Wednesday 4 May 2011

'Irregularities in purchase of RM86 mil jet for Taib'

A former general manager of Sarawak state-owned aviation company Hornbill Skyways Sdn Bhd told the court that the procurement of a RM86 million jet aircraft for the use of Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud was marred with “irregularities, corruption and abuse of power”.

mohamed asharat 220910Mohamed Asharat Ramzan Ali (left), 48, who claimed he was unlawfully dismissed by the company in 2005 after he had uncovered irregularities within the company, detailed his allegations yesterday at the Industrial Court in Kuala Lumpur.

According to Asharat's 34-page statement tendered in court, the company had purchased the long-range medium business jet aircraft Cessna Citation X built by US-based Cessna Aircraft Company as a "state asset", prior to his joining the company on March 15, 2005.

He claimed that the purchase involved a commission, which was described as "US$250,000 sales allowance" in the related documents.

"(The purchase price was) approximately RM74 million. If the interest is added for the RM45 million loan from Ambank, the total cost would then be approximately RM86 million," said Asharat.

NONEThe company's executive director Aidan Wing (right), who is also former Lambir assemblyperson, had denied any wrongdoing in the deal and argued that the sales allowance was in fact a discount for the purchase.

However, Asharat rebutted Wing's argument.

"In the initial sales-and-purchase agreement, it showed that the sales allowance of US$250,000 had been received. However this figure reappeared again in the final purchase price of the aircraft," he told the court when examined by his counsel Atan Mustaffa Yussof Ahmad.

Asharat also said that the finance manager Shirley Wee, who was directly involved in the procurement, was also pressing for the aircraft's early delivery before July 28, 2005 although it needed to undergo proper administrative procedures.

"On June 20, 2005, (former director) Len contacted the chief minister's personal assistant in my office and he didn't know about the urgency and told us that the chief minister did not have any plans for the aircraft as yet."

'Colleagues turned cold'

After the delivery of the aircraft, Asharat said, both Wee and the company's chairperson Bujang Noor, who was also involved directly in the procurement, began to be hostile towards him.

NONE"The chairman totally changed from warm to cold and he became very abrupt and unfriendly. The finance manager (Wee) totally avoided me."

Asharat argued that the company had hired him to ensure the company met the requirements set by the Department of Civil Aviation (DCA) after Hornbill Skyways' air operators certificate (AOC) was suspended following a second helicopter crash in 2004.

"In order to ensure that the company is seen as taking action, they advertised for a general manager and needed one to be recruited in January before DCA's due diligence investigation team visit the company in January because failing to action would be further suspension of their AOC.

"Hence the company offered me the position in January taking into account my reputation in the industry and DCA. I believe the company only needed me for the AOC and once they had obtained it, I was dispensable," said Asharat in his witness statement.

Wing had denied that Asharat was hired because of the stipulation set by the DCA that an aviation professional is required to run the company.

He said Asharat's dismissal was not the result of him questioning the purchases but he had bypassed the company in sending a letter to DCA informing the regulatory body that he was sacked.

Three other irregularities

In the witness statement, Asharat also highlighted three other irregularities that he had uncovered.

1. The acquisition of a Bell 206 helicopter.

2. The attempted termination of whistleblowers Cheong Ah Woh, an engineer with the company, and the late Captain Razali Sani.

3. The TransAero report.

He claimed that the broker for the purchase of the Bell 206 helicopter, Abdul Mutalib Abdullah, had raised questions as to why he knowingly putting his Cessna 172 aircraft down as collateral against the deposit required by Hornbill Skyways.

"He valued his aircraft at US$80,000 when the aircraft 9M-FAB crashed on Oct 7, 1999 and had been scrapped," said Asharat.

Asharat named all the individuals involved in the deal, including Wing, Bujang and the latter's son-in-law Sidek, who was not part of the company.

Wing had denied the allegations.

Meanwhile, Industrial Court chairperson Ahmad Rosle Mohd Sham agreed to the application by Hornbill Skyways' counsel Prakash Menon to expunge parts of Asharat's witness statement as they were considered hearsay, personal opinion, irrelevant to the case and touched on the subject which had been expunged by the court in the earlier hearing.

Most of the expunged parts contained more details of Asharat's allegations.

The hearing continues today with Prakash cross-examining Asharat.

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