Zahid trial: Witness confirms handing over colleague’s RM6m cheques as political donation, but denies it’s bribery

Datasonic group berhad deputy managing director, Chew Ben Ben, is pictured at the Kuala Lumpur High Court February 19, 2020. — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon
Datasonic group berhad deputy managing director, Chew Ben Ben, is pictured at the Kuala Lumpur High Court February 19, 2020. — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon

KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 19 — The director of a company supplying chips for Malaysian passports to the government today confirmed he had in 2017 personally handed over his colleagues’ two cheques totalling RM6 million to Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi when he was the home minister, the High Court heard today.

Datasonic Group Berhad deputy managing director Chew Ben Ben, 63, said today that the RM6 million payment by his colleague was intended as a political contribution for then ruling coalition Barisan Nasional (BN) and also for “long-term” prospects.

What happened at the meeting

Testifying as the 34th prosecution witness against Zahid in his corruption and bribery trial, Chew said he had made the handover following a meeting in mid-April 2017 with Zahid who was then also the deputy prime minister.

Chew said Zahid’s political secretary had contacted him at the time as Zahid wanted to meet at his official residence as deputy prime minister at Seri Satria, Putrajaya.

Chew added that he had gone alone that afternoon to meet Zahid at the house where the latter was living alone.

While Chew noted that Zahid had in the April 2017 meeting spoken on other matters such as his respect for Datasonic due to its good performance, he said the BN politician had also touched on the upcoming elections.

“Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi also told me that elections are nearing and about the current political situation in the country. Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi then told me he will meet with Datuk Seri Najib Razak to discuss the coming elections,” Chew told the court today, referring to Najib who was then the prime minister and Umno president as well as BN chairman.

Chew said he had at that time had an inkling that BN needed “political funds” for election matters, adding that he had then asked Zahid whether both he and Datasonic Group Berhad’s Datuk Abu Hanifah Noordin “could make a political contribution to Barisan Nasional and how much money was needed” for such purposes.

“Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi told me it was up to me how much was to be given to Barisan Nasional,” he said when reading his witness statement, adding that Zahid instructed for cheques to be issued to the law firm Lewis & Co when asked how the money should be handed over.

Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi is pictured at the Kuala Lumpur High Court February 19, 2020. — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon
Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi is pictured at the Kuala Lumpur High Court February 19, 2020. — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon

The RM6m proposal

Chew said that he met Hanifah the next day to inform the latter of the meeting with Zahid, adding that he had then proposed that a RM6 million political donation be made through Zahid and that Hanifah agreed to this. (Hanifah was formerly CEO of Datasonic).

Chew said he had proposed to Hanifah for the latter to use his personal funds for the donation of RM6 million with the cheque recipient to be left blank, adding that he had made this proposal as Datasonic Group Berhad could not issue such funds from the company’s account which would require the company board of directors’ approval.

Cheques handover

Chew said that he met Hanifah on April 25, 2017 in the latter’s office, with Hanifah passing over via his secretary two cheques under Hanifah’s own company Sarana Kencana Sdn Bhd with the recipient’s name kept blank to be given to Zahid.

Chew said he had then delivered the two cheques to Zahid at the latter’s official residence at Seri Satria.

“After I handed over the cheques to Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, he said thank you to me and asked me to send his regards to Datuk Hanifah,” Chew said in his witness statement, before then verifying the two cheques both dated April 25, 2017 and made out to Lewis & Co for the respective amounts of RM1 million and RM5 million.

“I wish to state that if Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi was not the deputy prime minister cum the home minister, I would not have proposed to Datuk Hanifah to give RM6 million political funds to Barisan Nasional through Datuk Ahmad Zahid Hamidi,” Chew said in the same witness statement.

“My proposal to Datuk Hanifah to give political donations to Barisan Nasional through Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi was for the long-term,” he added.

When asked by deputy public prosecutor Gan Peng Kun what he meant by “long-term” considerations, Chew explained that this was related to Zahid’s position then in BN.

