Report: Najib's stepson Riza Aziz granted discharge over US$248m money laundering charges after reaching settlement with govt

Riza Aziz is pictured at the Kuala Lumpur High Court, September 23, 2019. ― Picture by Ahmad Zamzahuri
Riza Aziz is pictured at the Kuala Lumpur High Court, September 23, 2019. ― Picture by Ahmad Zamzahuri

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KUALA LUMPUR, May 14 — Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s stepson Riza Shahriz Abdul Aziz was today released from five counts of money-laundering over US$248 million allegedly misappropriated from 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) after he agreed to pay several million ringgit to the Malaysian government, a report has said.

News portal Free Malaysia Today said Sessions Court judge Azman Ahmad today granted a discharge not amounting to an acquittal (DNAA) to Riza after an application was made by the prosecution for the order to be made.

Ad-hoc prosecutor Datuk Seri Gopal Sri Ram, who was leading the prosecution, was reported to have read out from a written statement when asking for the DNAA.

“An agreement has been arrived at between the prosecution and the accused under the terms of which the federal government will receive a substantial sum running into several million ringgit,” he was quoted saying by FMT, adding that the sums have a direct reference to the subject matter of the charges in Riza’s case.

Sri Ram said that the prosecution will not be proceeding with the charges against Riza for now pending the completion of the agreement.

“The prosecution, with the consent of the accused, now respectfully moves the court for an order of discharge not amounting to an acquittal,” he was quoted saying.

Sri Ram also reportedly said that appropriate steps would be taken to ensure that Riza receives a full acquittal of the charges if he satisfactorily fulfills the agreement, but noted that the prosecution could still pursue the charges against Riza if he fails to fulfill the agreement.

“But if there is no satisfactory completion of the agreement reached, the prosecution reserves the right to reinstate the charges and to prosecute the accused to the full limit of the law,” Sri Ram also said in the statement.

When seeking for the DNAA order, Sri Ram also noted that Riza made several representations through his lawyers to the authorities, and that the decision to seek for a DNAA was arrived at after careful consideration of the representations and after the agreement was reached.

Riza was previously reported to have sent a representation on November 18, 2019 to the Attorney-General’s Chambers for a review of the charges against him, with his trial yet to have started as a decision on his representation was previously pending.

According to FMT, the Sessions Court today also allowed the RM1 million bail previously posted by Riza’s two bailors to be returned.

On July 5, 2019, Riza — who is also co-founder of the Hollywood production house Red Granite Pictures and son of Najib’s wife Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor — was charged with five counts of money-laundering under Section 4(1)(a) of the Anti-Money Laundering and Anti-Terrorism Financing Act 2001 (AMLATFA).

Riza pleaded not guilty and claimed trial to the five charges, which are each punishable with a maximum RM5 million fine or maximum five-year jail term or both.

He was accused of receiving a total of US$248,173,104 (equivalent to about RM1.026 billion by the exchange rate on the day he was charged or over RM1.075 billion by today’s exchange rate) between April 2011 and November 2012.

The funds were alleged to have flowed in cross-border transactions from two Switzerland bank accounts of two companies named in the massive 1MDB financial scandal — Good Star Limited and Aabar Investments PJS Limited — to the US bank account of Red Granite Productions Inc and the Singapore bank account of Red Granite Capital Ltd

The first two sums from Good Star’s RBS Coutts account into Red Granite Productions Inc’s City National Bank account are US$1,173,104 (April 12 to May 12, 2011) and US$9 million (September 10 to October 10, 2012).

The remaining three charges are over the sums of US$133 million (June 18, 2012), US$60 million (October 23, 2012), US$45 million (November 14, 2012), all allegedly transferred from Aabar Investments PJS Limited’s BSI SA account to Red Granite Capital Ltd’s BSI Bank (Singapore) account.

At the time he was charged, the Sessions Court had imposed a RM1 million bail with two bailors, and had also ordered for a travel ban to be imposed on Riza until the conclusion of the case.

What DNAA means

In criminal cases before the court, there are several outcomes possible: such as a conviction and sentencing of an accused; or an acquittal of an accused; or a discharge not amounting to acquittal (DNAA) of an accused which effectively means release from the charges but with the possibility for the accused to face trial for the same charges in the future if the prosecution decides to reinstate charges.

In other words, a DNAA means that an accused has not been acquitted of the charges, but is merely discharged of the charges.

Criminal lawyer Datuk Baljit Singh Sidhu, who was not involved in Riza’s case, cited the Federal Constitution’s Article 145 and the Criminal Procedure Code’s Section 254 when explaining to Malay Mail that the public prosecutor has “wide discretionary powers to discontinue any proceedings at any stage of the trial before judgment”.

Under Section 254 of the Criminal Procedure Code, the public prosecutor or the officer conducting the prosecution may inform the court that he does not propose to continue prosecutions against an accused, which would then result in the accused being discharged of the charges, but with such discharge not amounting to an acquittal unless the court decides so.

As for the effect of a DNAA order, Baljit said: “The order does not prevent the prosecution from charging the accused (Riza) again based on the same facts and the plea of double jeopardy — Article 7 of the Federal Constitution — does not apply.”

Among other things, Article 7 of the Federal Constitution states that a person who has been acquitted or convicted of an offence shall not be tried again for the same offence, except where the conviction or acquittal was quashed and a retrial ordered by a higher court than the court where he was charged or acquitted.

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