By Shannon Teoh
KUALA LUMPUR, May 18 — Tun Dr Ling Liong Sik failed today to interview Datuk Seri Rais Yatim in his defence over three cheating charges in the Port Klang Free Zone (PKFZ) scandal as “the minister is not free,” his lawyer said.
The former MCA president was ordered to enter his defence after being charged in July last year with knowingly deceiving the Cabinet into approving the purchase of land for the PKFZ in 2002, resulting in wrongful losses that could eventually cost taxpayers up to RM12.5 billion.
“It has been taken off. The minister is not free,” Dr Ling's lawyer, Wong Kian Kheong, said over the phone.
Former premiers Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and current Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak are among 12 Cabinet ministers from 2002 on the defence’s witness list.
The others on the list who are still in Cabinet are Rais and Tan Sri Bernard Dompok while former ministers include Tan Sri Dr Leo Moggie anak Irok, Tan Sri Abdul Kadir Sheikh Fadzir, Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil, Tan Sri Musa Mohamad and Tun Dr Lim Keng Yaik.
Wong also said that Leo Moggie, Shahrizat and Dr Lim have been interviewed on May 11 while Musa and Dr Mahathir are scheduled to be interviewed on May 25 and 28, respectively.
The High Court here had in March ordered Dr Ling to enter his defence after ruling that the prosecution had established a prima facie case.
The former transport minister is accused of deceiving the Cabinet into believing that the terms of purchase — at RM25 psf and 7.5 per cent interest — were acknowledged and agreed to by the Valuation and Property Services Department (JPPH) despite knowing that there was no such agreement.
But the court has said there was no need to call all ministers present during the Cabinet meeting relating to the land purchase, saying that the subject matter was specific — on acquisition of the said land and at what price.
Dr Ling is scheduled to enter his defence between June 18 and July 18.
He faces up to seven years’ jail and a fine if convicted of the principal charge under section 418 of the Penal Code.
Since December 2009, six individuals have been charged over the PKFZ scandal including Dr Ling and his successor as transport minister, former MCA deputy president Tan Sri Chan Kong Choy, who is also accused of lying to the Cabinet.
The project was initially tagged at RM1.1 billion after it was mooted by Dr Ling in 1997, but more than quadrupled to RM4.6 billion by 2007.
A position review by top accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers revealed in 2009 that the total cost including interest from debt repayments could reach RM12.5 billion.