KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 14 — The prosecution today rubbished the idea that Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi would not have noticed whether the cheques he was signing were from his personal cheque book or that of charitable foundation Yayasan Akalbudi when paying for unrelated expenses such as credit card bills, as they would have been of a different colour.
The prosecution also dismissed, as a mere “excuse”, Ahmad Zahid’s lawyer’s suggestion that he did not have access to Yayasan Akalbudi’s cheque book as it was kept under lock and key by his then executive secretary Major Mazlina Mazlan @ Ramly.
Lead prosecutor Datuk Raja Rozela Raja Toran said this while shooting down Ahmad Zahid’s lawyers’ arguments in defence of their client from criminal breach of trust charges in relation to his alleged dishonest misappropriation of Yayasan Akalbudi’s funds using multiple cheques for payments such as for personal credit card bills and vehicle insurance for personal vehicles.
Yayasan Akalbudi is a foundation registered with the Companies Commission of Malaysia for eradicating poverty and enhancing the welfare of the poor, while Ahmad Zahid is the foundation’s trustee and sole authorised signatory for cheques.
Raja Rozela noted that Ahmad Zahid’s lawyers had repeatedly said that Mazlina had full control and custody of the cheque books and had argued that this meant their client could not or did not have the liberty to access or look at the cheque books.
But Raja Rozela said that it was not a credible argument to suggest that Mazlina must have misused the cheques on her own accord, just because she had kept important documents such as the cheque books in locked drawers.
“To insist that the accused could not have any access to these cheques is just a mere excuse. I mean, the accused was her superior; he was her boss. If the accused can boss around his fellow trustees, why not the secretary?
“All he had to do was to ask Major Mazlina to open up the drawers and show him, bring him the cheque books, credit card statements for him to check.
“So our contention is Major Mazlina did not purposely hide the cheque books from him, if that is what the defence is implying, because there is no basis to draw such a conclusion.
“There is in fact evidence to show that the accused did in fact conduct spot checks at least once a year, spot checks on the cheque books and account statements,” she said.
Differently coloured cheque books
In this trial, Ahmad Zahid is facing 12 criminal breach of trust charges in relation to RM31 million of Yayasan Akalbudi’s funds, with 11 of the charges relating to the use of 50 cheques totalling RM13 million from the foundation — including RM1.3 million via 43 cheques to pay his and his wife’s credit card bills.
Ahmad Zahid’s lawyers had previously denied trying to make Mazlina a “scapegoat”, but had persisted in claiming that it was her who had allegedly made the “mistake” of using Yayasan Akalbudi cheques instead of Ahmad Zahid’s personal cheque book for the credit card payments.
Raja Rozela today however said cheque books are easily distinguishable as they come in different colours, with those from Affin Bank being blue, Maybank being yellow and CIMB Bank being pink.
She then suggested that Ahmad Zahid would have been able to notice which cheque book he was signing.
“So when the cheque is presented to him by Major Mazlina, he could have easily seen. It is not something that can be just brushed aside, you will pay attention when you sign cheques.
“And let’s not forget cheques is a valuable instrument, and he was described as a senior ex-banker. I’m sure he would have paid more attention when he signed the cheques,” she said.
Mazlina had previously as the 90th prosecution witness testified that both Yayasan Akalbudi’s Affin Bank cheque book and Ahmad Zahid’s Maybank cheque book were in her custody in a locked drawer when she worked as his executive secretary from December 2011 to May 2018.
Mazlina had previously also testified that Ahmad Zahid had approved Yayasan Akalbudi’s cheques to be used to pay for his credit card bills, and that he had never questioned or withdrawn his approval to use the foundation’s cheques for such purposes.
About the stamped signatures
Out of the 43 Yayasan Akalbudi cheques that carried Ahmad Zahid’s signature and which were used to make the RM1.3 million payment for Ahmad Zahid’s and his wife’s credit card bills, 10 were signed by hand while 33 had the signature stamped on, Raja Rozela noted.
Raja Rozela highlighted that Mazlina previously testified that Ahmad Zahid would check the cheque details before signing, and that he had never asked why she did not use his personal cheques instead when presented with Yayasan Akalbudi cheques for credit card bills.
Ahmad Zahid’s lawyer Hamidi Mohd Noh had previously argued that their client should not be held legally responsible for the cheques with stamped signature, claiming that Ahmad Zahid had no knowledge and had not authorised Mazlina’s use of the signature stamp.
But Raja Rozela today noted that Mazlina had testified to having obtained Ahmad Zahid’s consent to use the signature stamp for cheques for credit card payments when he is not in the office, noting that the then secretary wanted to avoid disruptions in use of credit cards due to non-payment as she did not want to inconvenience Ahmad Zahid and his wife especially when they are abroad.
Raja Rozela noted that Ahmad Zahid’s lawyers had previously suggested that their client had never given permission to Mazlina to use the signature stamp on Yayasan Akalbudi’s cheques, but said it was “crystal clear” that Mazlina had in response “consistently denied issuing the cheques on her own accord” and maintained that she had received Ahmad Zahid’s permission for the signature stamp’s use.
Raja Rozela also said that the evidence showed the signature stamp was used only on cheques for credit card payments, arguing that this meant Mazlina “was in fact telling the truth” and that she was “in fact following strict instructions from the accused to use the signature stamp on Akalbudi cheques”.
“The accused permitted her to use the signature stamp only for credit cards and the fact that all the cheques containing the signature stamp actually relate to credit card payments will show that she was in fact telling the truth. Now if she had acted indiscriminately, let’s say she had misused the stamp, she could have easily used that stamp on all other cheques but she did not.
“The key point that I’m trying to make here is that the major, the secretary was acting strictly in compliance with the accused’s instructions at all times.
“The accused permitted her to use the stamp specifically for payments of credit card bills and only those cheques appear with the signature stamp — goes to show she was in fact telling the truth,” she said.
Could cheques have been pre-signed?
Raja Rozela noted that Ahmad Zahid’s lawyers had also tried to suggest that the Yayasan Akalbudi cheques with Ahmad Zahid’s handwritten signature were “pre-signed” left for Mazlina to be used when he is abroad, but said Mazlina had stood her ground to say that there were never any pre-signed cheques used for the credit card bills or for the vehicle insurance policies.
“Our contention is that if indeed the cheques are pre-signed or there were pre-signed cheques made available at her disposal — which she denied of course, there is no reason for her to use the signature stamp in the first place if she could freely use the pre-signed cheques,” Raja Rozela argued, adding that Mazlina would not have to ask Ahmad Zahid for permission to use the signature stamp if pre-signed cheques were available as his lawyers claimed.
In this trial, Ahmad Zahid ― who is also a former home minister and the current 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.
The trial before High Court judge Datuk Collin Lawrence Sequerah resumes on Monday.