KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 20 — Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi’s lawyer argued in court today that the criminal breach of trust charge that his client is facing over RM17.9 million of charity Yayasan Akalbudi’s funds was not related to a deal to buy shares in a company that had a hotel in Bali, Indonesia.
Ahmad Zahid’s lead defence lawyer Hisyam Teh Poh Teik argued that the prosecution was “totally misplaced and totally irrelevant” when it claimed that part of the RM17.9 million funds were misused for a share purchase deal with the Bali hotel operator.
Hisyam highlighted that the criminal breach of trust charge against Ahmad Zahid had only stated the allegation that he had committed the offence when he transferred the RM17.9 million from Yayasan Akalbudi to law firm Lewis & Co in 2016.
Yayasan Akalbudi is a foundation that was set up with the aim of eradicating poverty and enhancing the welfare of the poor, while Ahmad Zahid is its trustee and was from April 2012 onwards approved by fellow trustees to become the sole authorised person who could sign on the foundation’s cheques.
Last week, lead prosecutor Datuk Raja Rozela Raja Toran argued that the real reason why Ahmad Zahid had in June 2016 instructed for the RM17.9 million transfer from the charitable foundation to the law firm’s client account was in order to channel RM8.6 million to help Ahmad Zahid’s daughter buy shares in the Bali hotel operator Ri-Yaz Assets Sdn Bhd.
The RM8.6 million was later returned by the hotel firm to the law firm after the share purchase deal was aborted, but the prosecution said that this was proof that Ahmad Zahid had transferred the RM17.9 million with the intention of using it for his personal benefit and rejected Ahmad Zahid’s lawyers’ claim that this was to help the charity invest its money.
Today, Hisyam sought to challenge the prosecution’s arguments, by saying that the criminal breach of trust charge did not mention the hotel company’s share purchase as being part of the alleged offence by Ahmad Zahid.
“As far as the charge is concerned, there is no mention about the sale of shares from (Ri-Yaz Group chairman) Tan Sri Abdul Rashid Manaf (83rd prosecution witness — SP83), no mention about Ri-Yaz Assets, no mention about (Ri-Yaz Group managing director) Datuk Mohammad Shaheen Shah Mohd Sidek (84th prosecution witness — SP84), no mention about the purchase of the hotel in Bali, and no mention about the sale of shares agreement, under such circumstances, My Lord, all the evidence adduced by SP83, SP84 are totally irrelevant to the charge,” he argued.
Hisyam said that the court should fall back on the “four corners” of the charge when determining if his client had committed the criminal breach of trust offence, saying: “So this will support our submission that the lengthy submission by the prosecution on the sale of shares, purchase of hotel in Bali, totally irrelevant. They missed the target.”
In order to decide whether Ahmad Zahid had committed criminal breach of trust, Hisyam said the court should instead consider whether the RM17.9 million still belonged to Yayasan Akalbudi when it was transferred from the foundation’s Affin Bank account to Lewis & Co’s client account.
Hisyam argued that there was no criminal breach of trust committed by Ahmad Zahid as he claimed that the RM17.9 million still belonged to Yayasan Akalbudi when it reached the law firm’s client account.
Throughout the trial, Ahmad Zahid’s lawyers have sought to suggest that Lewis & Co is a law firm that acts as a trustee for Yayasan Akalbudi by holding money on trust for the foundation.
While acknowledging that the court has to make a maximum evaluation of all evidence in court before deciding on the case, Hisyam argued that the evidence or court testimony by both Ri-Yaz officials Rashid and Shaheen are of “no importance”, further urging the judge to also consider testimony by two other prosecution witnesses that are in favour of Ahmad Zahid.
Hisyam then read out previous court testimony by the 87th prosecution witness, law firm Lewis & Co partner Muralidharan Balan Pillai and the 66th prosecution witness, Yayasan Al-Falah’s trustee Faisalludin Mohamat Yusuff, to support Ahmad Zahid’s lawyers’ claim that the RM17.9 million had remained as Yayasan Akalbudi’s funds.