“The reason we made that donation is because Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid is the vice-president of BN, so Datuk Hanifah he feels grateful as the company has been listed and he made a contribution to show appreciation and support. 

“Because he feels grateful to BN, at that time, the long-term is for stable politics, because he was very grateful to the government of the day. For businessmen — I am a businessman — we also want politics to be stable, so the economy can be prosperous,” he added.

Chew also said he had told Hanifah that Lewis & Co has a trust account to manage political funds and corporate social responsibility (CSR) funds, confirming that Datasonic Group had no ties at all with the law firm Lewis and Co.

Chew agreed that it was his 'own initiative' to propose to Zahid for personal donations to be made to BN, further clarifying that it was Hanifah (pic) who made the payments and that the RM6 million did not belong to him. ― Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
Chew agreed that it was his 'own initiative' to propose to Zahid for personal donations to be made to BN, further clarifying that it was Hanifah (pic) who made the payments and that the RM6 million did not belong to him. ― Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

Bribery denial

When cross-examined by Zahid’s lawyer Datuk Ahmad Zaidi Zainal, Chew confirmed that he has politician friends and agreed that politicians tend to eventually steer the conversation to political matters.

Chew agreed with Zaidi that there was nothing sinister for Zahid to mention his political career during the mid-April 2017 meeting, saying that the meeting was initially about passports which Datasonic was involved in supplying to the Home Ministry and that the conversation later went into politics.

Asked by Zaidi, Chew agreed that it was his only his own “perception” that BN needed political funds for election matters.

Zaidi: Zahid never told you that BN needed political funds?

Chew: Never.

Chew agreed that it was his “own initiative” to propose to Zahid for personal donations to be made to BN, further clarifying that it was Hanifah who made the payments and that the RM6 million did not belong to him.

Asked by Zaidi, Chew agreed that Datasonic including himself had never given or offered any bribe to any individual to get a project in 2015 for the five-year supply of 12.5 million passport chips to the Home Ministry from December 1, 2016 to November 30. 2021.

Zaidi: Agreed if I say in particular, I refer to Datuk Seri Zahid, Datasonic never gave any bribe to Datuk Zahid to get this contract for the chips supply?

Chew: Yes, never. Agreed.

Quizzed by Zaidi, Chew confirmed that he knew Hanifah was previously a politician who is a friend of Zahid since political days, further confirming that Hanifah is a philanthropist who carries out charity and CSR works.

When asked by Zaidi if he knew Hanifah’s “perception” of political donation was for charity, Chew replied: “To him, political funds included charity.”

Zaidi then highlighted that the April 2017 cheques were issued one year before the 14th general elections on May 9, 2018, suggesting: “Again, I say, the donation has nothing to do at all with the actual political donation, just meant for CSR and so on.”

Chew: “Yes, one year later, agreed.”

Chew agreed with Zaidi that he knew Lewis & Co was a trustee for welfare organisation Yayasan Akalbudi under Zahid, further agreeing that the two cheques totalling RM6 million were made out to Lewis & Co as a trustee holder for Yayasan Akalbudi for charity works.

When re-examined by Gan, Chew explained why he had agreed the two cheques to Lewis & Co were held on trust for Yayasan Akalbudi, saying: “Because in my meeting with Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, he did say the money was not for him, for politics and for charity, he said no need to write to me, but write to Lewis & Co”

Chew said he had asked Hanifah to leave the cheque recipient portion on the cheque blank as he did not know the spelling for Lewis & Co

Chew also reaffirmed to Gan all the contents of his witness statement, while also stressing that the political donation in 2017 had nothing to do with the award of the project to Datasonic in 2015, also explaining his view that political funds include CSR and charity funds.

The trial before High Court judge Collin Lawrence Sequerah resumes this afternoon.

In this trial, Zahid is accused of having received the two cheques totalling RM6 million as a bribe and as an alleged reward linked to the Home Ministry’s award of a five-year contract to Datasonic Technologies Sdn Bhd for the supply of Malaysian passport chips.

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