In court, lawyer says his law firm never acted as Zahid-linked Yayasan Akalbudi’s trustee

Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi is pictured at the Kuala Lumpur High Court August 11, 2020. — Picture by Firdaus Latif
Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi is pictured at the Kuala Lumpur High Court August 11, 2020. — Picture by Firdaus Latif

KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 11 — Law firm Lewis & Co was never the trustee for the charitable foundation Yayasan Akalbudi said to be linked to Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, one of the law firm’s partners told the High Court today.

Lawyer Premshangar Venugopal, 50, was today quizzed as the 86th prosecution witness in Zahid’s trial involving 47 charges of alleged criminal breach of trust, bribery and money-laundering. Zahid had been accused of misusing Yayasan Akalbudi’s funds to pay for items such as personal credit card bills.

Premshangar’s testimony today revolved around Yayasan Al-Falah which is an entity linked to Zahid’s brother, and he was also quizzed about the Zahid-linked Yayasan Akalbudi.

Premshangar today testified about a file under the law firm’s client Yayasan Al-Falah’s name in Lewis & Co’s records, noting that he had no personal knowledge about matters in the file as it was handled by the law firm’s co-partner Muralidharan Balan Pillai.

Premshangar said he did handle civil litigation matters for Zahid, but stressed that Yayasan Al-Falah’s matters were handled by Muralidharan.

Witness Premshangar Venugopal is pictured at the Kuala Lumpur High Court August 11, 2020. — Picture by Firdaus Latif
Witness Premshangar Venugopal is pictured at the Kuala Lumpur High Court August 11, 2020. — Picture by Firdaus Latif

Witness: Yayasan Akalbudi not a client

Today, Zahid’s defence lawyer Hisyam Teh Poh Teik sought to suggest that a file bearing the title “charity” — and previously testified by the law firm’s accountant to be under Yayasan Al-Falah’s name — was actually under Yayasan Akalbudi.

Hisyam: I put it to you that all the cheques and bankers’ cheques recorded in this file and ledger, the monies belong to Yayasan Akalbudi, and not Yayasan Al-Falah.

Premshangar: I can’t answer this question, I did not handle this matter.

When pressed by Hisyam again with the suggestion that the file was under Yayasan Akalbudi, Premshangar said: “I can’t answer the question, because I did not handle this file. We were never a trustee for Yayasan Akalbudi.”

Premshangar said he had checked the records at his law firm’s office before coming to court to testify in Zahid’s trial, confirming that there is no file for Yayasan Akalbudi at Lewis & Co.

“I checked the office and ledger records opening file, we do not have Yayasan Akalbudi. We never acted for Yayasan Akalbudi,” he said when asserting that Yayasan Akalbudi is not a client of Lewis & Co.

Previously, Zahid’s legal team had repeatedly suggested to various prosecution witnesses that Lewis & Co is a trustee for Yayasan Akalbudi and that funds linked to the foundation were for charity purposes. Lewis & Co’s accountant V. Sothilechmy had however told the court previously that she had never heard of Yayasan Akalbudi and that Yayasan Akalbudi is not a client of the law firm.

About Yayasan Akalbudi and Yayasan Al-Falah

Yayasan Al-Falah’s trustee Faisalludin Mohamat Yusuff, the 66th prosecution witness, previously testified that the foundation’s chairman Datuk Seri Mohamad Nasaee Ahmad Tarmizi is Zahid’s younger brother. Faisalludin had also said he understood Yayasan Akalbudi to be 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.

Zahid’s defence lawyer Hisyam Teh Poh Teik sought to suggest that a file bearing the title ‘charity’ — and previously testified by the law firm’s accountant to be under Yayasan Al-Falah’s name — was actually under Yayasan Akalbudi. ― Picture by Miera Zulyana
Zahid’s defence lawyer Hisyam Teh Poh Teik sought to suggest that a file bearing the title ‘charity’ — and previously testified by the law firm’s accountant to be under Yayasan Al-Falah’s name — was actually under Yayasan Akalbudi. ― Picture by Miera Zulyana

Did Lewis & Co agree to be Yayasan Akalbudi’s trustee?

Hisyam then sought to suggest that Premshangar and Muralidharan had met with Zahid in the latter’s residence in Country Heights, Kajang in April 2016, further suggesting that Zahid had asked Lewis & Co to act as trustee for Yayasan Akalbudi in such a meeting.

Hisyam said: “He informed you he has got a yayasan (foundation), Yayasan Akalbudi, and the monies will be put in your firm’s account for purposes to manage the monies concerned.”

Premshangar however shook his head, saying: “I don’t agree, My Lord. I was not involved in the discussion.”

Hisyam further suggested that Muralidharan had in the discussion agreed for Lewis & Co to act as a “stakeholder or trustee” for Yayasan Akalbudi, but Premshangar again said: “I can’t agree on that because I was not involved in the discussion.”

Hisyam: I put it to you even though you are not involved, you know these monies belong to Yayasan Akalbudi.

Premshangar: I can’t confirm that. Sorry, My Lord, I disagree.

Under cross-examination from Hisyam, Premshangar confirmed that Lewis & Co as a law firm and stakeholder had also placed money belonging to its corporate clients including developers in fixed deposits, confirming this was not unusual as lawyers are required to place monies belonging to clients into fixed deposits if the amount exceeds RM5,000.

Premshangar agreed with Hisyam that lawyers are duty-bound to place such client monies into fixed deposits even without instructions from the client, as the rules for lawyers in dealing with funds belonging to clients require lawyers to do so.

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

Previously, the law firm’s accountant Sothilechmy had as the 85th prosecution witness previously also verified records in Yayasan Al-Falah’s file, including multiple cheques issued by companies and individuals amounting to millions of ringgit being deposited into the law firm’s client account, and how more than RM66.6 million was recorded in Yayasan Al-Falah’s file as being placed in fixed deposits.

Noting that Lewis & Co’s client account is used to keep money belonging to the law firm’s clients and that both he and Muralidharan are signatories, Premshangar said he was not involved in the handling of the depositing of cheques and withdrawal of funds from the account as Muralidharan was handling such matters.

Premshangar said he had not received any direct instructions from Zahid regarding the deposit of cheques into the client account as the instructions were between Zahid and Muralidharan, noting: “I confirm I have no knowledge how Lewis & Co can be involved in the management of money from Datuk Zahid Hamidi from the start as that matter was fully handled by my partner Muralidharan Balan Pillai.”

Earlier today, Hisyam informed the High Court that Zahid’s legal team will be recalling the fourth, seventh, eighth, 15th, 18th and 66th prosecution witnesses following amendments to some of Zahid’s charges yesterday. Hisyam also said this is not an exhaustive list and that the defence reserves the right to recall other witnesses.

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 among other things said it would prove that Zahid had committed criminal breach of trust by allegedly misappropriating RM31 million from Yayasan Akalbudi with such funds allegedly used to pay matters such as credit card bills, road tax and vehicle insurance for privately-owned vehicles.

The prosecution had also said it would show Zahid had committed corruption offences by allegedly receiving RM21.25 million.

The prosecution had also said it would prove Zahid’s money-laundering charges by showing that he had allegedly received around RM65 million worth of cheques that were delivered to a Lewis & Co lawyer named Muralidharan.

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 to be deposited into the law firm’s client account, with a substantial portion of these funds were allegedly used to place fixed deposits and to buy two bungalows worth RM5.9 million.

The trial before High Court judge Collin Lawrence Sequerah resumes tomorrow morning.

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