KUALA LUMPUR: Claps and cheers broke out in the packed courtroom when former Transport Minister Tun Dr Ling Liong Sik was acquitted of cheating the Government in relation to the Port Klang Free Zone (PKFZ) land deal.
Dr Ling, 70, the former MCA president, was calm when Justice Ahmadi Asnawi delivered the judgment.
His wife Toh Puan Ena and his two sons, Datuk Hee Leong and Hee Keat, sighed with relief and rushed to hold their father who was standing in the dock.
Justice Ahmadi held that the defence had managed to raise reasonable doubt into the prosecution's case over the main and two alternative charges against Dr Ling.
Dr Ling later left the court with family members as well-wishers continued to congratulate him and his family.
In his 42-page written judgment, Justice Ahmadi said he had considered the conduct of Dr Ling and his explanation on issues regarding the land.
The judge found that Dr Ling was "consistent with his innocence".
The judge also ruled that Dr Ling could not be held accountable for any mistakes, omissions, concealment, misleading information or inaccuracies presented in two Transport Ministry's (MOT) summary and notes over the land.
"If any, the blame should be apportioned wholly and squarely upon the officers of MOT who drafted and prepared the same," said the judge.
Justice Ahmadi added that there was no evidence on who initiated the PKFZ project involving the procurement of the land.
"But the evidence is very clear that the accused did not initiate the purchase of the land," he said.
The court found that Dr Ling's evidence was corroborated by the testimony of former Prime Minister and then-Finance Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
The judge said Dr Mahathir, 88, had told the court that Finance Ministry (MOF) officers were involved in every stage of the process of procuring the land and computing the total cost of the PKFZ project.
"MOF must have had a hand in the determination of the purchase price of the land bearing always the intimacy of their involvement in the PKFZ project and in procuring the land for the project as indicated in the testimony of Dr Mahathir.
"It lends credence to the accused's contention that he played no part in the determination of the purchase price of the land with or without the interest element. He is only interested in getting the land fast," he said.
Justice Ahmadi added that it was apparent that Dr Ling merely signed off documents presented to him by his officers and later made the presentation to the Cabinet.
He said that when the Cabinet decided to approve the purchase of the land by Port Klang Authority (PKA) from Kuala Dimensi Sdn Bhd (KDSB), the Cabinet knew that the value of RM25psf did not include the total amount of interest payable and that interest of 7.5% would be payable over and above RM25psf.
Besides that, Justice Ahmadi said that the purchase of the land was not decided over a single Cabinet meeting but rather it was deliberated periodically between March 1999 and Nov 6, 2002.
Dr Ling was accused of deceiving the Government by not revealing to the Cabinet an additional interest rate of 7.5% annually in the RM1.088bil (at RM25 psf) purchase of the land for the project at the Prime Minister's Office in Putrajaya between Sept 25, 2002 and Nov 6, 2002.
He was alleged to have deceived the Cabinet into giving consent to PKA to purchase the land from KDSB.
Dr Ling also claimed trial to two alternative charges of cheating which carries a lesser penalty.
Deputy Public Prosecutor Manoj Kurup told reporters that the prosecution would have to study the grounds of judgment before deciding whether to appeal against the court ruling.