Court witness confirms law firm placed RM66.6m in fixed deposits, says Zahid-linked Yayasan Akalbudi not a client

Lewis & Co accountant V. Sothilechmy is pictured at the Kuala Lumpur Court Complex July 30, 2020. ― Picture by Shafwan Zaidon
Lewis & Co accountant V. Sothilechmy is pictured at the Kuala Lumpur Court Complex July 30, 2020. ― Picture by Shafwan Zaidon

KUALA LUMPUR, July 30 — Law firm Lewis & Co’s client account was used to put more than RM66.6 million into fixed deposits under the file of Yayasan Al-Falah, documents confirmed today by a witness in former deputy prime minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi’s trial showed.

Lewis & Co’s accountant V. Sothilechmy verified these documents while testifying as the 85th prosecution witness in Zahid’s trial.

Among other things, Sothilechmy confirmed that Zahid was the law firm’s client, but said that Yayasan Akalbudi — previously attributed as owned by Zahid’s family — is not the law firm’s client.

The fixed deposits involving RM66.6 million

Today, Sothilechmy spent a substantial amount of time confirming records kept in Lewis & Co’s law firm’s client Yayasan Al-Falah, including the influx of millions of ringgit in multiple cheques issued by various companies and even individuals into Lewis & Co’s client account at Maybank.

A client account is typically used by law firms to hold money on trust for their clients.

Also under the Yayasan Al-Falah file records kept by Lewis & Co, Sothilechmy went on to verify the transfer of RM66,578,347.95 or RM66.6 million from Lewis & Co’s client account into fixed deposits via 28 fixed deposit slips from May 2016 to April 2018.

Malay Mail’s RM66.6 million tally for the 28 fixed deposit slips omits however an August 2017 transaction, where an initial fixed deposit of RM2.1 million was withdrawn before being split up — into RM1.8 million which was ploughed back into a fresh fixed deposit and with the remaining RM300,000 transferred back into the law firm’s client account.

This amount tallies with the figures previously provided by a Maybank senior official.

Previously, Maybank’s Dataran Maybank branch manager Leong Siew Kong had as the 39th prosecution witness testified that Lewis & Co had from May 27, 2016 to April 11, 2018 given instructions to Maybank to transfer funds in the law firm’s client account into fixed deposits.

Leong had confirmed a total of 28 times when Maybank was instructed to make such placements for fixed deposits, with the transactions totalling RM66,578,348 or over RM66 million being shifted from Lewis & Co’s client account into fixed deposits. This tally by Malay Mail again excludes the RM1.8 million that was originally part of the initial RM2.1 million placement.

Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi speaks to the media during a press conference at the Kuala Lumpur Court Complex July 30, 2020. ― Picture by Shafwan Zaidon
Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi speaks to the media during a press conference at the Kuala Lumpur Court Complex July 30, 2020. ― Picture by Shafwan Zaidon

Yayasan Al-Falah’s file with the law firm

Sothilechmy said Lewis & Co partner Muralidharan Balan Pillai had asked her on May 20, 2016 to open a file for Yayasan Al-Falah, noting today that she only knew that the file was opened for the purposes of charity and she did not know anything else about this entity.

“As far as I know, Yayasan Al-Falah was never charged any payments by Lewis & Co,” she said, adding that she was the one who had personally managed the entity’s ledger which records the deposit and withdrawal of funds.

Noting that Yayasan Al-Falah only used Lewis & Co’s Maybank client account, Sothilechmy said she had under Yayasan Al-Falah file received instructions from the law firm’s partner Muralidharan to carry out tasks such as deposit cheques, open fixed deposit savings, and issue cheques from Lewis & Co’s client account on Yayasan Al-Falah’s behalf.

Among the transactions verified by Sothilechmy today are the January 4, 2017 upliftment or early withdrawal of two fixed deposit savings totalling RM7 million before the end of their term, with part of the funds used to issue a RM5.9 million cheque from Lewis & Co’s client account to Bee Garden Holdings Sdn Bhd for the purchase under Yayasan Al-Falah’s name of two lots of land in Country Heights, Kajang.

Sothilechmy had also verified that Lewis & Co’s client account was used to issued a RM500,000 cheque on January 10, 2017 to Yayasan Restu, with the same client account used to issue a RM900,000 cheque in August 2017 and a RM805,768.16 cheque in November 2016 to Yayasan Akalbudi.

Asked today by deputy public prosecutor Lee Keng Fatt, Sothilechmy said she had “never heard” of Yayasan Akalbudi, also confirming that Yayasan Akalbudi is not a client of Lewis & Co.

Lawyers for Zahid had previously sought to suggest to prosecution witnesses that Lewis & Co is a trustee for Yayasan Akalbudi.

Previously, Yayasan Al-Falah’s trustee Faisalludin Mohamat Yusuff had as the 66th prosecution witness testified that the foundation’s chairman Datuk Seri Mohammad Nasaee Ahmad Tarmizi is the younger brother of Zahid.

With both Yayasan Al-Falah and Yayasan Akalbudi having links to Zahid, Faisalludin had previously explained the distinctions that he saw between the two organisations, saying that he understood that Yayasan Akalbudi is a foundation specific to Zahid while Yayasan Al-Falah is a foundation formed for Zahid and Nasaee’s late biological father [email protected] Tarmidzi Radin Abdul Fateh’s children and family.

Zahid’s file with Lewis & Co

Today, Sothilechmy also testified that she was instructed by law firm partner Muralidharan to open a file for Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi regarding the preparation of an April 20, 2017 statutory declaration for Khairuddin Tarmizi.

Sothilechmy also said she was instructed by the same law firm partner on July 15, 2016 to deposit four cheques totalling RM950,000 into Lewis & Co’s client account under Zahid’s file, besides also being instructed on July 18, 2016 to transfer RM144,231.84 from Zahid’s file to Yayasan Al-Falah’s file.

What the prosecution and the charges said

In this trial, Zahid ― who is a former deputy prime minister and currently the Umno president ― is facing 47 charges, namely 12 counts of criminal breach of trust in relation to charitable foundation Yayasan Akalbudi’s funds, 27 counts of money-laundering, and eight counts of bribery charges.

On the first day of trial, the prosecution had said it would prove the money-laundering charges against Zahid by showing that he had received approximately RM65 million worth of cheques which were then delivered to a lawyer from Lewis & Co.

The prosecution had said it would show these cheques were later deposited into the law firm’s client account, and that a substantial portion of these funds were then used to make placements for fixed deposit under the law firm’s name and that such funds were also used to buy two bungalow units worth RM5.9 million.

The prosecution had said it would provide proof in court to show that Zahid knew or had reason to believe that these funds that he had received were proceeds from unlawful activity.

The trial before High Court judge Collin Lawrence Sequerah is scheduled to resume on August 10.

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