KUALA LUMPUR, May 27 — There was neither coercion nor interference when government valuers made valuations on two plots of land belonging to the Penang state administration between 2014 and 2016, witnesses told the Session Court in Lim Guan Eng’s corruption trial today.
At the material time, the two plots of state lands were swapped in exchange for financing the Penang undersea tunnel project and is a subject matter in Lim’s charges for dishonest misappropriation of property under Section 403 of the Penal Code.
Former Valuation and Property Services Department (JPPH) senior valuer Zakariya Nayan told the court he had received a file containing documents and application for the valuation of a plot of land — namely Lot 702 — from the Penang Lands and Mines Office in December 2014.
Zakariya further explained that the valuation purpose was in relation to a transfer of ownership between the Penang state government to Ewwin Zenith BUCG Sdn Bhd for a mixed development project.
"I can confirm the valuation stated for Lot 702 was not influenced by any form of meddling or pressure from any external parties.
"As for the difference in valuation for the purpose of land swap, there is no difference as the base value is the same since it is derived from the market value of the area at the material time,” Zakariya, who is the 25th prosecution witness, said in his witness statement.
In his valuation, Zakariya told the court the plot of land was valued at RM50 million with a price of RM3,360 per square metre (freehold) and RM3,100 (leasehold) for a 14,863 square metre area measurement.
He also affirmed that his valuation on the land was conducted in compliance with existing protocols based on a standard practice manual issued by JPPH for its officers.
During cross-examination, Zakariya agreed with Lim's lawyer Haijan Omar that the value of the land was far less than the cost of work done by the developer, which was estimated to be around RM138 million.
Zakariya also agreed that the land swap benefited the state government greatly based on the difference in initial appraised value and subsequent development done on the land.
Another witness, former JPPH valuer Nurul Asshima Aminullah told the court she was responsible for the valuation of another plot of land — namely Lot 713 — in November 2016.
Similar to Zakariya, Nurul Asshima said there was no external meddling or pressure from any parties in her valuation of Lot 713 which had a price tag of RM30 million at the material time.
The 26th prosecution witness too agreed with the defence suggestion that the value of the land was far less than the cost of work done by the developer, which was estimated to be around RM73 million.
At the material time, Lim was Penang chief minister and the aforementioned company was linked to the state’s undersea tunnel project.
The lands were later used for the City of Dreams project by the Ewein Zenith Group.
The City of Dreams is an ongoing RM800 million luxury serviced sea-front apartments project between Tanjung Tokong and Gurney Drive in Penang.
Guan Eng absent from hearing due to official assemblyman duties, defence asks for trial to proceed
Earlier before proceedings began, Lim’s lawyer Gobind Singh Deo informed the court of his client’s absence for today’s hearing, which the defence had written in several days ago, citing Lim’s required attendance for the official reconvening of the Penang State Assembly.
However, Gobind told the court the defence intended for the trial to proceed without Lim’s presence and suggested for the court to invoke Section 264 of Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) where an accused’s presence could be dispensed of.
Deputy public prosecutor Ahmad Akram Gharib then informed the court the prosecution has no qualms on dispensing Lim’s presence in court.
Trial judge Azura Alwi then said she would invoke Section 264 of the CPC before allowing trial proceedings to resume.
Lim is facing an amended charge of using his position as Penang chief minister to receive RM3.3 million in bribes to help Consortium Zenith BUCG Sdn Bhd to obtain the undersea tunnel project.
On the second amended charge, Lim was accused of soliciting bribes amounting to 10 per cent of the profits of the company from businessman Datuk Zarul Ahmad Mohd Zulkifli as gratification for getting the project.
Lim, who is also former DAP secretary-general, is also faced with two charges of causing two plots of land, worth RM208.8 million, belonging to the Penang government to be disposed of to two companies, which are linked to the state’s undersea tunnel project.
The cases before Azura resumes June 7.