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Last Updated: Tuesday, 10 February, 2004, 12:02 GMT
Malaysia steel boss in fraud case
Perwaja Steel ex-MD Eric Chia Eng Hock
Chia is pleading his innocence
The former chief of Malaysia's state steel firm Perwaja Steel has appeared in court accused of fraud.

Eric Chia Eng Hock denied the charges in his court appearance on Tuesday.

His arrest on Monday made him the first big businessman indicted for corruption under the 100-day-old government of Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.

The government is keen to prove its anti-corruption credentials ahead of an election, which observers say could come as early as April.

The opposition PAS party is likely to use Prime Minister Abdullah's appointment - rather than election - as replacement to 22-year veteran leader Mahathir Mohamad as one aspect of its campaign.

Part of that is the opposition's allegation that corruption flourished under Dr Mahathir.

Debts

Mr Chia was one of many businessmen hand-picked by Dr Mahathir to lead Malaysia's industrial development.

Perwaja Steel, like many other state companies, was intended as a flagship when it was set up in 1982.

But mismanagement landed it with debts of $2.6bn and losses of $790m.

The company was declared insolvent in 1995, a year after Mr Chia stepped down as managing director.

Mr Chia is now accused of embezzling 76.4m ringgit ($20m; 11m), which was ostensibly paid to a Hong Kong company called Frilsham Enterprises in 1994.

Frilsham, prosecutors allege, was a bogus company - a conduit to divert the money into offshore bank accounts.

Mr Chia continued to protest his innocence.

"I will fight until the end," he told reporters at the court. "I leave it to God to judge."


SEE ALSO:
Malaysia PM's '100 days' test
07 Feb 04  |  Asia-Pacific
Mahathir's economic legacy
08 Oct 03  |  Business


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