of rights to purchase 100,000 cubic meters of timber to Rakyat Berjaya Sdn Bhd/Innoprise Corporation Sdn Bhd, a subsidiary of state-owned Yayasan Sabah, as well as a RM25 commission per cubic meter for every meter of timber logged by Peluamas in the Gunung Rara Forest Reserve, MACC said.
In her judgment today, Sessions Court judge Elsie Primus said the defence team had failed to raise reasonable doubt in the prosecution's case against Chia.
In her grounds for judgment, Primus noted that the prosecution’s witness had testified that Chia had asked him for money purportedly to fund Umno in order to get the logging document.
According to MACC, the judge noted that the the claim affected Umno's image as the witness also testified that the party did not seek such political funds.
Chia's name previously made the headlines in April 2012, when whistleblower website Sarawak Report claimed he was caught trying to smuggle RM40 million worth of Singaporean currency from the Hong Kong International Airport to Malaysia in 2008.
Chia had purportedly told the authorities that the money was meant for Musa, resulting in a probe on international fund transfers that was then believed to be tied to possible money-laundering activities connected to illegal timber-felling in Sabah.
But in October 2012, minister Datuk Seri Mohamed Nazri Aziz told Parliament that the MACC had cleared Musa of corruption after it found that the RM40 million was not for his personal use, but was a “political donation” to Sabah Umno.
Pakatan Rakyat (PR) lawmakers later disputed Putrajaya's declaration of Musa's innocence, saying that it did not show evidence that the Hong Kong's anti-graft agency ICAC had cleared him on its own.