Lim Guan Eng pleads not guilty to receiving alleged bribe of $1.1m

Second charge against Malaysia's ex-finance chief relates to tunnel job when he was Penang's leader

Malaysia's former finance minister Lim Guan Eng (centre) with his supporters during a meeting with the press in Penang yesterday, after being charged with receiving a bribe in connection with an undersea tunnel project when he was chief minister of t
Malaysia's former finance minister Lim Guan Eng (centre) with his supporters during a meeting with the press in Penang yesterday, after being charged with receiving a bribe in connection with an undersea tunnel project when he was chief minister of the state. He is expected to face another unspecified charge today.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Malaysia's former finance minister Lim Guan Eng was charged yesterday morning with receiving a RM3.3 million (S$1.1 million) bribe in relation to the Penang undersea tunnel project during his tenure as the state's chief minister.

He pleaded not guilty.

This is the second charge that Lim, who was chief minister from 2008 to 2018, is facing.

The charge was read out at the Sessions Court in Penang.

The 59-year-old was last week arrested and charged in Kuala Lumpur by the country's anti-corruption body with soliciting a bribe based on future profits for the same project.

Lim, who is contesting both charges, is out on a RM1 million bail.

He is due to face another unspecified charge today.

The Democratic Action Party (DAP) opposition politician, whose wife was also arrested last week and may be charged today over money-laundering allegations, has claimed that the corruption charges against him are a form of political persecution.

The RM6.3 billion Penang undersea tunnel project has been on the radar of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) since 2017. But the investigation against Lim picked up pace only recently, months after the Pakatan Harapan (PH) administration lost federal power to the Perikatan Nasional following a series of defections.

Lim was finance minister for 22 months in the PH government, and is the secretary-general of DAP, which is the party with the most number of elected representatives in Parliament.

The veteran politician faces a jail term of up to 20 years if found guilty, similar to the penalty for the charge he faces in Kuala Lumpur.

The charge in Penang will also be transferred to the KL courts next month, meaning both of his corruption trials will take place in the Malaysian capital.

"The prosecution made the appeal (to transfer) and the judge allowed the application.

"Both this case and the first charge are due to be heard at the KL court on Sept 9," Lim's lawyer Gobind Singh Deo said yesterday.

Lim maintained his innocence at a press conference after he was charged in Penang, and said that the MACC had never asked him about the supposed RM3.3 million gratification he allegedly received from the contractor of the Penang undersea tunnel while he was chief minister of the state.

"They never asked me this. MACC has never shown where this RM3.3 million is, it is not in my bank accounts, I don't have RM3.3 million in cash," Lim told reporters, calling the allegation "baseless" and "politically motivated".

Lim was twice incarcerated by the government during his years as an opposition politician.

He spent 1½ years behind bars without trial in the late 1980s, following a government crackdown on activists, scholars and politicians. He was also imprisoned for a year under the colonial-era Sedition Act in 1998, over a controversial statutory rape issue against a former state chief minister.

He was also charged with corruption in 2016 over the purchase of a bungalow, at below-market price, during his tenure as Penang chief minister, but the charges were dropped in 2018.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 11, 2020, with the headline 'Lim Guan Eng pleads not guilty to receiving alleged bribe of $1.1m'. Print Edition | Subscribe