All eyes on Guan Eng as graft trial begins

Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng maintains that the charges against him are politically motivated. (Facebook pic)

GEORGE TOWN: The long-anticipated corruption trial of Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng and businesswoman Phang Li Koon over his RM2.8 million purchase of a double-storey bungalow will commence at the High Court here today.

The trial, which is expected to be heard before Justice Hadhariah Syed Ismail, will last for 23 days. It will take place in five tranches, the first of which will run from today until Friday (March 30).

The prosecution will be calling some 40 witnesses to testify in the case.

Security is expected to be tight at the Penang court complex, with Lim’s supporters likely to gather in the vicinity to show their support.

The trial takes place almost two years after Lim and Phang were initially charged.

On June 30, 2016, Lim, 55, was charged with using his public office to obtain gratification for himself and his wife, Betty Chew, by approving an application by Magnificent Emblem Sdn Bhd to convert agricultural land for residential purposes.

Lim was also alleged to have used his position to obtain gratification by purchasing a bungalow from Phang for RM2.8 million, below the property’s market value of RM4.7 million on July 28, 2015.

Phang, meanwhile, was charged with abetment.

The prosecution then requested for Lim and Phang to file their defence, but proceedings ground to a temporary halt as both individuals challenged the legality of Section 62 of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Act 2009, which requires accused persons to reveal their defence before trial begins.

In March last year, Hadhariah dismissed a motion filed by Lim and Phang to declare Section 62 as unconstitutional, but this was reversed by the Court of Appeal in August.

The Federal Court subsequently allowed the appeal by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC), ruling that Lim was required to give his defence statement to the prosecution before his corruption trial began.

A five-man bench chaired by Chief Justice Raus Sharif disagreed with the Court of Appeal that Section 62 of the MACC Act was unconstitutional.

Raus said Section 62, read together with Section 51A of the Criminal Procedure Code, did not violate Articles 5 (1) and 8 (1) of the Federal Constitution, which govern life and personal liberty, as well as equal protection of the law.

The apex court’s ruling effectively ended Lim and Phang’s challenge, and they will now stand trial in what will likely be a much-watched hearing made all the more crucial in light of the upcoming general election (GE14).

Lim, who is DAP secretary-general, has maintained his innocence, calling the case a travesty of justice. He claims the charges were trumped up to ruin the state and his political career.

The Air Putih assemblyman has not discounted the possibility of the hearing affecting his ability to contest in the upcoming general election.

Lim has also indicated that Penang DAP chairman Chow Kon Yeow may replace him if he is convicted of his graft charges.