Umno lawyer Hafarizam pleads not guilty to fresh money-laundering charges over RM15m cheques from Najib; bail set at RM200,000

Lawyer Datuk Mohd Hafarizam Harun (centre) is pictured at the Kuala Lumpur High Court August 3, 2020. — Picture by Ahmad Zamzahuri
Lawyer Datuk Mohd Hafarizam Harun (centre) is pictured at the Kuala Lumpur High Court August 3, 2020. — Picture by Ahmad Zamzahuri

KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 3 — Lawyer Datuk Mohd Hafarizam Harun today claimed trial to three fresh money laundering charges for receiving a total of RM15 million in illicit funds from Datuk Seri Najib Razak in 2014 and 2015 via three cheques deposited in his then law firm’s client account.

When the three charges were read out to him this morning at the Sessions Court, Hafarizam repeatedly declared in a loud and clear voice that he was claiming trial.

“I understand the charge, I plead not guilty, I ask for a trial,” said Hafarizam, who will be 48 this year.

Under the first charge, Hafarizam was accused of having been involved in money laundering on April 17, 2014 by receiving RM7.5 million in proceeds from illegal activity through an AmIslamic Bank Berhad cheque (numbered 000179) belonging to Najib and dated April 16, 2014, which was deposited into his law firm Hafarizam Wan & Aisha Mubarak’s client account in CIMB Bank Berhad.

Under the second charge, Hafarizam was similarly accused of having committed money laundering on November 12, 2014 by receiving RM4 million in illegal proceeds in an AmIslamic Bank Berhad cheque (numbered 000188) belonging to Najib and dated November 7, 2014, which was deposited into the law firm’s same client account.

Under the third charge, Hafarizam was similarly accused of having between January 22, 2015 and February 12, 2015 received proceeds of unlawful activity amounting to RM3.5 million via an AmIslamic Bank Berhad cheque (numbered 000303) belonging to Najib and dated January 21, 2015, with the cheque again deposited into the law firm’s same client account.

The three offences were all allegedly committed at the same place — CIMB Bank Berhad at the Putra World Trade Centre (PWTC).

The first charge was brought under Section 4(1)(a) of the Anti-Money Laundering and Anti-Terrorism Financing Act (Amlatfa), which is punishable by a maximum fine of RM5 million or a maximum jail term of five years or both.

The second and third charges were both brought under the newer version of the anti-money laundering law that was in effect at the time of the alleged offences, namely Section 4(1)(b) of the Anti-Money Laundering, Anti-Terrorism Financing and Proceeds of Unlawful Activities Act 2001 (Amlatfapuaa).

The penalties upon conviction for money-laundering offences under Section 4(1)(b) are a maximum jail term of 15 years; and a fine of not less than five times the value of the proceeds of unlawful activities or RM5 million, whichever is higher.

Sessions Court judge Azman Ahmad granted bail at RM200,000 with one Malaysian surety, and also ordered that Hafarizam surrender his passport to the court.

The case will come up for mention on September 9.

Hafarizam’s lawyer sought RM200,000 bail

Before the judge fixed the bail amount, Hafarizam’s lawyer Datuk Hasnal Rezua Merican sought for a lower bail amount than the RM500,000 bail amount previously posted by his client when first charged in February 2019 with money laundering over the same cheques totalling RM15 million from Najib.

Hasnal Rezua noted that the High Court had this morning granted Hafarizam a discharge not amounting to acquittal (DNAA) of the February 2019 charges at the prosecution’s request, and suggested that funds from the RM500,000 bail in that case could now be used as bail for the fresh charges today.

In asking for a lower bail amount of RM200,000 today, Hasnal Rezua noted that Hafarizam had left his previous law firm Hafarizam Wan & Aisha Mubarak amid the Covid-19 pandemic to set up his own law firm.

“And the Covid-19 pandemic that has affected the world including our country has given a bad impact and economic effect on almost all sectors including law firms. And our client is a sole proprietor who just started his practice in a new firm, entering straight into the phase of the Covid-19 pandemic, and in such circumstances, we ask that this court not fix too high a bail,” he said.

Hasnal Rezua also noted that Hafarizam has been attending all court proceedings since he was charged one and a half year ago, noting that his client is also not a flight risk as he had previously obtained temporary release of his passport to go to the United Kingdom to attend to his child’s university registration and had returned within the period fixed by court and returned the passport.

As for the payment of the bail for the fresh charges today, Hasnal Rezua noted that the previous RM500,000 amount still remained safe in the court’s custody and said it would merely be an administrative process to transfer the funds internally within the court as bail for today’s charges.

Hasnal Rezua also suggested two options for the bail for today’s charges to be posted, including having Hafarizam pay a deposit of RM5,000 as part of the bail, with the rest of the amount to be paid at a date determined by the court while waiting for the funds from the previous RM500,000 bail to be transferred administratively and internally by the court.

Deputy public prosecutor Datuk Ishak Mohd Yusoff said the defence’s request on the bail amount was a “fair request” in light of the Covid-19 pandemic and did not object to the RM200,000 amount sought, while also leaving it to the court to decide on the process for the bail to be posted.

After hearing both sides, the Sessions Court judge decided to allow bail at RM200,000.

“For today, the accused has to deposit RM5,000 and the remaining has to be presented tomorrow, August 4 before or by 12pm,” the judge said, adding that he was informed that the administrative process to transfer the funds from the previous RM500,000 bail can be completed by today or by tomorrow noon and confirming that the excess RM300,000 would be returned to Hafarizam.

When met outside the courtroom, Hasnal Rezua told reporters that the defence had asked for the lower bail amount due to the difficult times amid Covid-19 where all sectors are affected and as the funds could be used to cover operation costs.

“And as for this present charge now, we will study the charge and we will see whether we need to bring any interlocutory application to challenge any aspect of it. Or otherwise we will have to apply to transfer the matter to the High Court,” he told reporters, adding that Hafarizam’s legal team “may” send representations to the attorney general regarding the fresh charges.

Hafarizam, who is currently Umno’s legal adviser, previously represented Najib in multiple court cases while the latter was prime minister and Umno president and even after he no longer held the two positions.

When met outside the courtroom, Hafarizam confirmed to reporters that he is still the legal adviser for Umno but has completed the civil cases that he was representing Najib in. Hafarizam said he is not involved in representing Najib for any of the latter’s criminal cases.

The fresh three charges against Hafarizam today in the Sessions Court is after the prosecution this morning asked for the DNAA of the two money-laundering charges against him in the High Court, in order to enable new charges to be brought according to the date of the transactions.

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