PUTRAJAYA, April 9 — Despite being the state closest to Singapore, Johor Mentri Besar Datuk Osman Sapian was absent from the 9th bilateral Leaders' Retreat here that kicked off yesterday while rumours of his removal continue to circulate.
Sources who were present during the event said Osman did not attend the retreat even after being summoned to Kuala Lumpur earlier to discuss issues involving the event with Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
Osman's name was also missing from the name list of delegates for a joint press conference between Dr Mahathir and Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at Perdana Putra here scheduled for noon today.
Instead, he is to be represented by Johor Health, Environment and Agricultural Committee chairman Dr Sahruddin Jamal who is listed as part of the state delegation.
However, Sahruddin ultimately did not attend the joint press conference.
Dr Sahruddin, who is Bukit Kepong assemblyman, was previously rumoured to replace Osman as mentri besar.
Osman had reportedly met Dr Mahathir for around 20 minutes at the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) yesterday.
The Star reported that the PMO would not issue a statement on the meeting yesterday.
The daily reported that Osman arrived an hour early for his appointment but was only allowed in at 6.20pm.
He was then spotted leaving the Perdana Putra Complex half an hour later in a white Toyota Alphard minivan through a different gate, possibly to avoid the media.
Over the weekend, WhatsApp text messages were circulated claiming Osman was to be replaced amid mounting tension between Putrajaya and the Johor royal family.
Johor crown prince Tunku Ismail Ibrahim had in the past week chided Putrajaya for moving to ratify the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, and also for announcing a ship-to-ship transfer hub in the southern state.
The rumour claimed that Osman was to be replaced with Dr Sahruddin from Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia — after the latter was seen meeting with Dr Mahathir during the launch of their party’s Sabah chapter.
Osman recently sparked a diplomatic row after he boarded a vessel to visit the Johor Baru new port limits that was disputed by neighbouring Singapore.
He was also criticised for his handling of the toxic waste spill in Pasir Gudang that saw many locals hospitalised after breathing in methane fumes and the temporary closure of all 111 schools in the district.
*Editor’s note: Malay Mail apologises for mistakenly reporting Dr Sahruddin to be from PKR instead of Bersatu in an earlier version, which has since been corrected.