Zahid’s trial: Affin Bank official confirms Yayasan Akalbudi’s RM31m payments via 51 cheques

Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi is pictured at the Kuala Lumpur High Court February 11, 2020. — Picture by Firdaus Latif
Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi is pictured at the Kuala Lumpur High Court February 11, 2020. — Picture by Firdaus Latif

KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 11 — Former deputy prime minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi was the sole signatory when his family’s charitable organisation Yayasan Akalbudi made payments via 50 cheques and one banker cheque totalling RM31 million using funds in the organisation’s Affin Bank accounts, evidence presented today during his trial in the High Court showed.

Rajen Taran Singaruvelo, the branch manager of Affin Bank’s Jalan Bunus branch, today verified the payments of more than RM31 million released from Yayasan Akalbudi’s Affin Bank accounts from January 2014 to December 2016.

He was testifying as the 27th prosecution witness against Zahid in the latter’s corruption trial over 47 charges involving alleged money-laundering, bribery and criminal breach of trust.

The 51 cheques

Rajen Taran today verified these 51 cheques from Yayasan Akalbudi’s funds, including 36 cheques totalling over RM1.3 million or RM1,300,630.82 successfully paid out with the stated purpose of “AmIslamic Bank Card Services for Ahmad Zahid Hamidi” and seven cheques totalling RM61,406.99 were paid out for the purpose of “Maybankard Centre for Ahmad Zahid Hamidi”.

From the 51 cheques, Rajen Taran also confirmed three cheques totalling RM107,509.55 to Ahmad Izhan Abdul Rashid, two cheques totalling RM360,000 to TS Consultancy & Resources, and one cheque dated November 19, 2015 for RM1.3 million to Persatuan Bola Sepak Polis Diraja Malaysia.

He also confirmed the remaining cheques as being one cheque dated November 16, 2015 for RM10 million to Armada Holdings Sdn Bhd and one banker’s cheque dated June 23, 2016 for over RM17 million or RM17,953,185.21 to the law firm Lewis & Co.

Referring to Yayasan Akalbudi’s statement of account from December 12, 2012 to May 28, 2018, Rajen Taran confirmed that all these 51 cheques were cleared and that the funds — totalling over RM31 million — were paid out from Yayasan Akalbudi’s Affin Bank account.

Affin Bank Jalan Bunus branch manager Rajen Taran Singaruvelo is seen at the Kuala Lumpur High Court February 11, 2020. — Picture by Firdaus Latif
Affin Bank Jalan Bunus branch manager Rajen Taran Singaruvelo is seen at the Kuala Lumpur High Court February 11, 2020. — Picture by Firdaus Latif

The cheques’ purpose

Rajen Taran did not elaborate on the purposes of the RM31 million payment.

But Zahid was previously accused in this trial of having misappropriated RM31 million worth of funds from charitable organisation Yayasan Akalbudi that was formed to help the poor and needy, with the prosecution having said that it will prove that not a single cent of the RM31 million was used to benefit the poor and that a substantial amount of this was instead used to pay for personal credit card bills, and to pay for road taxes and to buy motor-vehicle insurance policies for private-owned vehicles.

Based on testimony from other prosecution witnesses previously, Yayasan Akalbudi was said to have paid RM107,509.55 to Allianz General Insurance agent Ahmad Izhan for the road tax and insurance of private vehicles linked to Zahid, RM1.3 million to the Royal Malaysia Police Football Association which was having difficulties in paying its football players’ outstanding wages, RM10 million to Armada Holdings which was making efforts for a business venture, RM360,000 to TS Consultancy which was registering voters with the help of Umno.

Zahid’s signature

Yayasan Akalbudi initially had three authorised signatories including Zahid when it first opened its account at BSN Commercial Bank and with only two of the three signatures sufficient to issue cheques, Rajen Taran said while noting that the bank later changed its name to Affin Bank in December 2000.

But Yayasan Akalbudi had on June 20, 2013 requested in a form to make Zahid the organisation’s sole signatory, and this request was approved by Affin Bank on the same day, Rajen Taran said.

