Bungalow-gate trial: Defence grills 'unsure' complainant of 'Kami Gang Najib'

Susan Loone & Low Chia Ming

Modified 26 Mar 2018, 9:59 am

LIVE REPORT | Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng’s graft trial involving the purchase of a two-storey bungalow officially starts today in the High Court in Penang.

The trial has put Penangites on the edge, as Lim is the first chief minister in Penang to face a graft trial, although he has repeatedly decried the charges as political persecution.

The hearing is expected to take 23 days, until the end of May.

Malaysiakini brings you the live reports as they take place. 

3.00pm: The last witness for today, Public Bank Bhd northern regional manager Choong Sung Yean tells the High Court that Phang bought the bungalow from Ming Holding (M) Sdn Bhd, and paid a monthly mortgage of RM11,872.

Phang initially bought the unit for RM2.125 million but sold it to Lim for RM2.8 million in 2015.

Choong says the letter of offer (for the loan) for Phang was approved on Sept 5, 2008.

During cross-examination, he tells Lim’s lawyer V Sithambaram that the base lending rate per annum was 4.55 percent. 

Lim has claimed trial to the accusation he bought the bungalow below market price and denied allegations he was involved in the conversion of a plot of land from agriculture to residential.

The land belonged to Magnificent Emblem Sdn Bhd, where Phang was a director.

The prosecution team seeks to prove that there was alleged personal gratification by Lim and his wife Betty via the conversion of the land for Phang.

2.30pm: The trial resumes with four more witnesses after the court heard statements from seven witnesses this morning.

Hadhariah then adjourned the case to tomorrow at 9.30am.

11am: Muhsin leaves the court compound escorted by several guys in a black coat to his car.

Furious DAP supporters heckled him, shouting, "Mamu Parpu" and "Penang traitor".

10.59am:  Prosecution calls five witnesses from the state administration to verify the chief minister's posts and his tasks while at the office. One of the witnesses from the Registration office took the stand to verify Lim's and Betty's marriage.

There were no questions or cross-examination by Lim's lawyers over these witnesses.

Masri says only seven witnesses are present at the court today and three more will be present in the afternoon. Hadhariah asks the prosecution "not to waste time" and finish with their witnesses today.

Hadhariah adjourns the court proceedings for lunch until 2.30pm.

10.45am: Lim and Gobind meet reporters outside the courtroom. Gobind says that the point he was trying to establish in court by cross-examining the first witness was that the latter was wrong in his assessment of the bungalow price.

"The price of the bungalow was above and not below market value at the time the agreement was signed," said Gobind.

Lim joked, "It's you all who got me into trouble," referring to the KiniTv video that was aired in the courtroom.

Gobind confirms there are 55 witnesses to be heard at this trial.

10.45am: Outside the courtroom, former PKR Balik Pulau MP and practising lawyer Yusmadi Yusof questions the way the prosecution is handled.

"Guan Eng shouldn't be denied his democratic rights in carrying out his duty effectively as the chief minister, especially when the general election is around the corner.

"This is not the way, there is no urgency for the case."

He says the prosecution should be based on rule of law, but the public are now wondering why the case is handled in such a way where the trial is scheduled for five weeks in a row.

He cited the example of how the former Jakarta governor Ahok (Basuki Tjahaja Purnama) was charged during his election campaign, which created a public outcry.

"The most vital element in our legal system is not how you enact a law, but to create public confidence in the judiciary system through transparency.

"I know everyone is equal before the law, but the law also has a role in democracy and it doesn't exist in a vacuum."

He also points out the case is unrelated to national security, and thus asks why members of the public are denied access to it.

Judge tells all to move it along

10.43am: Court takes a break for 10 minutes.

10.41am: Masri asks Muhsin to explain what he means by, "We are Najib's gang", on his Facebook and whether it has any political purposes. Muhsin says no.

Masri asks if Muhsin knows whether what Shabudin mentioned in the video is true or not, to which Muhsin replied he is not sure.

10.35am: Hadhariah says the court needs to listen to 55 witnesses. Gobind says all he wants to hear is that Muhsin (photo) does not know what is the appropriate price for the bungalow.

10.27am: Gobind continues with his cross-examination, and asks Muhsin to say whether he is aware when the agreement was signed, since he says the value of the bungalow has risen annually.

"Did you ask any experts about the matter before you made the report?

