Former MCA President Tan Koon Swan was a victim of UMNO’s “black hand” and the Malaysian Chinese should cheer the recent admission by Singapore’s former public prosecutor that Koon Swan had been wrongly charged and jailed because it vindicates the community as a whole.

“Koon Swan was the fastest rising Chinese leader. He held in his hand the hope and aspirations of the entire community. They trusted him implicitly. His youthfulness and dynamism set him a class above the other leaders. This is why he became a target of the Umno elite – for the tremendous hope he brought to the Chinese,” PKR Vice President Chua Jui Meng told Malaysia Chronicle.

Koon Swan: A Reformist of the 1980s

“Like Anwar Ibrahim in 90s, Koon Swan in the 80s represented reform in all sectors – a more equitable economy, society and educational opportunities. He was a brilliant man and for this, UMNO chopped him down cruelly. Koon Swan was publicly mutilated, his reputation was smashed to smithereens. Why? Because he did not toe the line set by the UMNO bosses and they feared his power and influence over the Chinese.”

Accomplices in greed

Indeed, amongst those who follow the political development of the Malaysian Chinese, grousing at the injustice heaped upon Koon Swan is not new. The bitterness was widespread and deep but in the 1980s, former premier Mahathir Mohamad ruled with a fist of iron, freely using the Internal Security Act and Sedition laws to jail political opponents and shut out criticism.

His greatest accomplices were former Finance Minister Daim Zainuddin and the mainstream media, which continuously churned out stories to portray the situation that Mahathir deemed most useful to his plans. It did not help that Mahathir refused to grant licenses to independent press organizations, and until the advent of the Internet, news that carried a neutral or pro-Opposition picture did not exist in Malaysia.

Koon Swan was labelled as a vile traitor who not only betrayed his community but also swindled their poor, many of whom lost their life savings when the MCA-linked co-operatives they placed money with crumbled.

“The truth is always stranger than fiction and God moves in mysterious ways. No one expected Glenn Knight to show remorse and to write about all his old cases. And Glenn did not just mention Koon Swan but also other big cases he prosecuted on behalf of his government. Maybe Singapore didn’t like a dynamic young leader who can rival the likes of Lee Kuan Yew. It reacted harshly and threw the book at Koon Swan. I was in Singapore with him at that time and we approached a UK law expert who told us Koon Swan had solid grounds to fight the Singapore case but in the end he buckled,” said Jui Meng.

“He could not take the pressure. We will never know what else he and his family were threatened with until they tell us, but for sure he was a victim and it was UMNO which led the push to crucify and to bury him. This is the history that Malaysian Chinese, especially the young, must know. Koon Swan’s record on the Pan-El incident and how he was forced to give up the MCA presidency must be set straight. I am not trying to make him a hero. He had his scandals but he did not betray the Chinese. For years, his jailing has been used a mark of shame to show that Chinese leaders betrayed their people especially the poor. Many in the MCA did do that but not all. Each time, UMNO wanted to crow over the Chinese, they would point the finger at Koon Swan and Pan-El. Now, the truth is out loud and clear – it was not him. It was the Umno elite and apart from politics, there was greed. They wanted the money in the MCA and its crown jewel Multi-Purpose Holdings Bhd.”

Black mark on the community lifted

Jui Meng, a former MCA Vice President and Health Minister, was responding to the uproar raised by Glenn Knight’s recently published book “Glenn Knight: The Prosecutor”. The former top legal eagle admitted he had wrongly prosecuted Koon Swan in the 1985 Pan El Industries case.

Glenn said he felt pained for putting Koon Swan behind bars on discovering his mistake years later, and he had since apologised to Koon Swan. The admission made the top news in all the major Chinese papers in Malaysia.

Koon Swan was slapped with 15 charges of fraud, cheating, stock market manipulation and abetment of criminal breach of trust (CBT) in the collapse of Pan El. He was sentenced to 18 months jail and fined S$500,000 (RM1.2 million) upon conviction in 1986.

Despite quitting as the MCA President and serving out his Singapore sentence, the Malaysian authorities were not appeased. He was jailed again when he returned and made a bankrupt as well.

“It was the worst humiliation for any man to endure but Koon Swan bore his cross with courage and dignity. He was 10 years too early, but we hope he will speak out now. In 1998, Anwar was in a better position to fight back against guys like Mahathir and Daim. Even still, look at how he suffered, I really take my hat off to Anwar,” said Jui Meng.

“Perhaps now, Malaysians can understand how much courage it takes to fight the evil in our political system. When I talk about the the fight between Good and Evil, I can sense some people think I am exaggerating. But make no mistake, the fight is still on and in fact at the very peak. Malaysians must reject Evil in UMNO-BN. They must always choose to follow the light and never darkness.”

Paving the way for assets to be sold cheaply?

