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Tuesday, September 8, 2009

> Damning PKFZ report singles out Kong Choy

A confidential report by a government-appointed task force probing one of Malaysia’s biggest financial scandals has identified serious breaches on the part of several government officials, including a former minister.

The breaches led to billions of dollars in losses at a tottering state-owned transhipment hub, the Port Klang Free Zone (PKFZ).

The yet-to-be-released report, which will be discussed at the weekly Cabinet meeting tomorrow, singles out former transport minister Chan Kong Choy; Madam O.C. Phang, the former general manager of the Port Klang Authority; and board directors of the port agency, for not carrying out their duties with adequate care.

The findings of the special task force, which were read by The Straits Times, also finger Barisan Nasional MP Datuk Seri Tiong King Sing, the main shareholder of private company Kuala Dimensi Sdn Bhd which carried out the construction of PKFZ.

Tiong has been named as one of the “possible conspirators” in a scheme that exposed the government to huge financial losses stemming from the failed PKFZ development venture.

The report by the special task force, headed by senior Malaysian lawyer Vinayak Pradhan, will add to the long list of disclosures of alleged criminal wrongdoings and mismanagement that has forced the government to bail out the project. The government also had to stand by debts estimated to be in excess of RM10 billion.

Already, the police have frozen the accounts held by Kuala Dimensi with funds of roughly RM140 million as a result of their own investigation into the scandal.

Government politicians who reviewed the findings said the report will pile pressure on Prime Minister Najib Razak’s administration to act against those responsible for the huge losses.

But that route could prove tricky for the Premier because it will force the government to come down hard on political warlords within its own ruling coalition, such as Tiong. He is an MP from Sarawak and head of the Barisan Nasional’s backbenchers club.

“Depending on how deep you want to probe, this scandal goes to the heart of government because payments for the project came from state agencies and had to be approved by the Transport and Finance ministries,” said a senior government official familiar with developments around PKFZ.

The free trade zone project began as a joint-venture between Port Klang Authority (PKA) and the promoters of the Jebel Ali Free Trade Zone (Jafza) in 1999, to attract foreign investment and promote the main Malaysian port of Port Klang.

The land from the project belonged to Kuala Dimensi, which had acquired it in the 1990s for RM96 million or roughly RM3 per sq ft.

But under mysterious circumstances, the PKA, led by then general manager O.C. Phang, moved to buy the land from Kuala Dimensi in 2002 for RM1 billion, or roughly RM25 per sq ft.

Equally mysterious was the PKA’s decision to award Kuala Dimensi sole rights to develop the free trade zone without an open tender.

To fund the development, Kuala Dimensi raised funds through the issue of bonds that were backed by so-called “letters of comfort” from Malaysia’s Transport Ministry.

The PKFZ project has since been saddled by cost overruns and mismanagement, leaving it to the government to stand guarantee on its loans and bonds issued to fund the project. – The Straits Times