Zahid’s trial: Company that failed Bangladesh visa processing centre got new deals in Nepal, Pakistan after appeals

Ida Lim
Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi is pictured at the Kuala Lumpur High Court February 20, 2020. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 20 ― The High Court today heard that a Malaysian company that had failed its task of running a visa processing centre in Bangladesh received another chance in 2016 and 2017 to carry out two new projects to operate such one-stop centres (OSC) in Nepal and Pakistan, after appealed to then prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak and then home minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi.

The Home Ministry had in late 2015 initially cancelled Profound Radiance Sdn Bhd’s appointment to operate the Bangladesh OSC to process foreigners’ applications for Malaysian visas, but the company later saw its written appeals boosted by Najib and Zahid’s handwritten instructions ultimately resulting in it being reconsidered and obtaining the two new contracts, court testimony showed.

The series of related events leading to Profound Radiance getting a second shot in proving its capabilities were discussed today by two prosecution witnesses during Zahid’s corruption trial: former Home Ministry senior official Datuk Shahril Ismail and Profound Radiance director and managing director Azlan Shah Jaffril.

The cancellation

Shahril, who was secretary of the Home Ministry’s immigration affairs division from May 2014 to July 31, 2017, explained that the ministry had appointed Profound Radiance to operate the OSC in Bangladesh from February 2, 2014 but later found that no such work had been done even up to the end of 2015.

Shahril testified that his division had then recommended to then home minister Zahid to cancel Profound Radiance’s appointment for the Bangladesh OSC, and that Zahid had agreed with the recommendation and decided to cancel the appointment.

Shahril said he had then signed off on a Home Ministry letter dated November 11, 2015 to inform Profound Radiance of the cancellation of its appointment with effect from the date of the letter, noting that this was due to the company’s failure to start the OSC operations in Bangladesh as required by the ministry and the company’s internal problems involving the management.

Azlan, who had joined the company in 2015 to replace a director following internal disputes, explained that the company was unable to operate the OSC in Bangladesh due to the Malaysian Embassy in Bangladesh’s objection then to the idea and also noted that the company had internal problems.

Azlan said he had in 2015 wrote to the Home Ministry to seek permission to initiate operations in Bangladesh and had then met with Zahid after receiving no replies from the ministry, but further noted that he had received the November 11, 2015 letter after meeting the then home minister.

Former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak is pictured at the Kuala Lumpur High Court February 17, 2020. — Picture by Firdaus Latif

The appeals

After receiving the cancellation letter, Azlan had as Profound Radiance’s managing director wrote an appeal letter dated November 12, 2015 directly addressed to then prime minister Najib.

Azlan said he went to the Prime Minister’s Office to obtain a minute to support his November 12, 2015 appeal letter for the government to reconsider its decision to cancel Profound Radiance’s appointment to operate the visa processing centre in Bangladesh.

“The prime minister minuted ‘Bersetuju diberi peluang jika tiada kesalahan dilakukan’ (Agreed to be given chance if no wrongdoing was done),” he said, adding that he obtained a copy of the appeal letter where Najib had signed off on his handwritten note and that he had forwarded it to the Home Ministry’s secretary-general.

Azlan said he had on January 27, 2016 wrote an appeal letter addressed to Zahid this time for reconsideration, attaching with it the November 2015 letter with Najib’s handwritten minute.

He noted that Zahid had then wrote a minute on the January 2016 letter to instruct the home ministry secretary-general to discuss the matter with him and to go through the prime minister’s minute.

Azlan said he had then wrote yet another letter on February 19, 2016 to Zahid with the two previous letters to Najib and Zahid attached, when he had yet to receive official nod to implement the OSC in Bangladesh.

Shahril today also confirmed Profound Radiance’s two letters to Zahid that were identical except for the titles of the letters and attachments, with Shahril saying that he did not know how the company managed to obtain such minutes.

In the two letters to Zahid, the company estimated that it had spent close to RM2 million by carrying out preparation works since its January 2014 appointment by preparing the infrastructure and office premises, including rental of premises and paying of salaries for 18 months without operations.

Shahril said that Zahid had wrote a minute to him on the February 2016 letter, with the minister instructing him ‘Sila bincang dengan saya dan lihat minit dari YAB PM dan beri penjelasan kepada saya mengenai kedudukan sebenar’ (Please discuss with me and look at the minutes from YAB PM and explain to me the actual situation).

A second chance

Shahril he attended a meeting on March 10, 2016 with Zahid, Home Ministry secretary-general Datuk Seri Alwi Ibrahim, deputy secretary-general Datuk Suriani Ahmad, further noting that Zahid had agreed to give Profound Radiance a second chance to carry out OSCs in countries to be identified in the future as its delay in starting Bangladesh operations were unintentional and due to internal conflict.

“In that discussion, YAB Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi agreed for Profound Radiance to be given a second chance to operate OSC in countries that would be identified in the future. This is because Profound Radiance’s delay in starting operations is due to the company’s internal conflict and was not something that was deliberate by the company,” Shahril said.

Datuk Shahril Ismail is pictured at the Kuala Lumpur High Court February 20, 2020. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

How it became Nepal and Pakistan

Shahril said he was ordered to do a minute or “minit ceraian” for proposals regarding Profound Radiance for Zahid’s approval, as any proposals and decisions regarding the appointment of vendor companies required his approval as home minister.

Shahril said the minutes that he prepared had considered that there would be confusion among applicants for Malaysian visa in Bangladesh if the Home Ministry was to cancel the appointment of Firstrax as the OSC operator and replace the firm with Profound Radiance.

Shahril said this minutes had also noted that Profound Radiance could be considered for appointment as the OSC operator in Nepal and Pakistan, as the previously selected firm Foshwa Sdn Bhd had yet to start OSC operations there and as the home ministry had yet to sign any contracts with it for such works.

After forwarding the minutes for Alwi’s and Suriani’s comments, Shahril said Zahid had then signed off on his approval on the minutes’ two recommendations for Profound Radiance to be appointed as OSC operator in Pakistan and Nepal, and for the appointment to take effect on the updated date of July 1, 2016.

Shahril’s recommendation was for the effective date to be June 15, 2016 but it was updated to July 1 due to the passage of time by the time it reached Zahid for a decision.

Shahril had followed normal procedures by notifying both the Immigration Department and Foreign  Ministry in a June 27, 2016 letter of the new appointment, which was stated as not incurring any costs to the government as Profound Radiance would be footing the bill.

Shahril said Profound Radiance was also notified in a June 27, 2016 letter of its appointment for the OSCs in Pakistan and Nepal, adding that the Home Ministry subsequently signed two contracts dated June 16, 2017 with the company for the two OSCs in Nepal and Pakistan that required the company to pay a guarantee bond of RM400,000 for each OSC.

Among other things, Azlan today had said Profound Radiance’s three cheques totalling RM2 million which he had personally handed over to Zahid on three occasions from August 2017 to February 2018 were “donations” for the deputy prime minister’s “political fund” for upcoming elections and “charity”.

Azlan also denied that the three cheques were bribes in exchange for Profound Radiance getting the new contracts in Nepal and Pakistan, while also confirming that no cheques had been given to Zahid for charity purposes prior to the company getting the projects for OSCs in the two countries.

Zahid’s trial involving 47 charges before High Court judge Collin Lawrence Sequerah resumes on March 2.

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