Dr M: ECRL deal involved palm oil trade but not Jho Low

Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad speaks to reporters during a press conference on the East Coast Railway Link (ECRL) project in Putrajaya April 15, 2019. — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon
Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad speaks to reporters during a press conference on the East Coast Railway Link (ECRL) project in Putrajaya April 15, 2019. — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon

PUTRAJAYA, April 15 — The revised agreement with China for the East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) was not related to Malaysia’s hunt for fugitive financier Low Taek Jho, Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad clarified today.

Instead, he said the only supplemental matter included was negotiations for China to source palm oil from Malaysia.

“We are taking advantage of the signing of the agreement to work out the purchase of palm oil from China, that will happen.

“It has nothing to do with Mr Jho Low, but of course, we will seek the help of the Chinese government if he is at all in China,” said Dr Mahathir at a press conference at the Prime Minister’s Office, here today.

The media has reported sightings of Low, also known as Jho Low, in various parts of China such as Hong Kong, Macau, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Beijing and Hainan.

Due to the previous RM65.5 billion price tag of the ECRL project, which was agreed by the former Barisan Nasional (BN) government, Dr Mahathir said there was suspicion that the inflated cost of the project was to channel some monies towards retiring 1MDB interest payments and loans.

In January, prominent economist Jomo Kwame Sundaram had said the ECRL projects were a scam to cover up the 1MDB scandal.

“We suspect that was what happened because the price was so high, and we reduced it by as much as RM22 billion.

“Had the project been tendered out in the usual manner, we would have gotten the better price. But it was a lump sum given to a company from China through direct negotiations,” he said.

On Friday, Putrajaya announced the improved deal with China on the ECRL, which involved a supplementary agreement between Malaysia Rail Link Sdn Bhd (MRL) and the China Communications Construction Company Ltd (CCCC) following months of negotiations after the project was suspended last year.

The construction cost for Phases 1 and 2 of the ECRL was reduced to RM44 billion from its original cost of RM65.5 billion.