Comparing Zahid’s signature as seen in Yayasan Akalbudi’s June 20, 2013 form to Affin Bank, Rajen Taran confirmed that all of the 50 cheques totalling some RM13.1 million carried the valid signature of Zahid.

As for the bankers’ cheque, Yayasan Akalbudi had made a request via a form for Affin Bank to remit the funds of over RM17 million on its behalf through a banker’s cheque to the Lewis & Co law firm, adding that Affin Bank had then issued a banker’s cheque on June 23, 2016 that was deposited to the law firm’s clients account at Maybank and cleared the same day.

The funds for the transfer of RM17,953,185.21 to Lewis & Co were taken from Yayasan Akalbudi’s seven fixed deposit accounts with Affin Bank then, Rajen Taran explained in court today.

Zahid’s lawyer Hisyam Teh Poh Teik then said 49 of the cheques issued via Yayasan Akalbudi’s account were sent to the Department of Chemistry Malaysia to be examined, again citing the resulting chemist report dated February 28, 2019 by expert document examiner Siti Nur Musliha Mohamad Noor on the signatures on the cheques.

Hisyam then pointed out that the expert had in the report given the opinion that 32 of these cheques did not bear handwritten signatures but could be bearing signatures made using a stamp.

Rajen Taran disagreed however that it was inaccurate for him to testify and verify that Zahid’s signature was on the cheques, pointing out that his testimony was based on the evidence that he had and noting that the expert’s opinion is new to him. Rajen Taran said he had not seen the chemist’s report before today.

Asked by Hisyam, Rajen Taran confirmed that he could not show any circular resolution or authorisation letter by Yayasan Akalbudi to authorise Affin Bank to clear cheques that bear stamped-on signatures, before agreeing that such a situation would amount to unauthorised clearance of cheques if the cheques had stamped-on signatures.

Rajen Taran had also pointed out however that his reply would have to be seen in the context of the process for banks when clearing cheques.

Hisyam also asked if Rajen Taran knew that some of the cheques had allegedly been pre-signed by Zahid, but the Affin Bank official said he did not know of this.

The returned cheques

Other than the 51 cheques, Rajen Taran confirmed two other Affin Bank cheques issued by Yayasan Akalbudi that were initially cleared by the respective recipient banks, but were subsequently returned.

These two cheques include a cheque issued on September 18, 2014 for the sum of RM3,701.82 that was first cleared on September 25, 2014 for payment to “AmIslamic Bank Card Services for Ahmad Zahid Hamidi”, but was returned the next day as the cheque bore the wrong year of 2010 instead of 2014, he said.

The other returned cheque was a cheque issued on August 4, 2014 for RM7,299.30 for “Maybankard Centre for Ahmad Zahid Hamidi” and cleared on September 8, 2014, but was returned on September 9, 2014 as the cheque did not carry any signature, he said.

Rajen Taran explained the process of clearing cheques, giving the hypothetical scenario of cheques issued from an Affin Bank customer’s account which would then be deposited either through a machine or counter at the recipient’s bank, with the cheque then scanned and passing through Bank Negara Malaysia’s system before the scanned image of the cheque reaches the original issuing bank or Affin Bank.

During this process, the recipient’s bank which receives the physical copy of the cheques would have to flag or place remarks on any problematic cheques, to enable the original issuing bank to take note of such remarks when it receives the scanned images and to then check with the customer on whether to proceed with the transaction.

Rajen Taran said today that the Bank Negara Malaysia system did not show any remarks marked for any of the cheques that he was asked to verify in court today

He also explained that he had only referred to the scanned images of all these cheques while being questioned by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) prior to the trial, as Affin Bank’s only source were the scanned images while the physical copies of the cheques would be with the recipient banks, and that he had only seen the physical copies in court today.

Zahid’s trial which involves 47 charges resumes tomorrow morning before High Court judge Collin Lawrence Sequerah.

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