Jui Meng slammed the “vindictiveness” of the Mahathir administration for the second-round of punishment inflicted on Koon Swan. He believes that it was not only to ensure that the disgraced MCA president could never make any political comeback but to pave the way for the takeover and asset-stripping of the MCA companies and properties.

“Multi-Purpose was a huge conglomerate that could affect East Asian markets. It held the Malaysian French Bank, Bandaraya, large tracts of plantations and estates. It also had shipping interests. Yet Ling Liong Sik who took over as the new MCA President had to sell it off for a mere RM500 million. It was easily worth several times more,” said Jui Meng.

“Who was behind the purchase? Many have alleged it was Daim because he had Mahathir’s ear at that time. In the UMNO style of those days, the word was spread to the Malays through the vernacular papers and the grapevine that the Malay community would benefit from Koon Swan’s fall. But I think the only people who gained were the UMNO elite. Their greed got worse and worse until Daim himself has been accused of taking UMNO’s assets and keeping these for himself. It is a classic example of the political and economic hegemony the Umno elite has enforced on the rakyat (people).”

Cowed and demoralized

Now 72, Koon Swan made his political debut, winning a parliamentary seat in Raub, Pahang. The following year, he was elected to the party’s Central Committee and appointed Chairman of MCA Wilayah Persekutuan State Liaison Committee. In 1982 he clinched a landslide victory in the Damansara parliamentary seat, beating the Opposition in their fortress.

In 1984, he was appointed as Vice-President of the MCA. However, he was soon sacked from this post along with 13 other members for urging the party to investigate its member records for the presence of non-existent people, an issue that had sparked off factionalism and crisis within the MCA. Koon Swan and the other 13 were all reinstated two months later with the support of 1,600 MCA members in an extraordinary general meeting.

In November 1985, Koon Swan was voted as president of the MCA, winning 76.9% of the votes cast, the largest majority in the party’s history, and the first challenger since 1954 to win national leadership.

Koon Swan was then at the height of his popularity, symbolizing a new breed of Chinese leaders – smart, savvy and people-oriented. The Chinese community was indeed riding high buoyed by the enormous economic clout wielded by the MCA and talented Chinese leaders such as Koon Swan, who tapped and leveraged on the overseas diaspora, using to the fullest advantage powerful business contacts in both Hong Kong and China.

Regarded as a financial wizard Koon Swan also originated the Deposit-Taking Cooperatives or DTCs, which sought to accumulate capital for the Malaysian Chinese through investments. But with the onset of the 1985-86 recession triggered by plunging world oil and palm oil prices plus Koon Swan’s own troubles, mismanagement of the DTCs’ funds led to a scandal with the central Bank Negara stepping in to freeze the assets of up to 35 DTCs. The total loss was estimated to be RM3.6 billion, and the depositors only recovered 62% of their deposits.

The Pan-El case and its outcome not only changed his fate and the MCA’s but also greatly impacted on the Malaysian Chinese community. They were visibly demoralized and cowed by his jailing. Many turned against him and his second wife Penny Chang, blaming them for the hard times sparked by the DTCs’ fall and the slide in the economy, which contracted by 1.2% in 1985.


Pan El’s collapse also caused the Singapore and Malaysian stock markets to halt trading for three days. The high-profile Pan El case resulted in Glenn Knight being awarded the Public Administration Gold Medal.

In the book, the 63-year-old Glenn had written about the many high-profile cases he handled. He said that in 1996, a case similar to Koon Swan’s came up for hearing and Singapore Chief Justice Yong Pung How “concluded that I was wrong to charge Tan for the offence”.

“It was extremely painful for me to suddenly discover that the Singapore courts had got it wrong. It was a highly significant case that led to enforceable regulations being introduced into Singapore’s stockbroking industry. As Koon Swan was the head of the MCA, I put up a paper on his involvement in the Pan-El saga but left it to my superiors to decide his fate as he was out of (Singapore) and in Malaysia. In the end, the government decided that the CAD could prosecute Koon Swan,” Glenn wrote.

“Chief Justice Yong  was of the opinion that the section I had charged Koon Swan with was wrong in law for we could not charge a person for stealing from a company because as a director, it was not a breach of the law in that sense. Chief Justice Yong concluded that it was wrong to convict anyone for stealing money if the wrong charge had been used to begin with. The judgment shattered my belief in our legal system. In the United Kingdom, such a landmark judgment would have set aside Koon Swan’s conviction but our jurisprudence does not allow for this though technically, Koon Swan could still have been granted a pardon.”

Glenn also told of how he apologized to Koon Swan in 2010. He said Koon Swan was very emotional on hearing the matter. In 1991, Glenn himself was charged with CBT and later jailed in Singapore. He was struck off from practising law in 1994 but was reinstated in the Law Society of Singapore in 2007.

Source : Din Merican

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