The Kuala Lumpur High Court has ordered former transport minister Ling Liong Sik to enter his defence on charges of cheating the government in 2002 on the Port Klang Free Zone (PKFZ) project.
Justice Ahmadi Asnawi, in his nearly two-hour ruling, said the prosecution has successfully established a prima facie case against the 68-year-old former MCA president.
Ling is accused of cheating the government by concealing from then prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad's cabinet the existence of an additional 7.5 percent interest rate per annum on the purchase price of the land for the PKFZ project.
The Valuation and Property Services Department (JPPH) had fixed the land's price, including coupon interest, at RM1.09 billion based on RM25 per sq ft.
Ling was first charged on July 29, 2010 under section 418 of the Penal Code which carries a penalty of up to seven years in prison or a fine, or both.
He faces two alternative charges of cheating and intentionally omitting information to the cabinet on the additional interest rate which carries up to five years' jail or a fine, or both.
'Ignorance is unacceptable'
In his 83-page written ruling, Ahmadi said Ling was well aware that the government would have to pay more than the land's value of RM1.09 billion as he was informed at an earlier meeting but failed to disclose it to the cabinet.
"I have no hesitation finding that the accused has intentionally induced the government to approve the said price, which the cabinet would not have if it knew about 7.5 percent interest," he said.
Ahmadi added that someone of Ling's education, stature and background cannot shift responsibility or claim to be misinformed as it is incumbent on him to know the contents of the agreement.
"As a member of the cabinet and with his ministerial responsibility, the onus is on him, it is his duty to reveal (the actual cost of the land) to the cabinet," he said.
He added that Ling, by failing to reveal the 7.5 percent interest, was aware that he was likely to cause a loss to the government.
Ex party deputy faces similar charges
The offences were allegedly committed at the fourth floor of the Prime Minister's Office, Perdana Putra building in Putrajaya, between Sept 25 and Nov 6, 2002.
A total of 25 prosecution witness testified at the trial which started in August last year, including ministers in the Prime Minister's Department Nazri Abdul Aziz and Nor Mohamed Yakcop and former minister Effendi Norwawi.
Another former minister and former MCA deputy president Chan Kong Choy (right) also face similar charges of cheating the cabinet in relation to the PKFZ project during Abdullah Ahmad Badawi's tenure as prime minister.
The prosecution is led by the head of prosecution Attorney General's Chambers Tun Abdul Majid Tun Hamzah, while Ling is represented by a team of lawyers headed by Wong Kian Kheong.
When met outside the court room, Ling declined to comment on the decision today but said, "We'll fight this in court".
The prosecution has offered a total of 113 witnesses for the defence to call.
The trial is fixed from Jun 18 to 22, July 2 to 5, 10 to 13 and 16 to 18.