Lim Guan Eng, Finance Minister in Mahathir Cabinet, Faces Corruption Charges in China-Linked Project

Lim Guan Eng was charged by Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission for allegedly taking bribe in Penang undersea project

Days after former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak was sentenced for his involvement in 1MDB scandal, another politician, former Finance Minister, Lim Guan Eng was arrested on Thursday, Aug 6 following a probe into corruption allegations over a China-linked $1.5 billion undersea tunnel project.

The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) charged Lim with three counts of corruption and presented him in the court on Friday,. He pleaded not guilty and denied all the allegations.

10 Percent Cut

However, the corruption charges are not related to his tenure as the Finance Minister. When Lim was the Chief Minister of Penang between March 2008 and May 2018, in an open tender, a consortium of Malaysia's Zenith Construction and China's state-backed Beijing Urban Construction Group was chosen for Penang's undersea tunnel, metro link and roads project in 2013.

Penang chief Lim Guan Eng arrested on corruption charges
Former Malaysia Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng (C) was also arrested by MACC in 2016 on corruption charges Reuters

Later, Zenith bought out the Chinese company's shares in the consortium. But another Chinese firm, China Railway Construction Company (CRCC) is the project's contractor for construction, engineering, procurement and commissioning.

Lim allegedly solicited a 10-percent cut in potential profits from Zenith's Executive Director Zarul Ahmad Mohd Zulkifli in 2011 and promised to help him win the bid for the project.

'Baseless, Political Attack'

Lim, however, has denied all the allegations. He described it as a political attack to undermine his role as an opposition Member of Parliament. The 59-year-old was part of former Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohamad's cabinet when his coalition party, Pakatan Harapan, assumed power following a stunning win in the 2018 Malaysia General Election. But Mahathir was ousted in a party coup and Muhyiddin Yassin became the Prime Minister.

"This is a baseless allegation and is politically motivated to tarnish me and my reputation and of course in my effort to execute my role as an opposition parliamentarian," Lim said after the hearing at a Kuala Lumpur court on Friday. "I want to stress that we fight corruption seriously and we will not practice corruption."

Malaysia has seen a political turmoil in the last few years following revelation of 1MDB scandal Wikimedia Commons

Earlier he was also named in a corruption trial over the purchase of a bungalow in 2016. He was arrested when he was the sitting CM of Penang. But the charges were dropped when Mahathir appointed Tommy Thomas as the Attorney-General. Lim's lawyer, Gobind Singh Deo, who is also the MP of Puchong, said the charges were flawed since the prosecutors failed to mention the amount of bribe in the charge sheet.

"As far as we are concerned, there is no basis to the charge and we will fight it to the very end, and we will actually use the court processes to prove that my client is innocent," he told media. Lim's wife, Betty Chew was also arrested for her involvement in the corruption related to the project on Friday morning. She was out on RM 50,000 ($10,000) bail.

If proven guilty, Lim faces imprisonment up to 20 years and fines up to five times the bribe or RM 10,000 ($2,400) under Section 16(a)(A) of the MACC Act 2009. He is also facing two counts of abuse of power charges under Section 23 of the MACC Act that will be heard in Penang court.