Sabah duo in graft probe took 60% of state funds for water supply works

The cash and jewellery seized during the raid on the two senior officials' homes.
The cash and jewellery seized during the raid on the two senior officials' homes.PHOTO: THE STAR

38 firms made up of their relatives and friends secured $1.1b worth of projects since 2010

For over five years, two senior officials in Sabah's water department awarded contracts to their proxies, pocketing 60 per cent of the funds earmarked by the federal government to improve water supply to residents, including those in remote villages, in the state.

The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) discovered that a network of 38 companies - made up of the duo's relatives and close friends - had secured RM3.3 billion (S$1.1 billion) worth of projects since 2010.

Responding to complaints over the unfair distribution of contracts, the MACC spent over a year investigating the two men who appeared to be well-paid civil servants living upper-middle-class lives. Their allegedly ill-gotten gains were mind- boggling even for the investigators.

Stacks of cash were found in their homes and offices, sealed and piled up in cupboards, safe boxes and bags. A total of over RM53.7 million in cash was recovered.

On top of money, 19kg of jewellery worth RM19 million, over 90 handbags worth RM500,000 and 127 land grants were also found.

The duo and their relatives also had bank accounts amounting to RM60 million in total.

All have been frozen. Nine luxury cars were also seized.

"In the 49 years since the commission was set up, we have never seen this amount of money," said Datuk Azam Baki, deputy chief commissioner of the MACC.

"The thought that it involves a government servant is very bad."

 
 

The duo were identified as Sabah Water Department director Ag Tahir Ag Talib and deputy director Teo Chee Kong. Both have been remanded in custody since Wednesday.

Reports have outlined how they abused their authority for their own benefit as well as their relatives' and cronies' benefit.

Funds from the federal government in Kuala Lumpur are given to the state's water department annually for improving its water distribution service - a basic need in largely rural Sabah.

Both men ensured that projects, broken up into smaller parcels to avoid the tender process, were awarded at inflated prices.

Under current rules, projects below RM100,000 need not go through a tender process and can be signed off by the director or his deputy.

The Star newspaper, quoting sources, said the two civil servants had been at it for five years.

Two other people, including Teo's older brother - a 55-year-old businessman - and his accountant had been arrested in connection with the case.

The MACC had identified 40 witnesses, mainly state water department officials involved in processing the contracts and contractors, according to The Star.

It said a special team of 70 MACC officers were recording statements, and scanning through documents and the money trail.

Meanwhile, questions are being raised on whether the full extent of graft and people involved have been uncovered.

Sabah's Umno MP Raime Unggi called on the MACC to also investigate federal government officials, since it involved federal funds.

The federal projects are under the Ministry of Rural and Regional Development, which is led by Umno politician Ismail Sabri Yaakob.

The ministry was previously led by Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal, who was removed from Cabinet in July last year in a reshuffle.

He has since left Umno.

Sabah is one of Malaysia's poorer states. Even as residents grappled with the news of corruption, notices were being put up about water disruptions in Kota Kinabalu this weekend.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 09, 2016, with the headline 'Sabah duo took 60% of state funds for water supply works'. Print Edition | Subscribe