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Koon Swan saga: Will the truth emerge?

 | September 13, 2012

Was the former MCA president's political career cut short due to a hideous plan?

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The concept of history is often than not, taken for granted. Events which happened in the past seem to be separated by time and space like compartments, disconnected with the present.

Yet, the truth in history, seemingly buried in the capsule of time, can be stranger than fiction.

Take the illustrative example of former MCA president and reborn Christian Tan Koon Swan and his conviction over his involvement in the Pan El saga.

The truth is history can burn indeed through the pages in time.

For more than 10 years, Koon Swan could have prayed hard since his jail imprisonments in Singapore and Malaysia, seeking a truthful answer over his traumatic and painful experiences on the CBT charges in both Pan El and his role in the Malaysian Multi-Purposes Holding Berhad respectively.

His prayers were answered in 2010. Reportedly, the former chief prosecutor of Singapore, Glenn Knight at a seminar apologised for having wrongly prosecuted Koon Swan in the Pan El crisis in the mid-80s.

Koon Swan apparently had kept his silence on the matter until today.

Knight had apparently devoted a chapter of his publication, “Glenn Knight-The Prosecutor” narrating the Pan El debacle and Koon Swan’s involvement.

According to press reports, Knight wrote, “…as Koon Swan was the head of MCA. I put a paper on his involvement in the Pan El saga but left it to my superiors to decide his fate as he was out of Singapore and in Malaysia.”

Singapore decided to prosecute Koon Swan in late 1985 and he was found guilty which led to his two-year imprisonment there.

Upon his release, Koon Swan was re-arrested in late 1987 to face another set of charges by the Malaysian government over his involvement in the management of the Multi-Purpose Holdings Bhd, the main investment arm of his party, MCA.

Was Koon Swan trapped in truth and emotional pain for the past 10 years despite instinctively knowing that one day, the truth would emerge just like the Chinese proverb, “shui luo shi chu” (when water recedes, the rock (truth) comes to light)?

The light at end of the tunnel shone in 1996 in a similar CBT case where Singapore Chief Justice Yong Pung How concluded that Knight had charged Koon Swan under a wrong section for the offence and therefore, was wrong in law.

Knight wrote, “Chief Justice Yong was of the opinion that the section I charged Koon Swan with was wrong in law for we could not charge a person for stealing from a company because he was a director. It was not a breach of the law in that sense.”

According to Knight, many people had asked if Yong’s judgment could be used to set aside the conviction of Koon Swan but unfortunately jurisprudence in Singapore did not allow this though technically Koon Swan could still have been granted a pardon.

A conspiracy?

Much water has flowed under the bridge. Perhaps, Koon Swan has learnt to live in peace having reconciled with his traumatic and troubled past. Yet many of Koon Swan’s political supporters even today still harbour the belief and perception that their leader was “politically” persecuted over the commercial CBT charges.

But there is no evidence to prove it was politically motivated. The truth was known only to those who had masterminded it and Koon Swan himself.

If there was conspiracy, Koon Swan had still kept his silence for more than two decades, 26 years to be exact.

As for the public, many especially the Chinese community still remember Koon Swan’s predicament over the Pan El affair, shortly after his party election victory over the then acting MCA president Neo Yee Pan.

Conspiracy theorists including Koon Swan’s staunch supporters speculated that Koon Swan could have been a victim of political persecution by certain high-powered Umno leaders at that time.

Could it be that Koon Swan was sternly reminded by certain Umno quarters not to contest against Yee Pan? The latter took over as acting president when Lee San Choon abruptly resigned in April and formally left the party in May 1983.

“San Choon’s departure precipitated a savagely acrimonious power struggle within the party. His choice of his protégé and close ally, Yee Pan, as acting president met with the disapproval of an influential group of top-ranking leders led by Koon Swan, the architect of MCA-initiated economic reforms within the Chinese business community,” wrote Dr Heng Pek Koon in her book, “Chinese Politics in Malaysia-A History of MCA”.

Yee Pan using his presidential powers in expelling Koon Swan’s 14 key supporters in various leadership levels and the membership phantom issue triggered a 20-month party crisis. The crisis ended following an extraordinary AGM and elections on Nov 11, 1985 which saw Koon Swan ushered in as the new president.

Sudaram Jomo wrote, “By late 1985, (soon after Koon Swan’s victory), however he was involved in the Pan El scandal, which triggered stock market collapse in both Singapore and Malaysia, leading to his arrest in Singapore.”

Following immediately on the heels of the arrest was another blow when two of his closest associates were implicated in a scandal involving 24 deposit-taking cooperatives (DTCs) and were charged in early 1987 with CBT in connection with the demise of a large MCA-sponsored saving cooperative, Komuda.

Were these events coincidental?

On March 27, 1987, then MCA president Dr Ling Liong Sik who chaired a central committee meeting finally accepted Koon Swan’s resignation as the MP for Gopeng.

What was more revealing is the extracted recorded minutes of an emergency MCA central committee meeting held in May 1987 chaired by Liong Sik, who had briefed those present on his meeting with Umno leaders on resolving the cooperative issue.

The meeting between Liong Sik and certain Umno top leaders was apparently over the cooperative’s debacle on repayments to some almost 600,000 mainly Chinese depositors involving more than RM 1.5 billion.

The minutes stated: “The president briefed the central committee on the meetings held with Umno leaders on the cooperative issue. Dr Ling briefed them (Umno leaders) about the RM1.4 billion scheme and told them that he wanted dollar to dollar refund to be completed before March 1989. He further said it would need a soft loan of RM4.4 billion from Bank Negara.”

According to the minutes, Umno leaders had turned down the proposal and further warned the MCA president not to take a hard stand on resolving the cooperative issue.

The Umno leadership conveyed to Liong Sik that he and the party would have to face the possible consequences.

“Dr Ling also told the meeting (MCA central committee) that he was threatened that if he did not agree to compromise, Umno would support Yee Pan to challenge him (Liong Sik) in the coming party elections or N.O.C. would be imposed or Gerakan would take over MCA’s position in government,” read the minutes.

Hypothetically, the pertinent question would be – was Koon Swan’s political career cut short due to a hideous plan?

Do the minutes reveal that the powers-that-be then was extremely upset with Koon Swan for challenging Yee Pan in the presidential elections?

Stanley Koh is a former head of MCA’s research unit. He is now a FMT columnist.


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