KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 12 — A private legal firm was appointed to draft a preliminary contract between Consortium Zenith-Beijing Urban Construction Group (CZ-BUCG) and the Penang state government without it ever being referred to the state government legal advisor’s (PUN) office, the Sessions Court was told today.
Former Penang PUN Datuk Faiza Zulkifli, when testifying as the 11th prosecution in Lim Guan Eng’s undersea tunnel corruption trial, said it was Lim as the then chief minister who had made the executive decision to appoint legal firm Lee Hishamuddin Allen & Gledhill to draft the contract.
Faizah then explained, during examination by Deputy Public Prosecutor Farah Yasmin Salleh, that state governments appointing private legal firms for official matters is permitted and within the law, but said the process should have included the PUN office to ensure the interests of the state is prioritised.
“If the chief minister decides to appoint any private lawyers, he must impress upon them their responsibility in safeguarding the priorities of the state government and for it to be legally accurate.
“All agreements that involve the Pulau Pinang state government as a party which will be signed by the state government should, by right, be referred to the PUN’s office for checks and approvals to ensure the agreement is legally correct.
“For this Preliminary Agreement, no references were ever made to me by the private lawyers appointed by the Preliminary Agreement Terms and Conditions Negotiations Committee. I was also never given a draft during the preparations of the Preliminary Agreement,” Faiza testified in court today.
Faiza testified how she as the PUN is capable of drafting a similar preliminary agreement intended for the mega project and that all previous such agreements for state government projects had gone through the vetting of her department.
When presented with the implicated Preliminary Agreement contract in court, Faiza then testified how it contained “major errors” concerning land parcels that were to be exchanged with the developer.
Her opinion, however, was based on what she noticed when viewing the document in court alone and she admitted that she was not privy to the exact details within the agreement.
The supposed errors were related to the name of land parcels set to be given to the CZ-BUCG in exchange for funding the mega project, with Faiza saying she would have spotted the mistakes had she been tasked with the responsibility.
“This is a major mistake because it relates to the subject matter which is exchanging land parcels for the preliminary agreement, where anyone who is supposed to check the agreement should have made sure which are the exact land parcels to be exchanged.
“I am very, very meticulous with my work, just as all other Penang state government officials, so if I had seen this I would have made sure this would not happen,” she said.
Later during cross-examination, Faiza’s claim of being unaware of the Preliminary Agreement was questioned by defence counsel Gobind Singh, who pointed out how she was present during state executive council meetings where the agreement with CZ-BUCG was discussed.
The witness agreed, and also affirmed how the decision to appoint private lawyers for official state matters should have first obtained the approval of her office, something which she admittedly did not insist on from the state government.
“Because I was of the impression that there was a private legal firm appointed and paid to perform a duty and there was the Preliminary Agreement Terms and Conditions Negotiations Committee, to which in my view both could have safeguarded the interests of the state government and form the agreement,” she said when asked to explain why she did not question the appointment of private lawyers.
Earlier in proceedings, Malaysian Anti Corruption Commission enforcer Syed Muhammad Fadzli Syed Hussin took the stand as the 10th prosecution witness, where he confirmed he was told of the death of a witness for this case, one Datuk Ewe Swee Kheng.
Ewe, 53, died on October 5 after falling from a luxury condominium in Jalan Kelawai, Penang.
The case had been classified as sudden death after the post-mortem found Ewe to have died from multiple injuries consistent with a fall from height.
In this trial, Lim faces four charges, one under Section 16(a)(A) of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission Act for having allegedly solicited kickbacks of 10 per cent of future profits from Zarul as a reward to help the latter’s company secure the project in March 2011, as the then CM.
He is also facing a charge under Section 23(1) of the same Act for allegedly receiving RM3.3 million in kickbacks from Zarul between January 2011 and October 2017 for allegedly helping the latter’s company secure the mega project.
The trial before judge Azura Alwi continues on November 29.