The memories are still fresh in my mind, says Koon Swan: BUT I TRY TO FORGIVE
Chopped down at the height of his power by what many say was conspiracy of political enemies, former MCA president Tan Koon Swan
tries to forgive those who jailed him and forced him to live a life in
the shadows for 27 years. But even so, he acknowledges those memories
are still fresh in his mind.
"After doing time in Singapore, and upon returning to Malaysia, I was
sentenced to another year of imprisonment. Later (I was) declared a
bankrupt over debt matters. All these are still fresh in my mind," Sin Chewreported Koon Swan as saying.
Koon Swan is currently overseas and was responding to the shock
revelations that he had been wrongly prosecuted and jailed by the
Singapore government, as claimed by former public prosecutor Glenn
Knight in his just-released book Glenn Knight: The Prosecutor.
Glenn had said he felt remorse for putting Koon Swan behind bars on
discovering his mistake years later, and he had since apologized to Koon
Swan. The admission made the top news in all the major Chinese papers
Koon Swan was slapped with 15 charges of fraud, cheating, stock market
manipulation and abetting criminal breach of trust when his
Singapore-listed flagship Pan El collapsed in 1985. He was sentenced to
18 months jail and fined S$500,000 (RM1.2 million) upon conviction in
Mixed feelings: A black conspiracy to split the Chinese
quitting as the MCA president and serving out his Singapore sentence,
the Malaysian authorities were not appeased. Koon Swan was jailed again
when he returned and made a bankrupt as well.
Now a low-profile businessman, the 72-year-old Koon Swan said he had
mixed feelings when Glenn met up and apologized to him two years ago. He
kept quiet about the incident but the recent release of Glenn's book
has rehashed the entire episode that many observers of Malaysian
politics believed was exploited and played up by former premier Mahathir
Mohamad to split the Chinese and keep them disunited.
"Which MCA leader will dare to deny that after Koon Swan stepped down, the party
never fully recovered. Team A and Team B politics became a permanent
fixture in the MCA and this worked to Mahathir's advantage. He wanted to
control who would be the MCA president and indirectly call the shots in
the party. For example, who would say it isn't true that current
president Chua Soi Lek takes his orders from Umno and not from the
Chinese community?" PKR vice president Chua Jui Meng told Malaysia Chronicle.
Jui Meng, a former Health minister and MCA vice president, quit the
party to join the Opposition in 2010 after failing to convince the MCA
top leadership to withdraw from the Umno-led BN coalition if promised
reforms were not forthcoming. In the 1980s, he was a staunch supporter
of Koon Swan's and part of the latter's inner circle.
Tumultous 80s: Dr M under pressure to strengthen his grip
the 1980s were a tumultuous time in Malaysian politics. Mahathir, now
87, took over the premiership from Hussein Onn in 1981. A ruthless
leader, Mahathir made no bones about using all ways and means to stamp
his mark on Umno and the rest of Malaysia.
MCA, which was then riding high, basking in the inspiring success and rise of many rags-to-riches Chinese tycoons such as Robert Kuok and Lim Goh Tong, was ripe for Mahathir's plucking.
The MCA and Koon Swan became the sacrificial lambs he offered to impress
Umno members and to convince them that it was he who deserved Hussein
Onn's vote to rule rather than his rivals Tengku Razaleigh and Musa
The onset of the 1985-86 recession
triggered by plunging world oil and palm oil prices exacerbated the
financial mess caused by the Pan-El crisis and Koon Swan's jailing. The
uncertain economic conditions helped Mahathir to carry out his own 'race
With the help of former Finance minister Daim Zainuddin and a compliant
mainstream media, Mahathir 'created' a special breed of Malay
entrepreneurs to compete with the Chinese tycoons. At the same time, he
also 'elevated' several non-Malay businessmen by giving them
opportunities and access to government contracts.
Mahathir's coterie of cronies included Tajudin Ramli, Halim Saad, Rashid
Hussain, Vincent Tan and Ananda Krishnan. Since then, all of Mahathir's
cronies and Daim's 'boys' have been dogged by scandal
and the powerful duo have been accused of using billions of public
money to bail them out at the expense of the ordinary and low-income
Reign of terror: A turning point for the Malaysian Chinese
Singapore, Koon Swan was charged and jailed when Pan El and two other
companies went under after undertaking some S$480 million in debt. In
Malaysia, Koon Swan was controversially jailed for a year despite having
served out his Singapore sentence. He managed to discharge himself as a
bankrupt in 1995.
Pan El and Koon Swan have often been cited as examples of why business
and politics should not be allowed to go hand in hand. While that might
be true, many of his supporters say he should not have been crucified
for what was the 'style' of politics in those days.
Over and above all, they insist that it still did not make it right for
Mahathir to move in on the MCA and throw Koon Swan to the wolves in
order to achieve his own ambitions. They allege it only paved the way
for Mahathir to build an even more corrupt corporate Malaysia, with his
cronies the new Kings who called the shots.
A born-again Christian who now dabbles in low-key property development
projects, Koon Swan and his second wife Penny Chang came under immense
public scrutiny during the Pan-El and MCA days.
His supporters did not dare speak up for him due to Mahathir's
ham-fisted use of the Internal Security Act and Sedition laws to jail
and silence critics. The awful silence and his own guilty plea
demoralized the entire Chinese community. Many turned on him and Penny
"Koon Swan's jailing was a turning point. The entire episode made the
Chinese bury their heads in the sand. Mahathir's Ops Lalang in 1987
further terrorized the rest of the country into complete obedience to
his wishes and politics. No one wanted to go to jail, no one wanted to
rock the boat. Guys like Lim Kit Siang, Karpal Singh were appreciated
but only secretly and they suffered too," said Jui Meng.
"I am glad society has changed and Malaysians of all races are now more
vocal due to the greater awareness spread by the alternative media and
the Internet. If Mahathir were to try his old tricks again, I don't
think the people will let him jail them anymore. More likely, they will
To those who have "rewritten his life story" : Political comeback?
As for Koon Swan, he now tries to forgive those who have "rewritten his life story".
Speculation is also swirling that he may wish to mount a political
comeback. While he is likely to demur, given his age, long-time
observers of MCA will say that nothing is ever impossible in the
fast-shifting world of politics.
There is also hope in many quarters within the party that Koon Swan will
offer himself as an alternative to the scandal-tainted Soi Lek, whose
standing has been sharply declining amid criticism of hypocritical
politics based on mudslinging against the Opposition while closing a
blind eye to the Umno-BN's own wrong doing and corruption.
"What he does next is something for Koon Swan to decide for himself and for him to speak about if he wishes to," said Jui Meng.
Ling Liong Sik, who succeeded Koon Swan and has been condemned for selling several of the MCA's core
assets including Multi-Purpose Holdings Bhd for some RM500 million when
these were allegedly worth many times more, has said a mere "sorry" is
not enough to pay back for Koon Swan's humiliation and suffering.
Sad to say, while Ling hoped that the Singapore government would follow
up with some action, including compensating Koon Swan, his family, and
even the MCA which suffered as a result of the court decision, not once
did he call for or even mention similar repentance from Malaysia's
As for Soi Lek, he has declined to comment, saying he is not familiar with legal issues.