"There is no offence in this case, as Lim bought the bungalow at the right price and the right time," Gobind says.

"The purchase of the bungalow is not under-market value, do you know or not? It is at the appropriate price. Do you agree?" Gobind asks. Muhsin does not agree.

Gobind asks how Muhsin could say he does not agree when he has no knowledge of when the agreement was signed and had not asked experts about the appropriate price of the bungalow.

Muhsin says he had read about the matter on a Facebook page about house prices.

Gobind says Muhsin's actions were based on one purpose only, to attack Lim as he (Muhsin) is Najib's hardcore supporter, to which Muhsin says, "No".

Hadhariah interjects to say, "Questions in this court need to be answered in the blink of an eye, or else we would take the whole day."

10.25am: Gobind pressures Muhsin to admit whether he knows what is in the sale and purchase agreement between Lim and the house owner. Gobind says the matter was mentioned by Shabudin in the video.

Muhsin says the video was not clear.

Defence grills 'unsure' complainant

10.20am: Gobind asks if Muhsin is an expert on house purchase. He says in this case, when Muhsin makes a police report and says there is an element of corruption, it is a very serious accusation.

"So, what is the basis for your accusations?" Gobind asks.

Muhsin replies that he believes there is corruption involved, and says he read about it in some blogs.

Gobind puts it to him that Muhsin had stated false and incorrect news in his police report.

Muhsin says he is now "uncertain" about the matter.

10.13am: Gobind refers to Muhsin's MACC report, and zeroes in on the bungalow issue.

"Do you agree what you say is untrue? There is no purchase of a bungalow in 2008," Gobind says.

Muhsin says, "I do not know.” Gobind (photo) shoots back, "But you are the one who made the report. Do you know, or not?”

"So you do not know, and yet made the report?" Muhsin replies that he made the report based on the video clip shown earlier in court.

Gobind says the video clip showed that Shabudin mentioned the bungalow purchase in 2015.

"If the video did not mention, where did you get the information from?" asks Gobind.

Muhsin claims he does not understand the question, and court participants laugh.

Gobind repeats his question, asking Muhsin to repeat where he got his information.

Muhsin says he does not remember.

Gobind chides him, saying, "Do you know it is an offence to publish false news?" Muhsin replies, “Yes.”

10.09am: Gobind says as a Facebook marketer, Muhsin is active in posting articles online and known under the pen name Mamu Parpu. Other than Facebook, he also has an Instagram account. He has also held protests against Lim and the state government.

"You are a pro-BN writer?" Gobind asks. Muhsin denies.

Gobind points out Muhsin’s social media accounts posts contain catchphrases like, "We are Najib's gang."

"Why shy, just say you are his supporter."

Muhsin agrees.

Gobind says Muhsin has political interests to undermine the opposition. Muhsin denies this.

Lim laughs at video playback scenario

10.01am: Court is finally shown the video of the debate in question. In the clip, a heated debate between Shabudin and Lim is heard with other MPs joining the fray.

While the video is being shown, Lim turns around and laughs, obviously amused at the current scenario.

9.52am: Court is supposed to be shown a video clip featuring Shabudin's debate in Parliament on the bungalow issue. The prosecution team takes some time to prepare the video.

Among those present in the courtroom are DAP MPs Teresa Kok, Fong Kui Lun and Tan Kok Wai.

'Mamu Parpu' opens prosecution's case

9.39am: Prosecution calls its first witness Muhsin Abdul Latheef. Muhsin, or popularly known as 'Mamu Parpu', takes the witness stand.

Muhsin says his work involves Facebook marketing. He says his purpose for coming to court is due to his report to MACC on March 18, 2016, submitted to an officer at the MACC office in Penang at about 1030am.

Muhsin explains he first saw the report about Tasek Gelugor MP Shabudin Yahya raising the issue of Lim's bungalow purchase in Parliament on TV3.

He also received Whatsapp messages on the matter.

Masri asks if anyone had pressured him to lodge the MACC report, to which Muhsin says, “No.”

"I did it on my own will. I made the report so that the chief minister can clear his name of corruption."

9.32am: Reading out the charges, Masri says the prosecution will rely on testimonies from direct witnesses and documents to show offences as stated in the charge sheet.

9.30am: Outside the courthouse, supporters continue to gather under the hot sun, repeatedly shouting, "Support Guan Eng", "Tangkap Najib" (arrest Najib) and "Arrest Jho Low".

