Najib’s lawyers fail to block house renovator from testifying in trial

Interior designer Zulkarnain Mohamad of ABS Trend Master Sdn Bhd is pictured at the Kuala Lumpur High Court Complex April 18, 2019. —  Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
Interior designer Zulkarnain Mohamad of ABS Trend Master Sdn Bhd is pictured at the Kuala Lumpur High Court Complex April 18, 2019. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

KUALA LUMPUR, April 18 — Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s lawyers today failed to stop a house renovator from testifying in his money-laundering trial over RM42 million of former 1Malaysia Development Berhad unit SRC International Sdn Bhd.

Najib’s lawyers had objected to renovator and interior designer, Zulkarnain Mohamad, from appearing as a witness for the prosecution, claiming that his testimony is irrelevant and alleging that the prosecution was attempting to use court proceedings as a “soapbox”.

Najib’s lawyer Farhan Read claimed that the attorney general (AG) had provided media fodder and stood on a “soapbox” when making the prosecution’s opening statement at the start of the trial, highlighting the latter’s detailing of how allegedly illegal funds deposited in Najib’s accounts were spent.  

“Is the court going to allow evidence-taking proceedings to be used as a soapbox to satisfy propaganda?” he asked when raising the preliminary objection to Zulkarnain as a witness.

Farhan argued that the three money-laundering charges against Najib was over his alleged receipt of RM42 million, and not over how he had spent them.

“We do not lead any evidence with regards to what the accused did with money said to be stolen,” he said, further arguing that the defence team did not expect Zulkarnain to provide testimony that would prove or disprove Najib’s alleged offences.

Najib’s lead defence lawyer Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah argued that only the receiving of illegal funds was required to prove that Najib had committed the seven offences he was accused of.

“If receiving of money is proven, that’s a big if, that in fact completes the offence. If the money is kept in fixed deposit or spent, it is irrelevant to the completion of the offence,” he argued.

AG Tommy Thomas however pointed out that ad-hoc prosecutor Datuk V. Sithambaram had confirmed it was “very rare” for a trial judge to say witnesses cannot be called.

“The burden is on us (to prove the case). How are we to establish the case if we are stopped from calling witnesses?” he said.

Thomas also pointed out that what could be inferred from the facts of a person keeping funds received in fixed deposit or if it is spent “freely” would be different.

The prosecution had argued that the money-laundering offence under Section 4(1) of the Anti-Money Laundering, Anti-Terrorism Financing and Proceeds of Unlawful Activities Act can be proven based on inferences made from facts.

Citing Section 4(2) of the same law, the prosecution noted that it could be inferred from “objective factual circumstances” on whether a person “knows or has reason to believe or has reasonable suspicion” that the money received are proceeds from unlawful activities, or if the person took reasonable steps to verify if the funds were illegal.

Both sides traded arguments for close to an hour, before High Court judge Mohd Nazlan Mohd Ghazali decided to dismiss the preliminary objection by Najib’s lawyers to Zulkarnain as a witness.

The judge ruled that prosecution witnesses who testified on how the alleged money received was spent would be relevant.

“My ruling on the application, I find that the evidence of spending subsequent to the receiving of funds is relevant to the seven charges of the accused,” he said, noting as an example that it would be relevant to show the element of dishonesty for the criminal breach of trust offence.

Zulkarnain, 46, then proceeded to testify that his company ABS Trend Master Sdn Bhd had received a RM100,000 cheque for works carried out at Najib’s residence at Jalan Langgak Duta, and that he had deposited the cheque at a local bank.

Zulkarnain said he had built a store room with two clothes rack measuring about 12 feet each and containing a pantry and dry kitchen behind Najib’s house, as well as repaired a police sentry unit at the residence.

Zulkarnain’s company was today revealed to be one of 15 recipients of cheques totalling over RM10.77 million issued in 2014 and 2015 under two AmIslamic Bank accounts under Najib’s name.

Zulkarnain is the sixth prosecution witness in Najib’s trial, which entered its fifth day today.

Trial will resume next Monday morning.