Penang's chief minister Lim Guan Eng corruption case going for mention

GEORGE TOWN - It will arguably be one of the most awaited cases as Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng is due to be in the High Court here tomorrow for the first mention of two charges of corrupt practices against him.

This is not yet the trial proper. A mention of a case is the early part of the court's due process to ensure all necessary documents and eviden­ce are submitted.

"In a criminal case, a few case mentions may be necessary before the actual hearing to check that the prosecution files everything in.

"There must be no surprises. The prosecution team has to be transparent and put all the investigating papers and evidence before the court and these must be given to the defence team too.

"Only after the court is satisfied with all these will the judge set a hearing date," explained lawyer Ong Yu Shin when asked to comment on what to expect tomorrow.

Despite this being only the preliminary stage of Lim's trial, DAP has been rousing its supporters.

Penang DAP and state party chairman Chow Kon Yeow put up posters on their Facebook pages, calling on the people to gather at the Penang High Court at 8.30am tomorrow to show "support, sympathy and solidarity" to Lim.

Lim had claimed trial to a charge of using his position as a public servant to obtain gratification for himself and his wife Betty Chew, by approving an application by Magnificent Emblem to convert two lots of agricultural land for residential development during a state planning committee meeting on July 18, 2014.

The offence under Section 23 of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission Act 2009 (Act 694), punishable under Section 24 of the same Act, carries a jail term of not more than 20 years and a fine of not less than five times the value of gratification or RM10,000 (S$3,300), which­ever is higher.

He had also denied another charge under Section 165 of the Penal Code of using his position to obtain gratification by purchasing his house from businesswoman Phang Li Koon at RM2.8mil, which was below the property's market value of RM4.27mil on July 28, 2015.

The offence is punishable with a maximum two years' jail, a fine, or both, upon conviction.

The initial mention date was scheduled for Sept 22, but it was postponed after Phang appointed new lawyers to represent her.

She faces an abetment charge for allegedly selling a bungalow in Pinhorn Road to Lim on July 28, 2015, at below its actual market value.

Lim has maintained his innocence, publicly declaring several times since he was charged that he could not be accused of corrupt practices if no one had benefited from his action.

He said that although the state Planning Committee, which he chairs, approved the land conversion, Penang Island City Council did not grant the final approval.

On the purchase of his Pinhorn Road bungalow at below market price, he had said that Phang had not made a loss but recorded a RM300,000 profit.

Lim's trial is reminiscent of two other state leaders who had been hauled up for corruption, former Sabah chief minister Datuk Joseph Pairin Kitingan and former Selangor mentri besar Dr Mohd Khir Toyo, though Dr Mohd Khir was charged only after he stepped down as mentri besar.

Dr Mohd Khir was found guilty by the Shah Alam High Court in December 2011 for obtaining for himself and his wife two plots of land and a house from a company at RM3.5mil, which was lower than the RM6.5mil that the company had bought it for in 2004.

He was sentenced to a year's jail and was out on parole after serving six months.

Pairin faced three corruption charges in 1991 while still the chief minister and was found guilty of one but acquitted later.

He was fined RM1,800 - RM200 short of being disqualified as an elected representative.

Any Member of Parliament or Assemblyman who is fined more than RM2,000 or jailed more than a year for a criminal charge is automatically disqualified.

The risk of Lim being struck out of the Penang State Assembly and subsequently out of the Chief Minister's Office on being found guilty of a criminal offence also hinges on a contempt of court proceeding which he will soon be facing.

Although he had called the char­ges "trumped-up", Lim had repeatedly told the public during his speeches and press conferences that he expected to go to jail.

This had prompted the Attorney-General's Office to apply for leave from the High Court to initiate contempt of court proceedings against him on grounds that Lim's public remarks were insulting to the judiciary and justice system to the extent of causing uncertainty over the fair determination of cases.

The Kuala Lumpur High Court had granted leave for the contempt proceedings and it is expected to happen early next month.

"The contempt case is a separate one and has no bearing in the corrupt practices case," Lim's lawyer Gobind Singh Deo said.

There are no statutes to set the maximum fine or jail term for contempt of court.