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KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 22 — It was revealed in Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi’s corruption trial today that Hulu Langat Umno division leader Datuk Johan Abdul Aziz was the party’s supreme council member who tested positive for Covid-19.
Lawyers for Ahmad Zahid, who was absent this morning, informed the court that their client would need to self-quarantine as he had been in close contact with Johan, and requested for today’s proceedings to be vacated.
His lawyer Hamidi Mohd Noh told the court that Ahmad Zahid had attended two meetings with Johan on Friday in Janda Baik, Pahang, before they were informed of the Umno division leader’s status.
“We have his (Johan) test results here your honour, which says that SARS-Cov2 is present, so as a close contact, our client needs to quarantine for at least 10 days and undergo a swab test,” he said.
Judge Collin Lawrence Sequerah criticised Ahmad Zahid’s legal team, however, and directed the accused to take better precautions to avoid disrupting the trial again.
“Yes, it’s unpredictable, but not unavoidable. This is not the first time we have been forced to vacate this trial because of the same reason.
“Please impress upon your client in the future that at least a week before the trial to not be present in such meetings otherwise this case will never conclude,” said Sequerah.
The judge then tasked the Umno president’s lawyers to “impress” upon their client the importance of the trial, which he said should take precedence over other matters, pointing out how the last postponement sought by the defence was due to similar reasons.
“Maybe impress upon him that as much as he has an official duty to manage, it is also incumbent on him to attend court, and that his trial is no less and is as important as his other business.
“Please impress upon him the importance of this trial,” added Sequerah before letting out an audible sigh of frustration.
Later, deputy public prosecutor (DPP) Datuk Raja Rozela Raja Toran argued that considering this was the third time the former deputy prime minister’s trial has been forced to postpone due to possible Covid-19 exposure, she said they would need more documented proof from the defence to support their claim.
Raja Rozela also pointed out how four states in the country remain under the movement control order, which prohibits travelling interstate and inter-district, asking if there was an exemption given to Ahmad Zahid to travel to Pahang.
She then lamented the position of the prosecution who were prepared to continue with today’s proceedings, suggesting that Ahmad Zahid’s repeated requests for a postponement was indicative of how insignificant the trial was to him.
“Records show this is the third time the trial had to be postponed on the same grounds, the first before the Sabah state elections, when he was there to campaign, and the second was in January this year which was quite recent and now this when we are in February.
“Lessons need to be learnt that the accused seems to be quite nonchalant and negligent about his well-being and also of ours, and also he seems to take the court case and our trial as being not as important as his other business,” said the DPP.
Sequerah then concurred with the prosecution and requested for the defence to submit the requested documentary evidence, which includes Johan’s test results, of the Umno meeting, a list of attendees, and Zahid’s exemption from travel restrictions.
In response, Zahid’s lawyers tried to argue that regulations made and released by the National Security Council (NSC) were matters beyond the court, suggesting the issue concerning permission to travel across boundaries were non-questionable.
Sequerah then rebutted sternly, saying Ahmad Zahid’s actions, whether permitted for or not by the NSC, has become an issue for the court as his constant absence forced them to reschedule, further prolonging the trial.
“Of course it is the concern of the court because it has disrupted the time table, trial dates have to be vacated and this is of course the business of the court.
“You cannot be saying that an Umno supreme council meeting in Pahang, which is beyond state borders, is not the court’s concern,” he said before Hamidi yielded.
Following a 30-minute recess, Hamidi informed that court the relevant documents had been submitted, including permission to travel from the NSC, but not without more rebuttal Raja Rozela.
She asserted how the documents given by Zahid’s lawyers appeared to be genuine, but were incomplete by virtue of them not bearing any authorising signature.
The DPP added that it was in their interest to err on the side of caution by ensuring the proper and complete documents were submitted to the court to avoid further disputes.
Sequerah agreed with the DPP but allowed for the requested documents, such as an attendees list of the Umno meeting to prove Ahmad Zahid’s presence, to be tendered during the next court date on March 4.
In this trial, Zahid, 68, is facing 47 charges, namely 12 counts of criminal breach of trust in relation to tens of millions of ringgit from charitable foundation Yayasan Akalbudi’s funds, 27 counts of money-laundering, and eight counts of bribery charges.