FORMER education minister Mahdzir Khalid told the high court that he was under pressure from multiple sides, including Rosmah Mansor, to award a solar hybrid project in Sarawak to an incapable company.
The 68-year-old Umno lawmaker said he was also pressured by Jepak Holdings Sdn Bhd managing director Saidi Abang Samsudin and Saidi’s business partner Rayyan Radzwill Abdullah, and was at one point told he did not have long to serve as a cabinet member.
Rosmah, the 69-year-old wife of former prime minister Najib Razak, faces three corruption charges, one of which is for soliciting RM187.5 million from Saidi as inducement to help the company secure a RM1.25 billion solar hybrid project for 369 rural schools in Sarawak.
She is also accused of receiving bribes totalling RM6.5 million from Saidi in 2016 and 2017.
“Saidi was an old acquaintance of mine since the 1990s,” Mahdzir told the court today. “Saidi was a member of Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu and a businessman from Bintulu, Sarawak.”
The Padang Terap MP said Saidi met him around the end of 2015.
“Saidi asked whether he could propose a plan… to replace the diesel engine-generator. From our conversation, I assumed that Saidi intended to take over the entire diesel engine-generator project from the current contractors with my assistance.
“I refused Saidi’s request at the time because the Education Ministry was tied up with the current service providers. I also doubted Jepak’s capabilities to undertake the solar hybrid project, never mind on a scale that comprises 369 schools. At the time, Saidi seemed to agree with what I said.”
Three months later, on December 1, 2015, Mahdzir received an order from the former prime minister Najib Razak to carry out the solar hybrid project.
Mahdzir said he also received another letter forwarded from the prime minister’s office. On the letter dated November 23, 2015 from Jepak addressed to the prime minister requesting, the former had asked to be awarded the project. On it, Najib had written, “Bersetuju dilaksanakan sistem baru ini dan batalkan sistem lama” (It is agreed that the old system is to be cancelled and replaced with this new system).
The witness said he then issued a letter to the deputy education secretary-general Azmi Lateh asking that a a technical team be formed to look into the project and check its viability.
“Between December 2015 to May 31, 2016, Saidi kept contacting me at my office or my house or at the Seri Pacific Hotel or at the Intercontinental Hotel in Kuala Lumpur,” said Mahdzir.
“Saidi kept asking me to expedite the solar hybrid project approval and to award the project to Jepak, which he said was directed by the prime minister. I did not respond to his request and I kept telling him that I have to follow the administrative process and await a response from the Education Ministry officers.”
The witness said Rayyan then started urging him to approve the project: “Rayyan once told me, ‘Why is it so hard to follow the PM’s instructions? The PM gave the minutes, you just need to follow’”
Rayyan told Mahdzir to just bypass the technical team, cancel the current contracts and just award the entire project to Jepak, the court heard.
“I once told Saidi and Rayyan that the ministry had plans to connect the schools in Sarawak to an electric grid. They were unhappy with the development as it would mean fewer schools that would be dependent on the solar hybrid project.”
Saidi also pressured Mahdzir via WhatsApp messages, which were shown to the court. At another meeting in a hotel, the witness said, Saidi and Rayyan had expressed their “deep dissatisfaction.”
“Saidi told me that they would meet the PM (Najib) to discuss the matter. Rayyan then made threats at me, saying I would not hold the Education Ministry portfolio for long because I did not follow Najib’s instructions.
“I just replied that it was up to them to see Najib or to do whatever they wanted to do. They left in anger.”
Mahdzir said he received another directive from Najib on June 7, 2016 to proceed with the project.
“Sometime in June 2016, I spoke with Datuk Seri Najib regarding Jepak. I told him that we should use an open tender process and not direct negotiations to ensure fair competition and to provide efficient service. Datuk Seri Najib instead just ordered me to go ahead as was previously instructed.”
Mahdzir said Rosmah personally showed an interest in the project: “The incident happened on the night of June 23, 2016 after a buka pusa event at the prime minister’s official residence at Putrajaya. Just as I greet Datin Seri Rosmah, before I departed, she told me, “You tengokla project solar Cikgu Aazmey. Cepatkan sikit.’”
“I could only respond, ‘Ya, ya’ because there were many people around then.”
“I know Cikgu Aazmey; who she was referring to was Datuk Aazmey (Abu Talib), who is the Umno Pekan secretary and a former Pahang state education director. I knew Datuk Aazmey was part of Saidi’s team to get the solar hybrid project from the Education Ministry, because Saidi had told me this before.”