Opposition cries conspiracy as Guan Eng due to be charged

According to Penang DAP chief Chow Kon Yeow, Lim Guan Eng (pic) will be charged today under Section 23 of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission Act and Section 165 of the Penal Code. — Picture by KE Ooi
According to Penang DAP chief Chow Kon Yeow, Lim Guan Eng (pic) will be charged today under Section 23 of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission Act and Section 165 of the Penal Code. — Picture by KE Ooi

KUALA LUMPUR, June 30 — Allegations of political persecution rang out from Pakatan Harapan leaders over authorities' plan to prosecute Penang Chief Minister and DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng for graft today.

The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) unexpectedly arrested Lim at his office at the Komtar yesterday, arriving as the chief minister was in the middle of chairing a meeting of his state executive council.

According to Penang DAP chief Chow Kon Yeow, Lim will be charged today under Section 23 of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission Act and Section 165 of the Penal Code, both covering the offence of a public official using his position to obtain gratification.

Outwardly, the charges are linked to Lim's purchase of his George Town home for what detractors alleged just three months ago was below market value, but opposition leaders are claiming a political conspiracy similar to what they alleged was used to imprison former deputy prime minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.

“The arrest and prosecution of Lim Guan Eng will reinforce the public's view that there exists a systematic and planned effort to intimidate and harass the senior leadership of the opposition ahead of the 14th general election,” Federal Opposition Leader Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail said.

Pointing to the comparative inaction over higher profile cases such as that involving 1Malaysia Development Bhd, the PKR president asked why it was that seemingly swift enforcement appeared reserved for only when opposition members were involved.

Besides Lim, anti-corruption officers yesterday also arrested businesswoman Phang Li Khoon, who is set to be charged along with him today over the sale of the home and the zoning approval for an application by a firm in which she is a director.

Over the course of its investigation, the MACC spent several days interviewing Lim and his wife, Betty Chew, before completing their probe and submitting the investigation paper to the Attorney-General's Chambers.

Tan Sri Mohamed Apandi Ali, who will lead the prosecution, had sent the investigation paper back to the MACC for clarification, and there appeared to be little development of note until yesterday's sudden arrest, a point raised by Petaling Jaya Utara MP Tony Pua.

“Over the past few months, the chief minister and the Penang state government have demonstrated proof that there was no impropriety in Lim’s purchase of the bungalow as there was no contracts or benefits granted to the seller, whether directly or indirectly.

“Hence the MACC’s move to prosecute Lim, which coincided with the resignation of the top two MACC officials just days earlier, is clearly designed to destroy him politically,” Pua said.

After his arrest, Lim was brought to the state MACC headquarters where he was questioned further ahead of his expected indictment at the Sessions Court today.

News of his arrest quickly brought opposition leaders and hundreds of supporters to gather outside the agency's offices in a show of solidarity, including his father and DAP parliamentary leader Lim Kit Siang, Amanah's Datuk Mujahid Yusof Rawa and PKR's Chua Tian Chang.

Although not present, Selangor Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Azmin Ali said he was able to call Lim shortly before his arrest, and sent out a message condemning the action soon after.

“Make no mistake. These latest moves are nothing but part and parcel of a vicious and relentless conspiracy to discredit Guan Eng and other prominent members of the federal opposition,” said the PKR deputy president.

Lim's detention immediately evoked memories of Anwar's arrest and subsequent conviction for what the PKR de facto leader and the opposition maintain was a politically-motivated charge designed to end his political career.

Anwar is currently serving the second of his five-year prison sentence for sodomy, and he will also be barred from holding an elected post for another five years after his release, ruling him out of contention for at least the next two general elections if not permanently.

In March, Tasek Gelugor MP Datuk Shabudin Yahaya accused Lim of buying his house at below market value, and tied this to the state government’s open tender sale of Taman Manggis to the Kuala Lumpur International Dental Centre (KLIDC) in 2010, alleging the land was also sold at below market value.

This had led to numerous MACC and police reports being lodged against Lim and the former house owner, Phang.

Section 23 of the MACC Act covers the offence of using one’s public office or position to obtain gratification for decisions made, while Section 165 of the Penal Code — which was used to convict former Selangor mentri besar Khir Toyo — pertains to the same offence.

Both offences are punishable by up to two years’ imprisonment, a fine, and forfeiture of property.