Five men with Felda links nabbed for graft in Malaysia

The five men arrested in connection with misappropriating funds in a Felda sturgeon-rearing deal were remanded yesterday for seven days to assist in investigations.
The five men arrested in connection with misappropriating funds in a Felda sturgeon-rearing deal were remanded yesterday for seven days to assist in investigations.PHOTO: BERNAMA
Items seized during Ops Caviar include a Mercedes-Benz (above) and jewellery (below) said to be worth millions of ringgit.
Items seized during Ops Caviar include a Mercedes-Benz (above) and jewellery said to be worth millions of ringgit.PHOTO: BERNAMA
The five men arrested in connection with misappropriating funds in a Felda sturgeon-rearing deal were remanded yesterday for seven days to assist in investigations.
Items seized during Ops Caviar include a Mercedes-Benz and jewellery (above) said to be worth millions of ringgit.PHOTO: BERNAMA

PUTRAJAYA • Malaysia's land development agency Felda has become the latest government-linked company to be investigated for graft. Five people who worked for the agency were yesterday remanded for a week for allegedly misappropriating up to RM47.6 million ($15.3 million) in a deal with a Korean company to rear sturgeon in the state of Pahang.

The suspects were detained in a series of raids on Tuesday dubbed Ops Caviar, during which valuable items including a Mercedes-Benz and jewellery believed to be worth millions of ringgit were seized.

The suspects were not named but are believed to be Felda's former director-general, former deputy director-general (strategic resources), the former operations officer in charge of its sturgeon farming project in national park Taman Negara, the current head of its London properties and an assistant administration officer. One of the suspects carries the honorific of Datuk.

They are being investigated on charges including corruption, abuse of position as well as using Felda for personal gain.

It is believed that investigations by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) centre on an agreement between Felda Caviartive Sdn Bhd (FCSB) - a company set up in 2014 without the knowledge of Felda directors - and a Korean company to develop a sturgeon farm in Kuala Tahan, near Malaysia's national park in Pahang.

"We believe all the five suspects are directly involved in the project since 2014," said a source.

"Checks showed that in early 2013, a meeting was held to discuss the project. But the Felda board of directors told the 53-year-old suspect to first come up with a detailed report and a proposal on the amount of investments for the project before making a decision."

Instead, said the source, FCSB was formed without the directors' knowledge and it entered into an agreement with a Korean company. The source said Felda's legal and finance divisions were also unaware of FCSB being set up.

"We found payment made to the Korean firm about one week after the FCSB was set up. This was despite no approval being obtained from the Felda directors," added the source.

The agreement was said to have been inked by the Datuk and the 53-year-old suspect, both of whom were former directors of FCSB. Both suspects oversaw Felda's financial division at the time.

So far, funds amounting to RM47.6 million from Felda have been disbursed by the suspects.

MACC director of investigations Simi Abd Ghani said stacks of documents relating to the project have been seized and will be of help in the probe.

"The investigation is still in the initial stage. We will need time to sift through the documents and call in more witnesses to gather evidence. Give us some time to work on the case," he said.

More items are expected to be seized from the suspects as anti- graft officers visit their homes and obtain details of their assets. The personal accounts of their immediate family members are to be frozen as part of investigations.

Also yesterday, it was announced that Malaysia's global ranking in Transparency International's annual Corruption Perceptions Index had worsened for the second year in a row, dropping to 55th out of the 176 countries surveyed last year. It ranked 54th in the 2015 edition.

THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 26, 2017, with the headline 'Five men with Felda links nabbed for graft'. Print Edition | Subscribe