Topsy-turvy 2017 in state’s northern front

Abang Johari and his wife Datin Patinggi Datuk Juma’ani Tuaku Bujang greet the guests upon their arrival at Lawas.

IT was has been an topsy-turvy year in northern Sarawak in 2017 – many milestones were marked and the acquittal of the man accused of committing a high-profile murder headlined the crime-court line-up.

On Jan 30, Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg came down to Limbang, with a bagful of approved projects in his first outstation visit since his appointment.

He approved RM72 million worth of infrastructure projects for northern Sarawak, including RM30 million for upgrading Limbang River Esplanade, RM10.2 million for Lawas Esplanade, RM2.5 million for building a flyover in Limbang town and RM30 million for roads linking Hulu Lubai with Mentawai, which also connects with Gunung Buda.

He launched the RM20-million Ranggau Valley Mixed Development project, which is expected to be the catalyst for the transformation of Limbang, and followed by the second Limbang Bridge project kick-off aimed at establishing seamless travelling across Sarawak, Brunei and Sabah.

In December, Abang Johari announced that Sultan of Brunei Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah and Prime Minister of Malaysia Datuk Seri Naib Tun Razak had agreed to the proposal, and this is likely to take off in 2018 with a synchronised digital immigration clearance platform.

In Marudi, the nod for the much-awaited bridge across the Baram River connecting Marudi town with the rest of the state finally came when Abang Johari announced it at the opening of Baram Regatta on Aug 28. Upon completion, it would become the catalyst for more developments including ecotourism in Baram.

From the crime desk, in February police arrested a couple and their son at a restaurant in Lawas – it is believed that they had been actively involved in drug trafficking in Lawas. Police confiscated items worth RM624,729 from them, believed to be bought using money made from the sale of drugs.

On Aug 6, Customs personnel arrested a passenger upon his arrival at Miri Airport upon the discovery of syabu, weighing 500g and said to be worth RM35,000, inside his luggage.

The 22-year-old man from Peninsular Malaysia was on the flight from Kuala Lumpur and landed on Miri at 10am.

On Sept 28, an 82-year-old local prominent businessman was arrested to facilitate police investigation into the alleged rape of a 13-year-old girl.

The victim’s mother lodged a police report after she suspected that her daughter, a student, had been raped. The girl left home on Sept 10 and only returned on Sept 18. The suspect surrendered himself at Miri Central police station upon learning that the police were looking for him.

On Dec 2, the decomposed body of woman was found floating in Miri River, and Miri police arrested 25-year-old man – said to be the woman’s boyfriend – within hours after the grim discovery. He was the first of two suspects arrested in this suspected murder case.

It is said that Yeong Musa, 52, a divorcee with four children, arrived at Miri by bus from Mukah on Nov 27 to get her car, which had been under repair, as well as to collect money lent to the suspect.

Marudi will get a bridge crossing Baram River, as announced by Abang Johari (fourth right) at the opening ceremony of Baram Regatta.

Bill Kayong murder case

Perhaps the biggest story was the acquittal of the suspected mastermind of the murder of Miri PKR secretary and social activist Bill Kayong.

On June 7, Miri High Court acquitted and discharged corporate figure Datuk Stephen Lee Chee Kiang, his personal assistant Chin Wui Ching, 51, and pub owner Lie Chang Loon, 38, after the prosecution had failed to establish a prima facie case against the three.

According to High Court Judge Ravinthran N Paramaguru, the prosecution did not tender any evidence linking the involvement of the three to the murder of Kayong, whose Muslim name was Mohd Hasbie Abdullah.

Car repossessor, Mohamad Fitri Pauzi, who was charged with murdering Kayong, was supposed to enter his defence on Aug 18 but the trial was postponed, pending the outcome of the hearing in the Court of Appeal.

Lee, Chin and Lie were charged with abetting Fitri – an offence punishable under Section 109 read together with Section 302 of the Penal Code, which carries the mandatory death sentence upon conviction.

Fitri is charged with murder under Section 302 of the Penal Code, which provides for a mandatory death sentence. He has pleaded not guilty to killing Bill.

The Miri High Court decision for acquittal angered many social activists in Sarawak, who questioned the capability of the prosecution team in handling such a high-profile murder case.

Kayong was shot dead at a traffic light intersection near E-mart supermarket on Jalan Miri-Bintulu in Miri at 8.20am, on June 21, 2016.

On Dec 14, Miri High Court fixed Jan 23, 2018 for further mention of the case.

That same day, Deputy Public Prosecutor Aftal Mariz informed Md Syafique that the hearing for the appeal had been fixed for Feb 5, 2018 in the Court of Appeal in Kuching.

Md Syafique subsequently fixed the tentative dates for the continuation of trial in Miri High Court on March 19 and 20, 2018, for Fitri to enter his defence.

Fitri, 30, from Dawai 1 Road, Pujut 4D was first charged on July 17, 2016, together with Lee, Chin and Lie. The court ordered Fitri to be further detained at Miri Prison while awaiting trial.