KUALA LUMPUR, March 12 — The High Court today reminded Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor’s lawyer that a prosecution witness testifying against her is not the one on trial, after the lawyer suggested that the witness had “vested interest” in a RM1.25 billion project given out by the Ministry of Education.
This happened while the MoE’s former secretary-general Datuk Seri Alias Ahmad was testifying as the 12th prosecution witness in Rosmah’s trial, where she is facing charges of allegedly soliciting and receiving of bribes from Jepak Holdings Sdn Bhd in exchange for helping the company get a RM1.25 billion project from the ministry.
Today, Rosmah’s lawyer Datuk Akberdin Abdul Kader suggested to Alias that he had taken extra steps to ask the Finance Ministry to approve for RM130 million in advance payments to be made to Jepak Holdings, following the MoE’s November 10, 2016 letter of award of the RM1.25 billion project to the company.
The phone call
In a process that started with the company’s February 23, 2017 letter to the MoE to seek for the RM130 million advance payment, Alias had as the MoE secretary-general then written a March 16, 2017 letter to the Finance Ministry to seek for the payment to be approved.
The Finance Ministry, however, in an April 19, 2017 letter replied to the MoE that the insurance that Jepak Holdings wanted to use to guarantee the advance payment was unlicensed while also urging for the MoE to take certain steps to speed up the payment process including by complying with the government’s finance procedures and to expedite the signing of the contract with Jepak Holdings.
Citing this April 19, 2017 letter which he described as the Finance Ministry’s declining to approve the RM130 million payment, Akberdin quizzed Alias over whether he had made a phone call to the Finance Ministry’s government procurement division secretary Datuk Othman Semail to urge for help to get the RM130 million approved.
Akberdin asked: “You gave a phone call to him...Many have testified in this court, I’m not trying to trap you. After Othman Semail rejected on April 19, you personally called him and asked him to review that decision and release the payment of RM130 million.”
But Alias said: “I agreed to having called him, but I did not ask about the RM130 million.”
While Akberdin repeatedly suggested that Alias had spoken about the contents of the April 19, 2017 letter or having asked for Othman to approve the RM130 million, Alias maintained that his phone call to Othman were about other matters.
Akberdin then went on to accuse Alias of having a vested interest in the RM1.25 billion project, prompting High Court judge Mohamed Zaini Mazlan to note that Alias was not on trial.
Akberdin: I say to you that you took the initiative until you called Othman Semail after his April 19 letter, because you have vested interest in this project. That’s why such a matter we will confine to documentation, but you took the extra mile to call him because you had vested interest in Jepak.
Judge: He’s not the one on trial, Datuk.
Akberdin: I’m just putting it to him.
Judge: Remind yourself of the charges.
Yesterday, Akberdin had also grilled Alias over whether he knew and had played golf with Jepak Holdings Sdn Bhd director Saidi Abang Samsudin in the past.
While Alias today agreed that Jepak had only addressed the February 23, 2017 letter to him to seek for the advance payment and did not write to him for other payments to be expedited, he said that instructions had come from others, further disagreeing that the Education Ministry was the one concerned with such payments rather than the company.
Alias also said companies can be paid advance money after a letter of award is issued and before the contract is signed.
After the Finance Ministry’s April 19, 2017 letter, the same ministry had in a May 4, 2017 letter rejected the application for RM130 million, where it cited, among other things, government rules limiting advance payments to only a maximum of RM10 million or 25 per cent of a contract’s value, whichever is lower.
Akberdin noted that the Education Ministry had on May 4, 2017 then written to the Finance Ministry requesting a RM10 million advance payment to Jepak Holdings, adding that the Finance Ministry had in a May 9, 2017 letter rejected the request for the lower amount of RM10 million by maintaining its earlier reasons and reminding the Education Ministry to sign the contract to allow for progress payments to be made to the company.
The Finance Ministry eventually allowed interim payments to be made to Jepak Holdings for diesel supply, after the Education Ministry signed the contract with Jepak on June 20, 2017 for the project featuring a solar hybrid system and the maintenance of diesel generators for 369 rural schools in Sarawak.
Alias also agreed that payments still could not be made to Jepak because of non-compliance up to July 19, 2017, which was when the then education minister Datuk Seri Mahdzir Khalid wrote a letter to then prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak seeking special exemptions from the government’s procurement procedures for Jepak’s case.
Najib’s agreement for a special exemption later resulted in Othman preparing a July 28, 2017 memo to explain the situation and provide recommendations to Najib, with Akberdin then suggesting that this meant that civil servants could not just simply follow Najib’s multiple instructions in handwritten notes on this matter without first ensuring that all government rules have been complied with.
Akberdin: If the PM’s own instructions have to go through such strict filtering by MOF, there were many minutes by PM, not easy to release money, if the PM’s instructions go through such stringent filtering, what more that contractor and that runner and others, even if he asked for help, it has to go through existing procedures, agree?
The Finance Ministry later instructed the Education Ministry in a July 31, 2017 letter to make interim payments and progress payments as claimed by Jepak, based on the contract and actual services supplied.
Focus on the charges
Akberdin today also asked Alias about the amendments which Jepak had allegedly unilaterally carried out on the contract and which the Education Ministry had discovered in early 2018, as well as what actions the ministry had carried out then.
Later, when Akberdin sought to show one of the thick volumes of the contract to Alias, the judge appeared stern as he questioned the relevance of the document: “Datuk Akberdin, how is this relevant to the case? We are not talking about this contract.”
After Akberdin explained that this was relevant to show procedures were not followed and he only wanted to refer to a small portion of the contract regarding provisions that disallowed Jepak from selling or assigning the contract to a third party, the judge allowed for the reference to be made.
Just before the trial’s proceedings ended today, the judge in a passing remark said that the case is not about the contract itself and reminded for the focus to be on matters related to the charges.
Rosmah’s trial is set to resume on the previously scheduled dates of April 6-9, 13-16, 20-23, 27-30.