One veteran supporter chided BN leaders for allegedly robbing the country and squandering the hard-earned money of the people.

He even makes fun of the prime minister’s wife Rosmah Mansor for her purported spending habits.

Police personnel urge the crowd to keep to the walkway to avoid blocking heavy traffic at Light Street.

9.25am: Lim and Phang are being read their charges.

Representing Phang are lawyers V Sithambaram and Hisyam Teh Poh Teik.

According to Bernama, one amendment involves changing the term referring to Lim as a “civil servant” to "officer of a public body”.

The other involves changing the date of the offence related to the bungalow purchase from July 28, 2015 to Oct 21, 2015.

Lim and Phang plead not guilty to the amended charges.

9.15am: High Court judge Hadhariah Syed Ismail enters the courtroom.

Public prosecutor Masri Daud introduces his six-member team, while Lim's legal team is led by Gobind.

Masri raises several issues, including the request to hear the cases of Lim and Phang at the same court. The judge consents.

8.45am: The court registrar finally allows the remaining journalists to enter the court, where many DAP supporters have gathered.

8.35am: The chief minister arrives at the court with his wife Betty Chew.

DAP supporters at the court house grow bigger. They start chanting, "Lim Guan Eng" and "Keep on fighting" while Lim waves to them.

Also present are DAP supremo Lim Kit Siang and wife, DAP national chairperson Tan Kok Wai, treasurer Fong Kui Lun, vice chairperson Teresa Kok, Penang DAP chief Chow Kon Yeow and PKR secretary general Saifuddin Nasution.

8.20am: Lim's lawyers, led by Gobind Singh Deo and RSN Rayer, arrive at the court with their assistants carrying three boxes of documents.

Roads around the court become congested, although police don’t put up any barricades to close off any of the roads.

8am: Pakatan Harapan leaders and supporters gather in front of the High Court along Light Street, holding banners with the words "solidarity with Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng".

DAP has also put up a canopy near Dewan Sri Pinang, which is about 30 metres away from the court, for members who are unable to enter the court area.

Reporters initially shut out

7.45am: Reporters gathered at the court house since 7am as only 20 are supposedly allowed in to cover the trial.

But many are upset that their names are not in the list given by the police to the court administrator. Media not allowed in thus far are Malaysiakini, all the Chinese language newspapers, The Star and Utusan Malaysia.

The court administrator said they cannot do anything as the list they had was cleared by police.

The police meanwhile said the list was prepared by the court.

Unlocking the bungalow-gate case

Lim was charged on June 30, 2016 for two counts of corruption for purchasing the bungalow from businesswoman Phang Li Koon, for RM2.8 million, allegedly at below market value.

Lim and Phang have denied any element of corruption, saying the bungalow transaction was based on a "willing seller, willing buyer" basis.

The case was initially postponed for more than 20 months, as Lim and Phang challenged the constitutionality of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission Act.

The Federal Court finally ruled that the Act was constitutional, paving the way for the present hearing.

Lim pleaded not guilty to the two charges related to land conversion and the purchase of his bungalow.

He was charged with using his position as a civil servant to allegedly gain gratification for himself and his wife, Betty Chew Gek Cheng, by approving the application for the conversion of agricultural land to a public housing zone in southwest Penang to a company, Magnificient Emblem Sdn Bhd.

It is claimed he had committed the offence while chairing the Penang state planning committee meeting at the operations room, Level 28, Komtar building in George Town, on July 18, 2014.

The charge, which comes under Section 23 of the MACC Act 2009, provides for imprisonment of up to 20 years, and a fine of up to five times the sum or value of a bribe, or RM10,000, whichever is higher, upon conviction.

The second charge concerns using his position to obtain for himself a plot of land and a bungalow located at No 25, Jalan Pinhorn, Georgetown on July 28, 2015 from Phang for RM2.8 million, a price which he allegedly knew did not commensurate with the property’s then market value of RM4.27 million.

The charge, under Section 165 of the Penal Code, provides for a jail term of up to two years, or a fine, or both, upon conviction.

Phang had also pleaded not guilty to abetting Lim in obtaining the bungalow below cost.

The charge she faces, under Section 109 of the Penal Code read together with Section 165, provides for imprisonment of up to two years, or a fine, or both, upon conviction.

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