Sarawak Report has viewed a damning legal dossier implicating Sarawak’s previous Planning and Resources Minister and present Deputy Chief Minister, Awang Tengah, and Sarawak’s former State Attorney General and present State Legal Advisor, J C Fong, which includes a police report and statutory declaration by one of Sarawak’s own former official liquidators as well as representations to the MACC and Attorney General.
Assembled by a successful litigant in a land dispute, these statements accuse Awang Tengah, of conspiring to defraud him of hundreds of millions of ringgit awarded by the courts on behalf of that minister’s own business ally, Ha Tiung Noon, who is an ex Director of the company at the heart of the allegations Tanjung Tiara Sdn Bhd.
The complainant (the original owner of Tanjung Tiara) claims Awang Tengah enlisted the support of Governor Taib Mahmud’s long-time legal advisor, the former State Attorney General J C Fong, as the key architect of the fraud. Fong’s former firm Reddi & Co were subsequently hired to represent Ha Tiung Noon.
Central to the allegation is what is deemed to be a fraudulent back-dated contract, together with a forged official stamp, apparently drawn up with the assistance of J C Fong, in order to obstruct the court ordered liquidation and sale of Tanjung Tiara (to pay the debts owed to the complainant) and to provide an excuse for the Land Registry to rescind its plantation licence granted in 1994.
Both J C Fong and Awang Tengah are accused of abusing their public positions and dragging senior state officials into the plan. Alleged minutes sent by J C Fong to Awang Tengah commented on a meeting between the two men to outline a plan of action to thwart the court order by forfeiting the licence, and those minutes are referred to in a subsequent letter from a senior Miri Land & Survey Department official back to Awang Tengah, reporting that a decision had duly been made to threaten forfeiture of the licence.
Shortly after making a police report about these matters in 2012 the former liquidator, who complained the above actions were illegal, was forcibly relocated from Sarawak to mainland Malaysia. The liquidator testifies that a detailed statutory declaration he provided to the Kuching police just before the general election in March 2018 has likewise been ignored.
In that statutory declaration the now retired official, Latip Bin Mohammad, accuses the duo of “conspiracy, abuse of power and fraud”:
“Based on my investigation and inquiries throughout these years, one can see very clearly that there was a scheme of conspiracy, fraud and abuse of power motivated by HTN [Han Tiung Noon] masterminded by DJCF [Datuk J C Fong] with the assistance of Datu Sudarsono Osman [former Director of Land & Survey Department] and Dato Wan Alwi [Permanant Secretary to Resources and Planning & Environment Department] while YB Datuk Amar Awang Tengah Ali Hasan was behind the scene[s] to execute his scheme to forfeit the asset and return it to HTN”
states Latip Bin Mohammad in papers which have now been sent to the MACC and Malaysia’s new Attorney General as part of the filing of a criminal complaint against some of Sarawak’s most powerful players.
Central to the dispute is a 4,856 hectare plantation concession in Niah that was handed out to the businessman and colleague of the present complainant (Tay Choo Foo) Tan Yak Soon for a modest premium to the state of just under RM3 million in 1994. Tan also owns other plantations under the company Seatex Sdn Bhd.
The value of the land has, as in all these matters, turned out to be far higher in today’s figures (without taking into account the value of any timber extracted in the first place).
In 2009 two companies owned by TaY Choo Foo (Paragro Sdn Bhd & Southwind Development) successfully sued his former fellow director and general manager Ha Tiung Noon for RM285 million based on a business dispute.
Ha Tiung Noon was by then the owner of Tanjung Tiara and payment of the debt relied on the sale of the property under the lease, which was by then valued at RM190 million at an open auction conducted at the time (that purchase foundered as the details of the alleged fraud emerged).
Ha appealed the judgement, but it was upheld by both the Appeal and Federal Courts resulting in the appointment of official liquidators to sell the licence and retreive the debt. It was during this period of appeals that the alleged conspiracy is said to have taken place, as Ha approached his alleged business ally Awang Tengah for help and met the minister together with the lawyer J C Fong on 8th February 2011.
Minutes drawn up by J C Fong and sent to Awang Tengah on 10th February 2011 record that Fong had studied the provisions of the original licence granted in 1994 and noted there were certain terms that required a given percentage of the plantable land to be planted by a certain date. He thought that these provisions could be exploited if it could be claimed the company had failed to comply.
The minutes duly record that Ha had claimed verbally at this meeting (without producing any apparent evidence to prove it) that it was indeed the case that the company (of which he himself had been the Director and General Manager at the time) had failed to fulfil those requirements.
Ha claimed that a smaller fraction of the area had been planted than was allowed. At which point J C Fong advised that the liquidator could be challenged by the Land & Survey Department to fulfil the requirements of the lease within 90 days on penalty of having the licence forfeited by the state.
