Zahid’s trial: Despite helping place RM66.6m in fixed deposits, law firm’s accountant says never dealt with Yayasan Al-Falah’s trustees

Witness, Lewis & Co accountant V. Sothilechmy, is pictured at the Kuala Lumpur High Court August 10, 2020. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
Witness, Lewis & Co accountant V. Sothilechmy, is pictured at the Kuala Lumpur High Court August 10, 2020. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 10 — An accountant with Lewis & Co, which had transferred more than RM66.6 million into fixed deposits under its client Yayasan Al-Falah’s file today told the High Court today that she had never met or had any dealings with the trustees of the foundation that has ties with Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi’s family.

V. Sothilechmy, the accountant for the local law firm, is the 85th prosecution witness in Zahid’s trial involving 47 charges relating to alleged criminal breach of trust, bribery and money-laundering.

Sothilechmy had last week confirmed multiple documents kept in Lewis & Co’s client Yayasan Al-Falah’s file, including records of various cheques from companies and individuals amounting to millions of ringgit being deposited into Lewis & Co’s client account at Maybank. A client account is where law firms typically hold money on trust for their clients.

Sothilechmy previously confirmed records kept in Yayasan Al-Falah’s file of the transfer of more than RM66.6 million from Lewis & Co’s client account into fixed deposits via 28 fixed deposit slips from May 2016 to April 2018.

Last week, she testified that she was instructed by Lewis & Co’s partner Muralidharan Balan Pillai in May 2016 to open a file for Yayasan Al-Falah, having then testified that she had also received instructions from him to carry out various tasks on Yayasan Al-Falah’s behalf such as to deposit cheques, to issue cheques or to open fixed deposit savings via Lewis & Co’s client account.

In her previous testimony, Sothilechmy said she personally recorded in a ledger the deposit and withdrawal of funds under Yayasan Al-Falah’s file, noting that Lewis & Co never charged the foundation any payment as far as she was aware.

Questioned today by deputy public prosecutor Ahmad Sazilee Abdul Khairi, the accountant confirmed she had never met the three individuals linked to Yayasan Al-Falah — trustee Faisalludin Mohamat Yusuff, chairman Datuk Seri Mohammad Nasaee Ahmad Tarmizi and trustee Mohd Farid Abdullah.

Asked if she had ever gone to Faisalludin’s office or had any dealings with him including over the phone, Sothilechmy said: “Never seen, never met.”

Sothilechmy similarly said she had never seen and had never met with Mohd Farid, further saying that she had never seen Mohammad Nasaee or had any dealings with him including via written correspondence.

Sazilee: Can you confirm all these three names from Yayasan Al-Falah, you never dealt with them in any way?

Sothilechmy: I don’t anything, Yang Arif.

Yayasan Al-Falah’s trustee Faisalludin Mohamat Yusuff was the 66th prosecution witness who previously testified that the foundation’s chairman Mohammad Nasaeei is Zahid’s younger brother.

Having the links of Yayasan Al-Falah and Yayasan Akalbudi to Zahid shown in court, Faisalludin 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 both Zahid and Nasaee’s late biological father [email protected] Tarmidzi Radin Abdul Fateh’s children and family.

Last week, Sothilechmy had verified that records under Yayasan Al-Falah’s file showed that Lewis & Co’s client account was used to issue a RM900,000 cheque in August 2017 and a RM805,768.16 cheque in November 2016 to Yayasan Akalbudi. She had however said Yayasan Akalbudi is not a client of Lewis & Co.

Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi arrives at the Kuala Lumpur High Court Complex August 10, 2020. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi arrives at the Kuala Lumpur High Court Complex August 10, 2020. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

For charity?

Previously, Sothilechmy said she only knew that the Yayasan Al-Falah file at Lewis & Co was opened for the purposes of charity and she did not know anything else about this entity.

Today, Zahid’s lead defence lawyer Hisyam Teh Poh Teik noted that Yayasan Al-Falah’s file at Lewis & Co carried the title “charity”.

Under Hisyam’s cross-examination, Sothilechmy confirmed that she was the one who had written the word “charity” and that she had done so on the law firm’s partner Muralidharan’s instructions.

Hisyam then asked if this “means all records in this file are meant for purposes of charity”, with Sothilechmy then agreeing.

Hisyam also quizzed her over the fixed deposits recorded in Yayasan Al-Falah’s file.

“I refer to your witness statement, your statement talks about putting money in fixed deposits. I put it to you that there is nothing unusual or illegal to put money in fixed deposits,” he said.

Sothilechmy agreed, also concurring that she had also placed money in fixed deposits for other clients on the instructions of lawyers.

Sothilechmy also verified that a separate file under Zahid’s own name at Lewis & Co had recorded the payment out of RM8,602,920 or RM8.6 million on June 30, 2016, but with two separate sums of RM254,879.10 and RM8,348,040.90 paid back on the dates of July 18, 2016 and May 8, 2017.

Hisyam then asked if Sothilechmy agreed that the total of the two separate sums would mean that the initial sum of over RM8.6 million was returned, to which the accountant replied in the affirmative.Later when asked by Sazilee how she knew that the Yayasan Al-Falah file is meant for the purpose of charity, Sothilechmy said that this was instructed to her by the lawyer Muralidharan. She had also said that there were several supporting documents in the file to indicate the purposes of charity.

Sothilechmy had last week 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 had said it would prove

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.

Zahid’s trial before High Court judge Collin Lawrence Sequerah is set to resume tomorrow.

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