Two Datuks held over Gatco land deal

PUTRAJAYA: Two brothers, who hold "Datuk" titles and are top officials of a family-run group of companies, were arrested today by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) over an ongoing probe into a land deal between a group of settlers and the Great Alonioners Trading Corporation Bhd (Gatco).

The suspects who are aged 54 and 58 were picked up by MACC officers in separate operations at undisclosed locations in the Klang Valley at about 12pm.

Sources said both the brothers who are chief executive officers of two companies are expected to be remanded at the Putrajaya magistrate's court early tomorrow.

MACC director of investigations Datuk Simi Abdul Ghani when contacted confirmed the arrests but declined further comment.

On Sept 18, the MACC made its first arrest three weeks after it initiated an investigation into the alleged land scam.

A 68-year-old man who works as a liquidator and is believed to have detailed knowledge of the land deal was arrested.

Just two days after an entourage from the MACC led by its chief commissioner Datuk Dzulkifli Ahmad visited the affected settlers at Kampung Gatco – now renamed as Kampung Serampang Indah, a massive operation kicked off where offices of the Negri Sembilan State Secretariat and Negri Sembilan Development Corporation, accounting firm Singam & Yong in Jalan Ipoh, Kuala Lumpur, the National Union of Plantation Workers (NUPW) and Thamarai Holdings Sdn Bhd – both in Petaling Jaya were raided by the commission and relevant documents were seized.

A special task force was formed by the MACC to undertake the probe.

The long-standing battle for the land involved about 470 settlers who had paid RM7,600 in 1977 as a deposit to Gatco for a plot of land to build their houses and cultivate sugarcane – a scheme the NUPW had initiated purportedly for the settlers.

The NUPW had leased the land from the Negri Sembilan Development Corporation for 99 years before forming Gatco to realise the scheme.

Years later, Gatco ran into troubled waters and when it went bust, the land was taken over by national asset management company Pengurusan Danaharta Nasional Bhd.

In 2007, it was sold to the current owner, Thamarai Holdings Sdn Bhd – an oil palm and rubber plantation company and a subsidiary of Lotus Group.

Over the past two years, the situation at the estate turned ugly when Thamarai Holdings attempted to take full possession of the land while the settlers retaliated to the move.

This led to the involvement of the police and other enforcement agencies in the eviction of the settlers and subsequently the arrests of many of them.

Several politicians and NGO members aiding the settlers were also detained when they intervened.

The settlers had also filed a court case seeking an order to reinstate their rights to what was promised to them.