Given the liquidator was in no position to carry out the demand, the plan is alleged to have been to lean on Land & Survey Department officials to thus confiscate the licence and then return it later to Ha without the debt (which had by then risen above RM300 million and is now claimed to exceed half a billion) having been paid.
This advice was then apparently passed on to Awang Tengah’s officials to lobby in favour of, despite the fact that the matter does not come under the purview of his ministry but rather that of the infrastructure and development minister, Deputy Chief Minister James Masing, who later confirmed he was not made aware of these decisions according to the complaint.
A minute sheet sent to Awang Tengah the following month on 24th March by his own permanent secretary at the Planning & Resources Department referred to a decision by his officials based on J C Fong’s advice concluding that a breach had indeed been committed over the lease.
To back up the claims about the inadequate planting it is also alleged that the conspirators, together with Land & Survey officials who were dragged into the matter, falsely claimed there had been a visit conducted to the land the week before and concluded it had not been properly planted. The complainant says there is no evidence this Land & Survey Department’s highly coincidental visit actually took place and adds the assessment could not have been done in a single day.
But, far more egregiously, it is claimed J C Fong also advised on the drawing up of a bogus contract with another company which was likewise designed to frustrate the liquidator’s plans to sell the land.
This document was never cited in any of the court hearings about the case and nor was it made available to the liquidators appointed to wind up the company in January 2011. However, it claimed to be an agreement that was signed and stamped months before in October 2010 (between when Ha Tiun Noon lost in the Appeal and then the Federal court).
This agreement contracted a third company called Osun Timber Sdn Bhd (owned by a relative and a business proxy of Ha Tiung Noon) to manage the plantation and purchase palm oil at a fixed very low price for the next 25 years on the stated understanding that in return Osun Timber would complete the alleged ‘inadequate planting’ on the site.
Critically, the contract also contained a penalty of RM50 million if Tanjung Tiara Sdn Bhd pulled out of the deal. The effect of the contract was to dramatically undermine the sale value of the plantation not only because of the crippling termination terms but because of the agreement to sell the product at a mere RM30 per ton when the market price for palm oil at the time was RM500-800 per ton.
There was another apparent motive, which was the agreement stated that only about half the plantable land remained unplanted, handily supporting the claim of a breach of the terms of the lease suggested by J C Fong.
To the contrary, when the Official Receiver visited the following October 2011 he concluded that all the plantable land had in fact long since been planted and there had been no such breach and there was no land left vacant for Osun Timber to plant. He concluded the contract and the claims of the alleged breach were in fact a scam to prevent the sale:
“Based on my observation during our site inspection of TTSB Plantation [Tanjung Tiara on 30.10.11 and after hearing a briefing by Mr Edwin Lau, Plantation Advisor, on the same date, I came to the conclusion that there was/is no plantable area [that] remained unplanted except steep hills and rocky areas which are unplantable.
No complaint was made by any party regarding the said purported breach except by Ha Tiung Noon, the proprietor himself after TTSB was wound up. The ulterior motive of him reporting the alleged breach to Datuk J C Fong himself is highly suspicious and illogical because DJCF being the Legal Advisor to the State Attorney-General’s Chambers has nothing to do with Ha Tiung Noon whatsoever”.
The lawyers who have now filed a criminal complaint against J C Fong and Awang Tengah based regarding the so-called ‘Osun document’ say that it was in fact drawn up some time after the date of the 8th of February 2011 meeting between Ha Tiung Noon, Awang Tengah and J C Fong, even though it was back-dated to 26th October 2010 before the final court appeal was lost by Ha.
They say this is proven by the fact that the document cites a Borneo Post article detailing the price of palm oil on the open market which was only published four months later on the very same day as the meeting, 8th February 2011!
Moreover, the complainant’s legal team point out that the Miri stamping office where the document was supposedly officially recorded say it never stamped such an agreement and nor did any other stamping office. The stamp has been found to be a fake, they say, using a rubber stamp to forge it while government stamps are made of metal.
Because of the so-called Osun agreement the attempts to liquidate and sell off the property duly failed in 2011. The liquidator claims that relevant seniors in his department in KL were next pressured by influential players in Sarawak, namely those working for Awang Tengah, to interfere in his management of the case preventing him from making any further deicsions about the sale.
These interferences were against the law and Latip Bin Mohammad states that he was forced to file a complaint and a police report to avoid becoming implicated himself in the wrong doing. However, his whistle-blowing only resulted in him being transfered by his department out of his home state of Sarawak two years before his retirement at the start of 2012.
