GEORGE TOWN: The High Court here today postponed the corruption trial of Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng and businesswoman Phang Li Koon to May 21, following a defence application that he needed to prepare for the 14th general election (GE14).
Judge Datuk Hadhariah Syed Ismail allowed the postponement following an application by Lim’s lead counsel, Gobind Singh Deo, to adjourn the trial, which was initially scheduled for today until Thursday.
Lim was also not present in court this morning as he had gone to seek an audience with Yang di-Pertua Negeri Tun Abdul Rahman Abbas to seek a dissolution of the state legislative assembly.
He subsequently chaired his last state executive council meeting before making the official announcement on the dissolution.
Apologising to the court for Lim’s absence due to official matters, Gobind told the court that the postponement was to enable the necessary preparations to be made for the general election.
“Parliament was dissolved last Saturday, and there would be general election at both the Federal and state level. As such, we request for a postponement to make the preparations.
“If possible, I seek for a case management to be held early May so that we can discuss the matter further, possibly after the elections.
Meanwhile, Deputy Public Prosecutor Datuk Masri Mohd Daud, who led the prosecution team, said he understood Gobind’s request but felt that the case could still go on since the Election Commission (EC) had yet to fix the date for the general election.
Hadhariah then said that the case could not proceed without Lim’s presence in court.
“There is this issue about the need for the chief minister to make preparations for the general election, and the court case cannot proceed without him in attendance,” she said.
Hadhariah then fixed May 10 for case management.
She also said that the earlier dates fixed for the hearing, on May 21 to May 25, would proceed as schedule.
Gobind subsequently apologised for the inconvenience and thanked the judge for allowing the postponement.
At the start of the trial on March 26, Lim had claimed trial to two counts of amended charges.
On the first count, he was charged with using his position as a public officer, namely, Chief Minister of Penang, to gain gratification for himself and his wife, Betty Chew Gek Cheng, by approving the application for the conversion of agriculture land to a public housing zone in southwest Penang to a company, Magnificient Emblem Sdn Bhd.
Lim, 58, was charged with committing the offence while chairing the State Planning Committee meeting at the operations room, Level 28, Komtar building here, on July 18, 2014.
The amended charge involve the change of “civil servant” to “public officer.”
The charge under Section 23 of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) Act 2009 provides an imprisonment for up to 20 years and a fine of up to five times the sum or value of the bribe, or RM10,000 (S$13,000), whichever is higher, upon conviction.
For the second amended charge, he was charged with using his position to obtain for himself a plot of land and a bungalow, located at No 25, Jalan Pinhorn, George Town, from Phang for RM2.8 million, a price which he allegedly knew did not commensurate with the property’s then market value of RM4.27 million.
The offence was allegedly committed at No 25 Jalan Pinhorn, George Town here on Oct 21, 2015 (instead of July 28, 2015 as stated in the original charge).
The charge was under Section 165 of the Penal Code, which provides an imprisonment for up to two years, or a fine, or both, upon conviction.
Phang also pleaded not guilty to an amended charge with abetting Guan Eng in obtaining the bungalow at an undervalued cost at the same place and date.
She was charged under Section 109 of the Penal Code, read together with Section 165 of the same law, which provides an imprisonment for up to two years, or a fine, or both, upon conviction.
Lim had bought the bungalow from Phang in 2015 for RM2.8 million.
To date, 25 witnesses had taken the stand. A total of 54 prosecution witnesses are expected to testify at the trial.