Foreign Visa System trial: Zahid broke govt protocols by using DPM’s authority to compel Home Ministry to grant contract extension

SHAH ALAM : Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi used his authority as deputy prime minister (DPM) to compel the Home Ministry, for which he held the ministerial portfolio, to approve a contract extension for the government’s Foreign Visa System (VLN) and online visa application platform (eVisa) in 2017, the High Court heard today (May 27).

Former deputy secretary of the Home Ministry’s Immigration Affairs Department Siti Jalilah Abd Manap testified that Zahid, as home minister, failed to adhere to conventional government protocols since the contract extension sought by Ultra Kirana Sdn Bhd (UKSB) was not brought to the attention of the Public Private Partnership Unit under the Prime Minister’s Department (UKAS) or the Cabinet in 2017.

UKAS is a central agency with the role of facilitating and ensuring compliance of strategic partnerships between the public and private sectors, through the Public Private Partnership (PPP) programme.

At the material time, UKSB was the appointed operator of the One Stop Centres (OSC) in the People’s Republic of China and the VLN system as well as responsible for maintaining the agreement to supply VLN integrated system paraphernalia to the same company by the Home Ministry.

According to the initial agreement, the company’s service contract for the VLN management ran from November 2013 until October 2019, while the OSC contract ran from May 2012 to May 2018.

Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi arrives at the Shah Alam High Court May 24, 2021. — Picture by Miera Zulyana

She recalled that the DPM’s office had on June 16, 2017 sent an accompanying letter alongside UKSB’s letter dated June 14, 2017 detailing the proposal for a three-year service contract extension period for both the VLN and eVisa.

Siti Jalilah added that UKSB’s letter was also minuted by Zahid himself, in which he wrote: “Datuk Seri KSU (secretary-general of the Home Ministry), please extend the VLN/eVisa contract until 2022 and do not need to go through UKAS and the Cabinet. Please expedite this.”

“His decision was not in line with our protocol. Because of that, I wrote to the UKAS representative to seek guidance on what we should do in the future to avoid a similar decision from the next home minister,” Siti Jalilah, who is also the third prosecution witness, said.

However, this was not the first instance where Zahid through the DPM’s office sought to compel Siti Jalilah’s department to expedite UKSB’s contract extension application.

She also revealed that a similar exchange took place on February 17, 2017 where letters concerning the contract extension from UKSB and Zahid were delivered to her department.

Similar to the aforementioned UKSB’s June 14 letter, Zahid penned a handwritten note saying: “Datuk Seri KSU, because the Home Ministry is satisfied with the service of this company, please extend the VLN and eVisa contract implementation for six years until 2025.”

Siti Jalilah later affirmed and identified said letters which were produced as exhibits in court.

UKSB wrote to Home Ministry, Zahid asked for contract extension to be expedited

Recalling the chronology of events, Siti Jalilah said UKSB had in an October 17, 2016 letter wrote to Zahid — who was home minister at the time — to apply for an extension on the implementation period of both VLN and eVisa for a period of six years initially.

Subsequent to UKSB’s letter, her department received an October 24, 2016 letter from Zahid together with a minuted copy of UKSB’s letter in which Zahid had explicitly stated that he had no objections to the aforementioned contract extension and also asked for it to be “expedited” at the soonest.

However, she also disclosed that UKSB had applied for a contract extension about three years before their contract was supposed to expire, which was a violation to the agreement clause that was finalised before this that stated UKSB could only apply for an extension no less than six months before their contract expiration.

Subsequent to UKSB’s October 2016 letter, Siti Jalilah said Zahid gave his approval in March 2017 for the contract extension after her department prepared a “supplementary minute” to obtain further instructions from Zahid as home minister.

To a question from prosecutors on why UKAS had to be involved in scrutinising the contract extension, the witness said the contract involved public funds and was worth over RM25 million.

Siti Jalilah was also asked on why she thought there was no “urgency” in executing Zahid’s instructions for the contract extension, to which she replied that this was because the contract has not lapsed the material time as stipulated in the contract agreement clause.

In this VLN case, Zahid pleaded not guilty to 33 charges of receiving bribes amounting to S$13.56 million (RM42 million) from UKSB as an inducement for himself in his capacity as a civil servant then as home minister to extend the contract of company as the operator of OSC in China and the VLN system as well as to maintain the agreement to supply VLN integrated system paraphernalia to the same company by the Home Ministry.

He allegedly committed the offences at Seri Satria, Precinct 16, Putrajaya and in Country Heights, Kajang, between October 2014 and March 2018.

The Bagan Datuk MP also pleaded not guilty to 33 alternative charges under Section 165 of the Penal Code as home minister for receiving bribes amounting to S$13.56 million in relation to the VLN system between 2014 and 2017.

For another seven charges, Ahmad Zahid was charged as home minister for accepting S$1,150,000, RM3,000,000, €15,000 (RM75,663) and US$15,000 (RM62,115) in cash from the same company which he knew had connection with his function as then home minister.

He was charged with committing the offences at a house in Country Heights, between June 2015 and October 2017, under Section 165 of the Penal Code which carries a maximum jail term of two years, or a fine, or both if found guilty.

By : KENNETH TEE – MALAY MAIL

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