June 12, 2004

Dr Mahathir prepared to be prosecuted if
gift to Zimbabwe an offence

PUTRAJAYA June 11 - Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said Friday that he is prepared to be prosecuted if the sawn timber given some time ago by Malaysia as a gift to President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe is considered an offence.
The former prime minister said that presenting a gift is a common practice among world leaders.
"But if this is considered an offence, I'm prepared to be prosecuted for abuse of power. It will not be a problem to me ... I don't consider myself immune from the laws of this country," he told a news conference to clarify the matter.
Dr Mahathir said that he did not see for himself what was sent to Mugabe but he had thought the gift was in the form of sawn timber and not actually timber as reported by some media agencies. It was later used as wood panelling in the construction of Mugabe's mansion.
Dr Mahathir was linked to the issue following a British Sky News interview last month which reported Mugabe as saying that Malaysia and China had funded his 5 million pound (about RM34 million) mansion in a suburb near Harare.
Asked whether he was upset over how the issue was played up, he said: "No. I only want to correct the news. I never said it was not given. But what were the circumstances in which it was given.
"It was not given personally by me using government's money to Mugabe. It was not a personal gift. We presented the gift to a president ... if he is not a president, we will not give. The Malaysian Government presented him the gift by virtue of his position," he said.
Dr Mahathir said that the prime minister was entitled to give gifts to foreign heads of government and his counterparts, and he himself had received numerous gifts from such persons.
"Wherever I went, I brought along gifts with me, just like other leaders coming here (Malaysia). If there are, for instance the OIC (Organisation of the Islamic Conference), my house will be full of gifts. When people present them to us, shouldn't we reciprocate," he said.
Dr Mahathir said that the gifts he received from other government leaders were being kept at various locations like in Langkawi, Putrajaya and at his own house.
"I have discharged my duties with sincerity and I adopted the normal practices like any other heads of government," he said.
Dr Mahathir said that the Malaysian government never asked how the gifts presented to the heads of state were to be used.
He said: "We presented all kinds of gifts to presidents and prime ministers including one who is now regarded as a dictator, corrupt and things like that. But when we presented them, we gave to certain people in position. We never ask whether such people are good or bad, whether five years later they will be corrupted or not.
"We don't send people to investigate whether five years, 10 years later, they will become bad people, we cannot foresee what they will be up to.
"If they were to resort to negative actions, it is not that as such, our decision to present them the gifts was wrong. But then, if it is considered wrong, I'm responsible for committing abuse of power."
Dr Mahathir said that previously the Malaysian Government had presented some wood to the United Nations, UNESCO and many other bodies as it regarded it as a way of promoting Malaysian wood.
Asked on the value of the gift to Mugabe, Dr Mahathir said that the sawn timber did not even come up to RM100,000 and had possibly been used for wall panelling.
On reports pertaining to the construction of Mugabe's mansion, he said that it was a propaganda by the British due to their hatred of Mugabe for acquiring land belonging to the white people in Zimbabwe.
Responding to a question, the former prime minister said he had expected that there would be efforts by certain parties to tarnish his image.
Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak said: "I am sure it is done with the best of intention because we want to build linkages with the African countries."
He said maybe the government at that period of time made the decision based on "some consideration", and an arrangement had been made to send the sawn timber.
"There is nothing illegal" about it, he said after opening the Fifth SMI One-Stop Solution Exhibition and Conference 2004 in Kuala Lumpur.
"The matter shouldn't be made a major issue," he added.

Fri 11-Jun-2004
Kuala Lumpur - Former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad yesterday confirmed that his country had given Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe timber to build a new mansion, but denied it was a misuse of public assets.
Mugabe, denying that taxpayers were footing the bill for the 25-bedroom private mansion in his economically troubled country, said in an interview last month with Britain's Sky News TV that Mahathir arranged for timber to be provided for its construction near the Zimbabwean capital of Harare.
"We have had assistance of course, some countries have donated, they have got some timber from Malaysia thanks to my good friend, former Prime Minister Mahathir," Mugabe said. "The Chinese also have donated tiles and so on." Mahathir, who ruled Malaysia for 22 years before retiring last October, and who enjoyed a close personal relationship with Mugabe, said he thought the Zimbabwean leader's claim was true. "We provide timber for a lot of people," Mahathir said. "He wasn't a criminal at that time. He hasn't been put in jail. So what's wrong with giving timber to the leader of a country?"
Asked whether the gift could be interpreted as a misuse of public funds, Mahathir said: "No, we give timber to everybody because we want to promote Malaysian timber." Malaysia is rich in tropical forests and is one of the world's largest timber exporters. Opposition leaders and anticorruption activists have expressed shock at Mugabe's claims and urged that Malaysian authorities investigate whether any funds were channelled illegally. Opposition leader Lim Kit Siang demanded that Mahathir's successor, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, give a full explanation of the matter to parliament. The gift could harm Malaysia's international reputation because it would identify the country "with one of the world's worst leaders", Lim said.
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