THE man who built Malaysia's North-South Highway has suffered a setback in his efforts to sue the government for allegedly cheating him out of control of the country's largest conglomerate in 2001.
A High Court judge ruled on Thursday that there was no basis for the case to go to trial.
It is unclear if Tan Sri Halim Saad, formerly one of Malaysia's biggest corporate tycoons, will pursue the RM1.3 billion (S$510 million) lawsuit, which had threatened to unearth what some analysts have called an incestuous relationship between business and politics in Malaysia in the 1990s.
"We will discuss with our client whether he wants to file an appeal," Mr Halim's lawyer Ranjit Singh said.
It has been more than a decade since Mr Halim gave up control of Renong-UEM Group - which in the 1990s owned a dizzying array of businesses from construction companies to banks.
In April this year, the businessman sued the government as well as a former minister in the Prime Minister's Department - Tan Sri Nor Mohamed Yakcop - and Khazanah Nasional, a government investment fund.
Mr Halim was a protege of former finance minister Daim Zainuddin, an ally of former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad. A poster boy in the Malay business world, Mr Halim led the Renong-UEM Group, which built Malaysia's longest expressway. It stretched from Bukit Kayu Hitam near Thailand to Johor Baru, connecting towns and villages along the west coast of Peninsular Malaysia.
But during the 1997 Asian financial crisis, Renong-UEM crumpled under a debt burden of RM30 billion due to poor financial management. Khazanah took over the conglomerate in 2001.
In the lawsuit, Mr Halim claimed he was deceived into giving up control of the conglomerate by the government with promises of RM1.3 billion in cash and land in Johor as well as a waste management company as compensation.
Instead, he said, he received only RM165 million in 2003. He claimed that in April 2010, Tun Dr Mahathir told him there was no reason to pay him as Umno was the ultimate owner of Renong-UEM.
Yesterday, the High Court found Mr Halim's claims did not amount to an agreement between him and the government. In her judgment, Datuk Hanipah Farikullah also said Mr Halim had exceeded the six-year limitation to take court action.
She ordered Mr Halim to pay Mr Nor Mohamed and the government RM25,000 each for legal costs.
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