With the wheels thus in motion a key letter was next recorded as having been sent by the Director of Sarawak’s Land & Survey Department itself, Datu Sajeli bin Kipli, to the head office of the official receiver in KL on 4th April 2012 duly demanding that the ‘breach’ committed by Tanjung Tiara be remedied in 90 days or the Department would indeed revoke the licence under S.33A of the Sarawak Land Code – just as J C Fong had mapped out on behalf of his client the year before together with Minister Awang Tengah.
Four years later, says Latip bin Mohammad, Sajeli bin Kipli informally confessed to him at a reunion in Sibu in August 2012 that he had been pressured to issue the order by his superiors and that he had it on record that the instruction came from J C Fong:
“He [Sajeili bin Kipli] repeatedly told me that Datuk JC Fong was the mastermind and YB Datuk Amar Awang Tengah Ali Hasan was the person behind the scene”
states Latip about that conversation in the statutory declaration he signed in April 2018 and submitted to the authorities just before the election. He concludes in damning terms that he believes as a result of his experiences that corruption exists at the highest levels in the state of Sarawak and that the repeated claims by the present chief minister Abang Johari that he is committed to cleaning it up are bogus:
“I do not believe the State government was/is sincere and truthful in achieving zero corruption in the State of Sarawak because so far no actions are taken against them [the alleged conspirators] and all the culprits are still at large. I was misled by the public statements made by our State leaders and MACC to report the fraud and cheating [in his earlier police report]. As a result instead of being rewarded I was transferred, punished and tortured till I lost almost everything…..
The conduct of the senior government officers and minister acting above the law has severely tarnished the credibility and integrity of the State Government and their action taken to fabricate evidence without considering public interest has set a bad example to imply that corruption has already become the culture of Sarawak.
As such they have no fear of any investigation either by the MACC or the police because of their mighty power as the senior government officers and minister. The fact that the State Attorney General is actively defending the suspects for issuing the baseless Notice to Remedy Breach or Default of the alleged breach is clear evidence that the State government led by YAB Datuk Patinggi Abang Haji Abdul Rahman Zohari bin Tun Abang Haji Openg is strongly supporting corrupt practices and abuse of power in the State of Sarawak”
As all Malaysia knows, the present MACC leaders in Sarawak recently announced they have received no new or recent evidence of corruption in the state government since previous investigations, which they announced closed back in 2013. Perhaps this example escaped these hot shot investigators?
The fact is, that this case represents just one example of how everyone knows Sarawak has been run. This is just one criminal complaint that has now been made public, so what are the MACC, police and Attorney General’s chambers going to do about it and when will they investigate all the other glaring irregularities associated with the Taib family ‘autonomous kingdom’ supported by his band of loyal henchmen (like J C Fong and Awang Tengah) in East Malaysia?
Sarawak Report is seeking responses but has yet to immediately reach all the parties concerned.
Update 31st July: J C Fong has now issued a press statement refuting the allegations of the litigants in this case and those made in the police report by the former Sarawak state liquidator Latip bin Mohammad. In the process he has made his own allegation against the plaintiff and an unnamed Sarawak politician, whom he in turn accuses of corruptly providing the land back in 1994 and applying to then chief minister Taib Mahmud to gain the concession. He has challenged Sarawak Report to apply for the original letter of application made in 1994, which he claims can be made available:
“I wish to point out the glaring omissions in the Sarawak Report, seemingly intended to shield certain parties from being implicated with the alienation of the land in question, Lot 63 Sawai Land District.
For the record, the title for the land was issued to Tanjung Tiara Sdn Bhd on 28.03.1994 following a written application by its Chairman, a well known West Malaysian politician made to the then Chief Minister of Sarawak. I challenge Sarawak Report to name him and seek MACC’s help to investigate why the land was alienated to this person’s Company at what Sarawak Report claims to be “low premium”.
I am sure Sarawak Report would be transparent enough to make such an important public disclosure of the identity of the person who applied for and was given the land. If Sarawak Report wishes, it could authorize the State Government of Sarawak to produce the original application letter dated 21 January, 1994 for public inspection. In any event, this application letter had been disclosed in 2 cases before the High Court and Tanjung Tiara Sdn Bhd and its liquidators do not dispute its authenticity.”
Awang Tengah Issued a statement on August 1st saying the report on the litigation was baseless and defamatory of him: ” I am not aware of what court judgement of R285 million Sarawak Report was referring to and the successful litigant was strangely not even named.” [We named Tan Yak Soon].
Tengah said there was a charge on Tanjung Tiara in favour of Ha Tiung Nuing and a co-director by virtue of a court order “and also that possession of the land be given by Tanjung Tiara Sdn Bhd to another company, Osun Timber Sdn Bhd, pursuant to a court order dated Nov 18 2016. Therefore, the state government and its officials have not defrauded Tanjung Tiara of this land” [Dayak Daily]
Tengah said he would not comment further as the case is ‘sub judice’.