Hisyam noted the prosecution had cited 87th prosecution witness Muralidharan’s testimony that his law firm’s client is only Yayasan Al-Falah, and that the prosecution had used this testimony to say that the RM17.9 million belongs to Yayasan Al-Falah and that therefore there is a breach of trust. (Yayasan Al-Falah is a foundation linked to Ahmad Zahid’s family and is chaired by Ahmad Zahid’s younger brother Datuk Seri Mohamad Nasaee Ahmad Tarmizi.)
Hisyam however argued that Muralidharan had later conceded in court that the RM17.9 million belongs to Yayasan Akalbudi, after Muralidharan was asked to answer based on certain documents shown.
While Muralidharan had initially disagreed that the RM17.9 million belonged to Yayasan Akalbudi, Hisyam said this witness subsequently confirmed that the funds do belong to the foundation, based on Yayasan Akalbudi’s instruction letter signed by Ahmad Zahid to Affin Bank to transfer the money to the law firm as well as banking documents that showed the funds originating from Yayasan Akalbudi.
“That is important, that will kill the case of the prosecution,” Hisyam claimed.
Hisyam argued that the 66th prosecution witness Faisalludin’s previous court testimony should be taken into account, noting that this Yayasan Al-Falah trustee had told the prosecution that he has no knowledge of Lewis & Co holding fixed deposits for Yayasan Al-Falah.
Hisyam said Faisalludin had also in court testified that Yayasan Al-Falah had not appointed any law firm to be Yayasan Al-Falah’s trustee, adding that this witness had also asserted that no trustees in Yayasan Al-Falah had appointed Muralidharan or Lewis & Co to be trustees for the foundation’s funds.
“So the 66th prosecution witness continues and remains consistent that as far as he is concerned, that Yayasan Al-Falah did not appoint Lewis & Co to hold monies on its behalf,” he said.
“So what we have here, My Lord, is direct evidence from witnesses from the prosecution, SP87, SP66 who confirmed that RM17.9 million belongs to Yayasan Akalbudi.
“And under such circumstances, My Lord, we cannot say that there’s misappropriation, we cannot say that the monies have been parted to some third parties,” he argued.
Even as High Court judge Datuk Collin Lawrence Sequerah noted that some of the RM17.9 million had left the bank account to go to Ri-Yaz’s bank account and which was later paid back, Hisyam insisted that this was “not relevant” to the criminal breach of trust charge against Ahmad Zahid.
“That is the narrative produced by the prosecution,” Hisyam said, urging the court to however focus only on the charge which was about the allegation of the RM17.9 million transfer from Yayasan Akalbudi to the law firm.
Hisyam argued that the court should consider “nothing else beyond the four corners of the charge”, saying: “So no other extraneous circumstances will be taken into consideration, because they do not relate to the charge against the accused person. Otherwise, it will be an error.”
Hisyam said that based on the 87th and 66th prosecution witness and based on how the charge against Ahmad Zahid was worded (without mentioning Ri-Yaz), it would mean there is no element of illegality and that no criminal breach of trust had been committed.
Hisyam also noted that the prosecution had then used this criminal breach of trust charge as the basis to craft two further charges of money-laundering against Ahmad Zahid, but claimed that this was “overprosecution”.
“We say that this is a case of overprosecution, an abuse of process, the process of court has been abused to put charges which got no legs to stand on, this is against the public interest. So in short, My Lord, we say that the prosecution has not proven a prima facie case on the criminal breach of trust charge, based on the charge which they had drawn,” he argued.
Today is the last day of hearing for this month, with Ahmad Zahid expected to travel to Germany to seek treatment for his neck and back pain and with the court previously already approving his request for the temporary release of his passport from October 26 to November 21 for such purposes.
At the end of today’s hearing, Ahmad Zahid’s lawyer Hamidi Mohd Noh had said that his client would be returning from Germany on November 21 and would then have to undergo quarantine.
Raja Rozela then said that the understanding is that the trial should be able to resume on November 22 as Ahmad Zahid’s lawyers had applied for the passport to be released until November 21 and should have taken into account the need for any quarantine period.
The judge however maintained that the trial should resume on November 22 but indicated that this would also be subject to any Covid-19 test results.
In this trial, Ahmad 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.