Ops Caviar: MACC detains five over Felda’s sturgeon farming project

The MACC detained five people, four serving and one a former staff of the Federal Land Development Authority, on suspicion of corruption relating to a sturgeon farming project worth RM47.6 million. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
The MACC detained five people, four serving and one a former staff of the Federal Land Development Authority, on suspicion of corruption relating to a sturgeon farming project worth RM47.6 million. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 23 — The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission today detained five people, three serving and two former staff of the Federal Land Development Authority, on suspicion of corruption relating to a sturgeon farming project worth RM146.25 million.

According to an MACC source, one of the officers carried the “Datuk” title, one was former a deputy director-general, one was overseas-based, and the others an officer involved in the sturgeon project and administrative assistant.

Their ages were 30, 33, 38, 53 and 57 years The source said all the suspects were picked up at several locations in the Klang Valley between 11.30am and 1.30pm under an operation code named Ops Caviar.

“They are suspected to have abused their positions for personal gain on the project,” he said when contacted by Bernama.

Elaborating further, the source the Felda board at a meeting in January 2013 had asked one of the suspects to submit a detailed report on investment in the project.

“However, this suspect, without the knowledge of Felda’s board or its Legal and Financial Division, had set up Felda Carviative Sdn Bhd (FCSB) in January 2014.

“He then signed an agreement with a sturgeon farming company in South Korea worth US$45 million (RM146.25 juta) without the knowledge of the Felda board,” the source said.

The source said, initial investigations by MACC found that the project did not get approval from the Pahang Department of Environment and that a down payment was made to the Korean company a week after FCSB was incorporated.

He said the suspect had approved about US$10 million (RM47.6 million) of Felda funds to make payments to the Korean company through FCSB without the knowledge or approval of Felda’s board.

“The contract for the sturgeon farming project entailed a Technology Transfer Service Agreement (TTSA) and Design and Build Construction Agreement (DBCA),” he said.

According to the source, the contract was signed by the suspect carrying the Datuk title and the former deputy director-general, who was also a director of FCSB.

MACC Director of Investigations, Datuk Simi Abd Ghani, when contacted, confirmed the arrests and added that MACC had also seized key documents relating to the project to assist investigations.

All the suspects would be brought to the Putrajaya Magistrate’s Court tomorrow to obtain remand orders against them, he said.

The Auditor-General’s Report Series 2 in 2015 that was tabled in the Dewan Rakyat on Nov 21, 2016 had revealed that till June 30, 2016. Felda had yet to obtain returns, assets or technology transfer concerning the project.

The report said that sturgeon fish also could not be sent to Malaysia because the aquaculture farm had yet to be built.

The report said this was due to the Pahang Department of Environment withdrawing its approval for the project site, citing adverse impact on the environment.

The location for the project which bordered Taman Negara (National Park), which is a sensitive environment, could adversely impact river ecology and eco-tourism, the report said.

The project only reached the farm design stage and provision of an access road to the project site but the sturgeon fish were still in South Korea.

The report also revealed that the contract signed by FCSB with the Korean company was unfavourable to Felda, among others progress payments not spelt out properly leaving FCSB forced to make payments based on the contract even though services/ supplies were not rendered.

It added that the first to fourth instalment payments totalling US$8 million that were made in 2014 were paid earlier than stipulated, that is from 51 to 67 days.

Felda could have earned interest of US$480,000 at a fixed deposit rate of three per cent in two months instead, the report added.

Sturgeons are primitive fish that have been around for 200 million years.

They produce eggs that can be made into high quality black caviar.

The market price for caviar on average is between RM9,000 and RM16,000 a kilo but some varieties can fetch up to hundreds of thousands of ringgit a kilo based on their quality. — Bernama

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