KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 25 — Tun Dr Ling Liong Sik was acquitted today of cheating charges over a land purchase for the Port Klang Free Zone (PKFZ) project, a multi-billion ringgit scandal that saw the former transport minister put to trial for over two years.
High Court judge Datuk Ahmadi Asnawi ruled this morning that Dr Ling’s lawyers had managed to raise reasonable doubt in the case and declared the former MCA president free from blame.
The judge’s decision was met with a brief applause from Dr Ling’s supporters inside the packed courtroom.
When met outside the courtroom, Dr Ling declined to comment.
Present in court today were Dr Ling's wife and two sons, while MCA vice-president Datuk Donald Lim was also spotted in the courtroom.
The over two-year trial had started in August 2011, with Dr Ling ordered to enter his defence in March 9 last year while the defence closed its case in June 20 this year.
Dr Ling, who was Malaysia’s transport minister for 17 years from January 1986 to May 2003, was charged in July 2010 with deceiving the Cabinet into approving the land purchase for the PKFZ project, despite knowing that the approval would result in wrongful losses for the government.
Dr Ling also faced two alternative charges of deceiving the Cabinet into believing that the land purchase’s terms — at RM25 psf plus 7.5 per cent interest — had the acknowledgment and agreement of the Land Valuation and Property Services Department (JPPH) despite knowing that there was no such agreement.
The criminal offences were allegedly committed between September 25 and November 6 in 2002, a few months before the former MCA president stopped serving as a transport minister.
If convicted on the first charge, he would have been liable to a punishment under section 418 of the Penal Code of a maximum jail term of seven years, or a fine, or both.
The alternative charges carry a lighter sentence under section 417 of the Penal Code with a jail term of up to five years, or a fine, or both.
In the trial over the Cabinet’s 2002 approval of the Port Klang Authority (PKA)’s purchase of the 999.3 acres of land from PKFZ’s turnkey developer Kuala Dimensi Sdn Bhd (KDSB), the prosecution had called 25 witnesses while the defence had called nine witnesses.
At the clarification stage of the trial last month, Dr Ling’s lead counsel Wong Kian Kheong told the court that former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad was among five Cabinet ministers who had testified that they were not deceived by Dr Ling.
He listed these five ministers as defence witnesses Dr Mahathir, Tan Sri Dr Fong Chan Onn, Tan Sri Abdul Kadir Sheikh Fadzir and prosecution witnesses Datuk Seri Mohamed Nazri and Datuk Seri Mohd Effendi Norwawi.
In his 42-page judgment released today, Ahmadi went through the evidence presented by Dr Ling’s lawyers, making repeated references to the testimonies of Dr Mahathir, Fong and Abdul Kadir - all of whom were Cabinet ministers during the former MCA president’s term in the Transport Ministry.
Ahmadi noted that the prosecution had to prove that Dr Ling had cheated the Cabinet by concealing the fact that the additional 7.5 per cent interest rate was not included in the purchase price of RM25 psf for the land, in order for the first charge and the first alternative charge to succeed.
But the judge pointed to the testimonies of Abdul Kadir, Dr Mahathir and Fong, who had all said that they knew and were aware that the 7.5 per cent interest was not included in the purchase price based on Cabinet papers presented to them.
“Thus in all probability when the Cabinet decided to approve the purchase of the said land by PKA from KDSB, the Cabinet knew that the value of RM25 psf did not include the total amount of interest payable and interest of 7.5 per cent would be payable over and above RM25 psf, being the total purchase price of the said land,” the judge said.
“Again in the light of the testimonies of SD-3, SD-4, and SD-5 there could not be any concealment, deception,misrepresentation or inducement in respect of the interest element payable in connection with the purchase of the said land committed by the accused.
“None of them harboured any belief that they have been misled, deceived, induced or cheated by the accused in respect of the said purchase,” the judge said of the trio, noting that they had not lodged any police reports saying that they were cheated by Dr Ling.
In reference to the second alternative charge where Dr Ling was alleged to have made a misrepresentation to Cabinet, Ahmadi said that a note from the Transport Ministry did not contain anything to suggest that JPPH had certified other terms of the land purchase besides the RM25 psf price.
“There was no mention at all that the 7.5 % interest rate was certified and agreed by JPPH,” Ahmadi wrote.
He also noted that there was no documentary evidence from Dr Ling or evidence from five witnesses - Mohd Effendi, Nazri, Fong, Dr Mahathir and Abdul Kadir - to show that the RM25 psf price and the 7.5 interest rate were certified and agreed to by JPPH.
Ahmadi also commented on the impeachment proceedings against Abdul Kadir after his testimony on the 2002 land purchase contradicted his statement recorded by the police in 2011.
In the judgment, Ahmadi concluded that Abdul Kadir had given a “satisfactory and reasonable explanation” on the contradiction, saying that the former minister remained a credible witness.
Dr Mahathir, the country’s longest-serving prime minister, has held that post from 1981 until October 31, 2003.
He was also then finance minister from June 2001 to 2003.
The PKFZ project which was proposed by Dr Ling in 1997, had an initial cost of RM1.1 billion that then ballooned to over RM4.6 billion in 2007.
Besides Dr Ling, a few individuals have since been charged in court, including his successor as transport minister, Tan Sri Chan Kong Choy.
The cheating trial of Chan, a former MCA deputy president, has yet to be heard.