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Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Harris: Syed Kechik made RM483m from Sabah

KOTA KINABALU - Former Sabah Chief Minister Tan Sri Harris Mohd Salleh told the High Court, here, Tuesday, that Tan Sri Syed Kechik made RM483 million from Sabah in his 10 years as former aide of Tun Mustapha.

He said that by "cutting off Syed Kechik's financial oxygen to make more money from Sabah," he (Harris) and his Berjaya Party earned much animosity from Syed Kechik. He also said that Syed Kechik (who was from Kelantan) became a "Native" of Sabah because it was easier for him to buy native lands at RM100 to RM150 an acre.

Harris was being questioned during Examination-in-Chief in the suit he brought against Dr Shaari Isa, author of the book 'Vendetta and Abuse of Power – Quest for Justice in The Land Below The Wind' (1st Defendant), Syed Salem Albukhary (2nd Defendant), a brother of Syed Kechik and the printer, publisher and distributor, MPH Group of companies (3rd to 5th defendants) for defamation (libel).

The said book with 3,000 copies printed and sold at RM99 for a hard cover version is an attempt to explain the background to and the reasons for Harris' animosity against Syed Kechik, according to the author. But Harris contends that all the allegations against him as stated in the book were gossips and is seeking both damages and book ban.

Harris denied claims that he was a corrupt dictator as he had no power of arrest while serving as CM.

He also said that it was not first Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman who was responsible for Syed Kechik being sent to Sabah but Senu Abdul Rahman, the then Federal Minister of Information, "as Mustpha was away most of the time."

He said that when second Premier late Tun Razak called him and late Tun Fuad Stephens to form a party against the Usno-led Sabah Alliance government, Syed Kechik was the target.

"Umno gave us RM500,000 for lodging the party.

We won the election mainly because of Syed Kechik, besides not much economic development in Sabah."

Harris' counsels are attempting to show the court that Harris and Berjaya leaders did not act with vengeance against Syed Kechik and that the acquisition of the Zara Land Project, which is the 1st and 2nd defendants' main grouses or allegation against Harris of improper or abuse in the said book, was done within the law.

[Parcels of Zara land in the State Capital which Syed Kechik bought from villagers using his "native title" are now occupied by Universiti Malaysia Sabah and Alam Mesra]. Harris claimed that since Syed Kechik was adequately compensated, inclusive of interest for the acquisition, the defendants were actuated by malice in publishing the book.

"I deny all allegations against me as they are all gossips without any evidence." He said he resigned from political association with cruel and dishonest men twice in his public career.

Harris also claimed that overseas visitors to his friend's home after reading it opined that he (Harris) "was a very bad man."

However, the 1st and 2nd defendants claim that compulsory acquisition of the 2,452.74 acres under the Zara Project was motivated principally by the personal animosity of the leaders of the Berjaya Government, particularly Harris.

Furthermore, they claim that the acquisition did not follow and adhere to the strict rules and principles of the Land Acquisition Ordinance (Cap 69, Sabah).

They also contend that no compensation was paid nor was any effort made according to the provisions of the law towards compensating Zara Sdn Bhd for the compulsory acquisition of the Zara Lands for so called public purposes during the nine years when Harris was CM.

To this Harris contends that even Singapore acquired land 50 years ago or ahead of time for a public purposes land bank.

In their Statement of Defence, the 1st and 2nd defendants contended that Syed Kechik became a member of the native community of Sabah through the lawful exercise of his legal rights within the provisions of relevant written laws.

They also said he set up Usia that was involved in spreading Islam in Sabah.

They said Harris' various vengeful actions against Syed Kechik included the attempt to expel Syed Kechik through State immigration powers, but Syed Kechik's counteraction through the courts successfully confirmed his status as a native of Sabah.

First defendant Dr Shaari Isa states that the objective of his book was to show that Syed Kechik was severely and unfairly punished soon after the establishment of the Berjaya Government and that this was motivated by the personal animosity of the leaders of Berjaya Party, including Harris towards Syed Kechik.

He claims that the strategy of Berjaya leaders including Harris was to cast Syed Kechik as an outsider interfering in the affairs of the state appealed to the voters in Sabah.

Tun Mustapha (right) and Syed Kechik (left)
"The people of Sabah had been made to believe that Syed Kechik was an outsider who came to Sabah to ravage the wealth of the state's forests for his own benefit, Syed Kechik did not ravage the forest of Sabah. Neither did Tun Mustapha.

It was in fact Harris who ravaged the forests of Sabah." (Page 282, paragraph 3 of the book)

The Statement of Defence claims that during the Berjaya era, an average of 124 square miles under the former Trust Concession were logged annually. This was four times more than lawfully permitted during the Usno years for sustainable logging within the former Trust Concession set up by the Usno government.

Harris disputed this saying it was not true and that his government was opening up lands for the landless.

Hence the timber not to be wasted were extracted like in Felda schemes that contributed to the bigger volume of timber felled.

"We were second to Selangor during the Berjaya Government highly praised by Tun Hussein Onn and Tun Dr Mahathir."

The first and second defendants are relying on section 8 and 9 of the Defamation Act 1957, i.e. expression of opinion made without malice and on a matter of public interest. They do not admit that the said book was widely circulated locally and internationally as alleged.

Second defendant Syed Salem Albukhary, a brother of Syed Kechik, made no admission that he was involved and/or responsible for the publication of the book. No admissions were also made as regards to any injury caused to Harris.

They dispute Harris' right to claim exemplary damages and want his Statement of Claim to be dismissed with costs.

The first defendant also states there is no valid reason why he should have invited Harris' comments before publication of the book.

Lawyers for the defendants from Szetu & Co. are relying on fair comments as justification, as qualified privileges were disputed by the plaintiff's lawyers from Maringking & Co., while Raj & Co. is acting for the MPH Group of companies.

The trial continues. - DE

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