KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 14 — Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, as home minister, had given a handwritten instruction through minutes on a letter for the Home Ministry to expedite the issuance of a key document to award a Malaysian passport chip supply contract to Datasonic Technologies Sdn Bhd worth millions of ringgit, a former ministry official confirmed today.

Datuk Abd Aziz Md Nor, 62, who was formerly the Home Ministry’s procurement division’s secretary, today read out the minute dated October 15, 2015 that was signed by Zahid and addressed to Abd Aziz.

The minute by Zahid stated that the proof of concept — a process where the company has to present its product to the related government agency — had been completed, with Zahid also urging that the Letter of Acceptance (LOA) be issued immediately.

Semua POC telah dimuktamadkan. Harap dapat dikeluarkan LOA dengan segera, sebagaimana persetujuan KDN (All POC has been finalised. Hope to issue LOA immediately, as agreed by the Home Ministry,” Abd Aziz said when asked to read out Zahid’s 2015 handwritten note in court today, with the word “segera” underlined.

Zahid’s minute was written on an October 13, 2015 letter from Datasonic Group to Zahid, where the company had applied to receive the LOA for the five-year contract to supply 12.5 million passport chips.

When asked by deputy public prosecutor Ahmad Sazilee Abdul Khairi if such orders from the minister, including for “immediate” action, were common, Abd Aziz said, “There is but not always.”

Yesterday, Abd Aziz explained that he had on October 22, 2015 received this handwritten minute by Zahid, just days after an October 19, 2015 meeting to negotiate the price of the contract with the company Datasonic Technologies.

“I’m sure this is the handwriting and initials of the home minister then as I know and had in the past received instructions through minutes from the home minister then,” he had said yesterday.

In the price negotiation meeting, Datasonic Technologies agreed to reduce its previously offered price of RM325 million by 1.92 per cent or RM6.25 million, and to instead offer the new price of RM318.75 million for the five-year contract to supply 12.5 million passport chips.

Abd Aziz had also yesterday spoken of several other processes that took place after these events, including the confirmation of the results of the contract price negotiation, the Immigration Department’s November 2015 submission of successful technical tests on the chips, and the Finance Ministry’s December 9, 2015 letter approving the procurement board’s decision which Abd Aziz received on December 11, 2015.

Abd Aziz yesterday confirmed that the Home Ministry’s procurement division, of which he was the secretary had then, had issued the LOA dated December 15, 2015 to Datasonic Technologies, with the document signed by the home minister’s secretary-general Datuk Seri Alwi Ibrahim.

While the legally-binding LOA for the five-year passport chip supply project stated that the RM318.75 million contract was only due to start from December 1, 2016 until November 30, 2021, Abd Aziz had yesterday said that the LOA was issued earlier on December 15, 2015 “due to the home minister’s request as per the minute on the DTSB letter dated October 13, 2015”.

The LOA is a separate document from the official contract, but Abd Aziz confirmed that the LOA requires both sides to fulfill what they agreed on.

Passport shortage factor?

Zahid’s lawyer Hamidi Mohd Noh then suggested that there was a crisis in 2015 of a shortage of passports which he said was reported by the media, with Abd Aziz saying that there appeared to be such an incident.

Hamidi then cited Zahid’s handwritten minute dated September 6, 2014 instructing the Home Ministry secretary-general to apply to the Finance Ministry to let Datasonic Technologies continue the next five years’ supply “due to supply already reaching maximum levels before the end of period”.

This minute was written on an August 21, 2014 letter from Datasonic Technologies to Zahid seeking to supply 12.5 million passport chips over five years.

Hamidi suggested that the minute meant that the previous passport supplier before Datasonic Technologies had reached its maximum level of supply before the end of the contracted period.

Abd Aziz, however, disagreed with Hamidi’s suggestion that Datasonic Technologies’ appointment for the passport chips supply had to be expedited due to a shortage of passports.

Hamidi then suggested that the three main factors for the speeding up of the issuance of LOA was due to the successful proof of concept and technical tests, as the passport is a critical security document, and as there was a passport shortage in 2015 with the supply reaching maximum levels.

But Abd Aziz disagreed, saying: “Not completely.”

Cross-examined by Zahid’s lawyer Datuk Ahmad Zaidi Zainal, Abd Aziz said he was uncertain if there were other companies then that were capable of providing the same service as Datasonic Technologies, while also confirming that the LOA would not have been awarded if the proof of concept had failed.

When re-examined by deputy public prosecutor Sazilee and asked if the issue of passport shortage appeared in letters that were shown to him, Abd Aziz said that there was no clear issue on this.

Abd Aziz was testifying as the 33rd prosecution witness on the 16th day of Zahid’s trial involving 47 charges related to alleged bribery, criminal breach of trust and money laundering.

Zahid was accused in this trial of having received RM6 million in bribes via two cheques that allegedly resulted in Datasonic Technologies being appointed via direct negotiation for a five-year contract to supply 12.5 million passport chips.

The trial before High Court judge Collin Lawrence Sequerah resumes next Wednesday.