KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia's former finance minister Lim Guan Eng was charged at the Special Corruption Court on Friday (Aug 7) for soliciting a bribe over a controversial RM6.3 billion (S$2.06 billion) undersea tunnel project during his tenure as Penang chief minister. He pleaded not guilty.
He was arrested late on Thursday night at the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) headquarters.
The charge sheet alleged that he had asked for a bribe of 10 per cent of future profits from a company that was awarded a contract to build the undersea tunnel.
Mr Lim, 59, who is also secretary-general of the Democratic Action Party (DAP), which has the most seats in Parliament, is scheduled to be charged with further offences at a Penang sessions court next Monday and Tuesday, the MACC said in a statement.
The anti-graft agency said that next Monday's charges are related to the undersea tunnel project, while the Tuesday charge involves an unspecified case.
If found guilty, Mr Lim could be jailed for up to 20 years, and fined not less than five times the value of the bribe or RM10,000, whichever is higher.
The bail is set at RM1 million.
Mr Lim told reporters after the court session: "This is a baseless allegation and it is politically motivated to tarnish and smear my reputation. I want to stress that I have never received any gratification and I have said this to MACC and they never asked me to show proof of whether I got millions or billions of ringgit in my bank account or whether I had millions of ringgit in cash in my possession.
"This project was by open tender, not by direct award, and to date not a single sen has been paid for the tunnel project.
"I will fight to prove my innocence in court. I believe that the truth will show that I have not received any gratification and there is no corruption."
On Friday morning, Mr Lim's son Marcus alleged that his father's arrest was a political plot to undermine the Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition.
He said the family had expected this to happen since the February collapse of the PH government, in which Mr Lim had served as finance minister.
"Their plan is simple, to frame and capture those leaders who wouldn't bow down to their dirty scheme," Mr Marcus Lim wrote on Facebook.
"Their motive is clear, to dismantle DAP, ultimately destroying PH. They thrive on dirty politics, making the right wrong, and the wrong right. Unfortunately, this is how politics work here," he said.
DAP MP Tony Pua has also said that the allegations against Mr Lim were a form of political persecution.
The commission had called Mr Lim in for questioning on three separate days leading up to the charge, and questioned several prominent Penang politicians in recent weeks, including Mr Lim's successor as chief minister, Mr Chow Kon Yeow.
According to The Star news daily, the MACC is looking into allegations that the state government allowed the Penang Tunnel special purpose vehicle (SPV) company to sell state land rights worth RM3 billion despite a four-year delay in the construction of roads.
Investigators are also said to be looking into the feasibility and detailed design studies that have yet to be completed, even though payment of RM220 million was allegedly made to the SPV.
This is not the first time Mr Lim has been charged with graft.
He faced corruption charges over the purchase of a bungalow below the market price in 2016, but they were controversially dropped in 2018 by then Attorney-General Tommy Thomas, after PH won federal power.
De facto Law Minister Takiyuddin Hassan recently said that the MACC could also renew the probe into the bungalow purchase if new evidence emerges.
Mr Lim was Penang chief minister from 2008 to 2018, and early studies for the tunnel, designed to link Butterworth on the mainland to Georgetown on Penang island, began during his administration in 2016.
Next mention of the case is scheduled for Sept 9.