KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 10 — Putrajaya “might as well” withdraw all outstanding cases over the multi-billion Port Klang Free Zone (PKFZ) project, Datuk Lee Hwa Beng said after yet another major lawsuit over the scandal fell through Monday.
While saying he was no longer in a position to dictate the PKA’s actions, the authority’s former chairman noted that its retraction of its lawsuit to recover RM720 million from PKFZ’s developer, Kuala Dimensi Sdn Bhd, demonstrated a trend in abortive cases over the troubled port.
Lee pointed out that a lot of money has been spent by both PKA and Putrajaya in such cases, and said he would have liked to see them pursued to the end.
“Since I left and OTK left, they’ve started dropping so many cases,” Lee told Malay Mail Online, referring to former transport minister Datuk Seri Ong Tee Keat. Both of them had helped initiate and oversee investigations into the PKFZ project when controversy over its cost first broke out.
In two separate criminal cases, former transport minister Tun Dr Ling Liong Sik and his successor, Tan Sri Chan Kong Choy, were both acquitted last October and this January, respectively, of cheating the government or government leaders over the PKFZ project.
“I suggest they should drop all other cases,” Lee said, saying that it would help save his time and other witnesses’ time as well as taxpayers’ funds, besides allowing everyone to move forward.
It was also “not fair” to drop the bigger PKFZ court cases and retain the smaller ones, he said.
According to Lee, there are four outstanding cases over the PKFZ project, including two criminal cases against former PKA general manager OC Phang, PKFZ turnkey contractor KDSB chief operating officer Steven Abok, and project architect Bernard Tan Seng Swee.
Two civil cases against Phang and the project architect also remain, Lee said.
When it was pointed out that his suggestion would not enable the recovery of millions or help uncover the truth behind the scandal, Lee indicated that he was not hopeful that there would be any results towards either.
“I don’t see the current regime, whether federal government or transport minister or PKA, they will pursue to the very end (sic),” the former Selangor state lawmaker said.
Lee believed that PKA and the government would likely only pursue the remaining PKFZ cases “halfway” through or pull back near the end, claiming that it would be pointless to continue now.
Lee further suggested that the “wrong person” was appointed as the PKA chairman, claiming that Tan Sri Kong Cho Ha had wanted to stop the PKFZ cases from proceeding when he was then the transport minister.
On Monday, PKA said its withdrawal of the suit was made on the condition that KDSB similarly withdraw its civil suit against PKA, Ong and Lee for the alleged abuse of public office for the purportedly malicious publication of the PWC advisory report, and that there would be no order to costs.
PKA also explained that its lawyers had advised that its probability of success in pursuing the RM720 million lawsuit at full trial was “severely weakened by the testimonies of material witnesses, and findings of fact made by the High Court judge in the Tun Dr Ling trial.”
During Dr Ling’s trial, five witnesses who had served as Cabinet ministers during the PKFZ project, including former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, had testified that they were not deceived by Dr Ling.
The PKFZ scandal hit the headlines in 2008, after it was revealed in an audit commissioned by Ong — who was transport minister and MCA president at the time — that the cost had spiralled more than 10 times over its original budget.
Dr Ling — Ong’s predecessor in both the ministry and MCA — had pitched the idea to create a free trade zone at the Port Klang area and turn it into a regional integrated cargo distribution and industrial park in 1997, when he was then the transport minister.
It originally was supposed to have cost RM1.1 billion but this later grew to RM4.6 billion in 2007, before an audit by accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers commissioned by Ong in 2008 showed that the total cost including interest payments was projected to hit RM12.5 billion.