GEORGE TOWN: Hundreds of people have gathered around the High Court complex at Light Street here to show their support for Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng, who arrived at the courthouse this morning for the first day of his corruption trial.
Lim, who arrived at 8.35am with his parents Lim Kit Siang and Neo Yoke Tee, followed by co-accused Phang Li Koon, was met by supporters carrying banners, with scores of motorists honking in support.
He appeared to be in high spirits, shaking hands with his supporters on his way in.
Other DAP leaders including Tan Kok Wai and Chow Kon Yeow were also present, amid tight control at the courthouse entrance.
Inside the courthouse, there was some confusion among members of the press, many of whom were turned away as they were not registered.
Some were furious as they were not on the list despite registering in 2016 and attending a briefing by the court registrar.
An officer from the chief registrar’s office told the press that another registration had been held two weeks ago.
The officer said only 20 journalists were allowed in the gallery at any one time, with access passes to be given only to those who had registered before.
According to him, the courtroom had a capacity of 60 people, with 22 seats reserved for Lim’s family and government officials, 20 for members of the public and 20 for journalists covering the case.
However, journalists who had waited outside the courthouse were irked by the lack of formal notification regarding the new registration exercise.
The registrar’s office has since accepted new registrations for media workers and reminded those covering the court case that seats in the complex are given on a first-come-first-served basis only.
On June 30, 2016, Lim 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 requested that Lim and Phang file their defence, but proceedings ground to a temporary halt when 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, Justice Hadhariah Syed Ismail dismissed the 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.
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.