Malaysian police question mysterious businessman in vaccine donation claim

The businessman is said to have made an offer to donate two million doses of Sinovac vaccine to Penang.
The businessman is said to have made an offer to donate two million doses of Sinovac vaccine to Penang.PHOTO: AFP

KOTA KINABALU (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - The mysterious Yong Chee Kong, a businessman said to have made an offer to donate two million doses of Covid-19 vaccine to Penang, has been called up by police for questioning.

Sabah state said they are investigating the case, said Commissioner Hazani Ghazali.

"Yes... this morning my officer will be recording his statement," he said on Friday (May 21). But he declined to say if Mr Yong would be arrested.

The latter became the focus of attention when Mr Khairy Jamaluddin, minister in charge of the National Covid-19 Immunisation Programme, said the offer by a private company of two million free doses of Sinovac vaccine for Penang was a scam.

Each dose costs US$30 (S$40), and the two million doses would have amounted to  about RM240 million (nearly S$80 million).

Malaysian media reported that Mr Yong's name was the No. 1 search item on the Internet on Thursday after Mr Khairy's comments.

Some reporters managed to track him down at his home.

The issue raised deep public interest after Penang Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow said at a news conference on Wednesday that the vaccine donation offer from a businessman was turned down by the federal government.

Former Penang chief minister Lim Guan Eng, who heads the opposition Democratic Action Party (DAP) and who was sitting beside Mr Chow, said: "I want to propose to Chow, just take it. If they (the government) want to punish us, let them do it. What's wrong with this country? Rejecting free vaccines."

Mr Lim also thundered: "Political donations can, but vaccine donation cannot. Kepala otak dia! (Your stupid head!). I am sorry to say this but I am very angry."

Mr Khairy said on Thursday that a check with Sinovac China revealed that there was no documentation to buy the vaccine from a company named Xintai Development Enterprise that was said to be linked to Mr Yong.

The minister added, as reported by Malay Mail online news, that his aide got in touch with Mr Yong and asked for proof of donation which the latter failed to produce.

"He said no. He said he has money in an account in Hong Kong.

"She then told him he can either show proof of the donation or make an official donation to the government of Malaysia which we will pass to the Penang government. Not for him to pay to any company. Which he refused."

Mr Khairy added, as quoted by Malay Mail: "As I said yesterday, I am happy to facilitate the donation if Mr Yong can prove he can procure the vaccines or make an official contribution to the government."

Mr Yong, who is from Tawau in Sabah, had claimed that he made the offer on behalf of his "boss" of Hong Kong-based company Xintai Enterprise Development.

Mr Yong said he first offered the two million doses to Sabah early this year, but the state rejected it as the drug was yet to be approved by the Malaysian government.

He said the Penang state government then took up his offer and helped him draft a letter offering the donation.

Mr Yong claimed that the letter wrongly named the company as Xintai Development Enterprise instead of Xintai Enterprise Development.

But Mr Chow on Friday was quoted as saying by Malaysiakini news site: "This is a serious and unfounded allegation. Penang DAP had not written a letter as alleged, and a police report has been lodged today." 

He added that the Penang state government plans to use its own funds to buy the vaccines and hopes for approval from the federal government.