GEORGE TOWN, Sep 3 – Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng and businesswoman Phang Li Koon were today acquitted by the High Court here over corruption charges related to the purchase of a bungalow house at below market price.
The former Penang chief minister’s purchase of the house is linked to another corruption charge over the conversion of land from agriculture to residential status for a public housing project in Balik Pulau for Magnificent Emblem Sdn Bhd, a company in which Phang is a director.
The full acquittal was given by High Court judge Justice Hadhariah Syed Ismail despite the prosecution saying that it was dropping the charges but proposing a discharge not amounting to an acquittal (DNAA).
Hadhariah, however, agreed with the defence team’s argument for the full acquittal on the basis that “a DNAA would leave Lim and Phang open to the possibility of being charged again in the future”.
“With the greatest respect to the prosecutor, the court cannot give the accused a DNAA. We cannot continue to have the case hanging over their heads.
“I hereby order that the accused be discharged amounting to an acquittal,” she was quoted as saying by FMT.
Selective persecution by the previous government
Lim is alleged to have committed the offence of approving the land conversion while presiding over the Penang State Planning Committee meeting as its chairman at the operations room, Level 28, Komtar, on July 18, 2014.
In the second charge, he is alleged to have used his position to buy his Jalan Pinhorn bungalow on July 28, 2015 from Phang for RM2.8 million, which is allegedly less than the RM4.27 million market value.
He had faced a jail term of up to 20 years on the first charge and up to two years if found guilty on the second charge.
Lim spoke to reporters outside the courtroom, saying he was most relieved that the “unbearable stress” was finally gone after two years.
He claimed that the charges against him and Phang were clearly “selective persecution” by the previous government.
“This has cleared our names. Today, Phang and I were ready for any kind of possibility. I am grateful to my lawyers, family, party leaders and my supporters who have been with me through thick and thin.
“I also thank Phang who stood by me through this ordeal,” he was quoted as saying.
MACC blame AG for dropping charges
Meanwhile, in Petaling Jaya, the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) has denied it had agreed to the dropping of charges against Lim and Phang.
In a statement following the George Town High Court’s ruling, MACC said it was shocked by the acquittal.
“The MACC is shocked by the decision by the Penang High Court in acquitting the former chief minister of the charges of corruption in relation to the sale of a bungalow lot and the charge of conspiring with businesswoman Phang, after the prosecution retracted the case.
“The MACC would like to stress that the decision was made by the Attorney-General’s office and not the MACC.”