Sabah duo in graft probe 'not flashy'

Ag Tahir Ag Talip
Ag Tahir Ag Talip
Teoh Chee Kong
Teoh Chee Kong

Stash of $38m in cash and luxury items came to light only after they were arrested

KOTA KINABALU • On the outside, they were well-paid civil servants who were living modest lives and not known to flash their wealth.

But behind closed doors, they were sitting on a mind-boggling amount of cash, jewellery, watches and cars worth RM114 million (S$38 million).

Sabah Water Department director Ag Tahir Ag Talip and his deputy Teoh Chee Kong were quite well known in their neighbourhoods but no one had the faintest idea that they were sitting on a mountain of luxury - until Tuesday, when the duo were arrested by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (Macc) for probes into graft involving RM3.3 billion of federal projects.

On Wednesday, Macc officers made the biggest seizure in the 49-year history of the agency from the mansions of Ag Tahir and Teoh.

The largesse included RM53.7 million in cash that took more than 30 anti-graft officers 15 hours to count, nine mostly expensive cars and 94 high-end handbags.

Ag Tahir, 54, has a penchant for luxury cars in an otherwise low-profile lifestyle, according to an acquaintance. "He keeps to himself and he does not socialise much although he is well known," the acquaintance told The Star.

LOW PROFILE

He keeps to himself and he does not socialise much although he is well known... I've seen him in the Range Rover. I believe all the cars in the media pictures are his. I've seen him driving those vehicles.

AN ACQUAINTANCE, who was not named, on Sabah Water Department director Ag Tahir Ag Talip.

The source said he had seen Ag Tahir use most of the seized luxury cars, including a Range Rover V8, Mercedes Benz C300, Audi A1 and Lexus ES.

"I've seen him in the Range Rover. I believe all the cars in the media pictures are his. I've seen him driving those vehicles."

NO WATCH

He does not even wear a watch.

A FRIEND, on Sabah Water Department deputy director Teoh Chee Kong.

It is not known if the vehicles were registered under Ag Tahir's name. The Star learnt that the cars were seized from the house of one of his family members.

Other people familiar with Ag Tahir said he is from Sabah's south-western Bongowan in Papar district. The father of three - two daughters and a son - was not known to be a show-off although he did go on overseas holidays.

The 52-year-old Teoh, from whose house and office graft investigators seized some RM7.5 million in cash and 127 land titles and grants, was by various accounts even more discreet.

An engineer by training, Teoh is from a well-to-do Sabah family involved in construction, development and hotel businesses.

He lives in a bungalow but drives an old Toyota Vios and is described by friends and associates as "very helpful". They said he has never flashed his wealth.

"He does not even wear a watch," a friend said.

But Teoh is known to have visited Australia many times and might have been planning to emigrate.

He had been the deputy director of the Sabah Water Department for about four years and was also in charge of the department's west- coast water operations.

Macc sources said the alleged corruption embroiling Teoh and Ag Tahir implicates 38 firms owned by family members and proxies of the two officials. The companies have been given water contracts worth millions since 2010.

The sources said 40 witnesses, mainly Water Department officials and contractors, have been identified.

Meanwhile, rumours are swirling that the duo are linked to the Umno branch in the Kimanis district in Sabah, as well as Foreign Minister Anifah Aman, who is the MP for Kimanis.

Datuk Seri Anifah rubbished the speculation in a statement yesterday, saying the allegations are "preposterous and false".

THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 08, 2016, with the headline 'Sabah duo in graft probe 'not flashy''. Print Edition | Subscribe