New ECRL deal nothing to do with Jho Low, says Dr M

PUTRAJAYA: Dr Mahathir Mohamad today denied that the revised East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) project is in exchange for the return of fugitive businessman Low Taek Jho, better known as Jho Low, from China.

“This has nothing to do with Jho Low. But of course, we seek the help of the Chinese government if he is at all in China,” the prime minister said in a press conference on the project today.

It was previously reported that Jho Low, who is wanted in connection with the 1MDB scandal, is roaming freely in China.

On whether the revised deal comes in exchange for palm oil exports, trade, or other matters in relation to 1MDB investigations, Mahathir said the government is pushing for China to buy palm oil from Malaysia.

“It is not directly related, but we are taking advantage of the signing of the agreement to work out the purchase of palm oil by China,” he said.

On whether the previous government had indeed inflated the cost of the project to channel funds to service 1MDB interest payments and loans, Mahathir said they suspect this is what happened.

“The price was so high. If the project had been tendered out the normal way, we would have gotten a better price.

“But it was a lump sum given by a company in China through direct negotiations,” he said.

On Pakatan Harapan’s previous criticism of the ECRL project and whether his own concerns on the matter had subsided, Mahathir said concerns remained.

“The concern was there, but this is a solution to our concern.

“From the very beginning, when we were in the opposition, we thought the way the award was made and the sum total of the cost was not right, that the price was inflated.

“As you can see, it can be done at a lower cost. Why Malaysia should agree to a high cost is something that we cannot understand, really,” he said.

On Friday, Putrajaya announced a reduction of RM21.5 billion in construction cost for Phase 1 and 2 of the ECRL project.

It said the cost was reduced from RM65.5 billion to RM44 billion following the signing of an agreement between Malaysia Rail Link (MRL) and China Communications Construction Company (CCCC).

Daim Zainuddin, the prime minister’s special envoy who had led negotiations on the project, said several stations along the new route, including the Gombak station, have been scrapped.

The new alignment, which has been cut by 40km from 688km to 648km, will also have a new station in Jelebu, Negeri Sembilan, he said.

MRL CEO Darwis Abdul Razak said they aim to begin construction as soon as possible, subject to approval from the relevant authorities.

“We are looking (to commence the project) as early as May.

“Effectively, when we signed the supplementary agreement on April 12, the suspension was lifted, so we are now in the process of planning and mobilising all resources,” he told reporters.

Darwis said the cost and losses would be divided evenly between MRL and CCCC. However, profits generated will see MRL getting more, up to 80%.