(Petaling Jaya, Wednesday): The Anti-Corruption Agency does not inspire much confidence when it announced that it would summon former Perwaja Steel Sdn Bhd chairman Tan Sri Eric Chia to assist investigations over the RM11 billion Perwaja steel scandal.
ACA director of investigations Abdul Razak Idris said a team of officers would meet Chia as soon as possible following his statement in an interview with Singapore Straits Times last Friday (Sept. 8, 2000) on his readiness to testify in court and "tell all" about the nation’s biggest financial scandal - the Perwaja steel scandal which had burdened Malaysian taxpayers with losses exceeding RM11 billion.
Abdul Razak said:
Is the ACA implying that Eric Chia had been less than forthcoming and co-operative in the two ACA interviews, and that it hoped that Eric Chia would be able to furnish the ACA with the relevant information to enable it to wrap up investigations and recommend to the Attorney-General to initiate the necessary prosecutions so that the Perwaja scandal would not end up like the Bumiputra Malaysia Finance (BMF) scandal of being "a heinous crime without criminals"?
The ACA should admit its failure in the Perwaja probe and pledge full support for a Royal Commission of Inquiry to take over investigations into the biggest financial scandal in the nation’s history as Chia’s interview with Singapore Straits Times is not going to change anything as far as the ACA investigations are concerned.
The Singapore Straits Times (SST) reported that when former Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, made public the audit report on the alleged irregularities at Perwaja Steel in May 1996, "Rumours abounded that Tan Sri Chia had absconded, while some wondered why he did not come forward to defend himself".
The SST report continued:
"He kept quiet, spent a couple of million ringgit, kept some of his old staff on the payroll and started collecting documents detailing transactions involving Perwaja from Chile, Brazil, Germany, Italy and Japan.
"In eight months, he completed his war chest. ‘Now I have got all the documents. You just give me the platform. The best platform you can give me is the courtroom.’
"He says he wrote to Anwar twice in 1996 seeking an open inquiry into the affair to be chaired by a retired judge. There was no reply."
If Chia had been frank and truthful with the ACA in the two previous interviews, he would have nothing presently to add to what he had told ACA on the Perwaja scandal.
Or had Chia withheld information and documents from the ACA which he would only "tell all" in court?
In this connection, the ACA director-general Datuk Ahmad Zaki Husin’s "exclusive" interview with the UMNO official organ, Wawasan Merdeka - carried as front-page headline news item in Berita Harian today - raises questions both about the independence and integrity of ACA as well as the efficacy of its Perwaja investigations. Is Ahmad Zaki prepared to submit himself to an interview with Rocket or Harakah as he has done for Wawasan Merdeka?
Wawasan Merdeka quoted Ahmad Zaki as denying allegations that Eric Chia "cannot be touched" ("tidak boleh disentuh") because of his good relations with the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad.
The Wawasan Merdeka report states:
"Ketua Pengarahnya, Dato’ Ahmad Zaki Husin berkata, dakwaan itu tidak benar sama sekali, malah berunsur fitnah.
"Menurutnya, BPR dari semasa ke semasa terus mendapatkan bantuan Eric Chia bagi membantu siasatan.
"Dari semasa ke semasa kita terus mendapatkan kerjasama Eric Chia dan setakat ini semuanya berjalan lancar.
"Ingin saya tegaskan di sini selagi siasatan belum lengkap, kita belum boleh mengulas bentuk tindakan undang-undang kerana ia hanya akan relevan apabila semua proses siasatan selesai," katanya.
"Timbalan Menteri Kewangan, Dato’ Dr Shafie Salleh pada 14 Mac lalu mengesahkan kerajaan memperuntukkan RM1.16 juta tahun ini bagi membayar balik hutang Perwaja.
"Menurutnya, langkah itu selaras keputusan kerajaan pada 18 September 1996 supaya Kementerian Kewangan mengurus segala hutang syarikat itu bagi membolehkan entiti tersebut diswastakan.
"Katanya, oleh kerana semua hutang syarikat itu dijamin kerajaan, maka satu peruntukan tahunan perlu disediakan sehingga 2007.
"Wawasan Merdeka difahamkan, Jawatankuasa Penyusunan Semula Hutang Korporat (CDRC) telah diminta menjalankan kajian terhadap syarikat itu dan industri besi keluli di Malaysia sebelum laporannya diserah kepada Majlis Tindakan Ekonomi Negara"
This new snippet of information cannot hide the fact of the failure of the ACA in its probe into the Perwaja scandal after five years of investigations.
As Chia said that in 1996 he had written to Anwar twice asking for an open inquiry headed by a retired judge into the Perwaja scandal, both ACA and Chia should welcome the establishment of a Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Perwaja scandal - the former as it had failed after five years of fruitless investigations to make any headway and the latter to give him an opportunity to clear his name after being made "to look like a villain on the run, from friends and the law".