KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 22 — Former deputy prime minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi’s criminal breach of trust, bribery and money-laundering trial today ended earlier, as his defence lawyer was suffering from pain due to gout.
Hamidi Mohd Noh, a lawyer for Zahid, informed trial judge Datuk Collin Lawrence Sequerah this morning that his ankle had become swollen from gout and that he had informed the rest of the defence team of his condition as they were en route to court.
“The problem is only I’m prepared to address Yang Arif today, this is not a pre-planned thing. Nobody knows if they are going to get gout,” he said just slightly past 11am when the trial was about to start.
Hamidi said he was under “immense pain” and had wanted to go to the clinic to get a jab for a painkiller, and that he was worried as he was currently also under insulin medication.
“Because of that worry, I already set an appointment with my doctor and it is an emergency,” Hamidi said, adding: “Gout is painful, I’m under tremendous pain.”
Hamidi said his medical appointment was at 1.30pm and asked the judge if he wanted to postpone or proceed with the case anyway.
Sequerah signalled that Hamidi should begin and inform the court when he feels discomfort or pain.
The judge also allowed Hamidi to sit instead of stand while presenting his case.
Hamidi made his argument for about 20 minutes while standing, but then asked to sit down and asked for a brief break due to pain.
After the break, Hamidi informed the court that he could not continue due to the pain.
“I don’t think I can. I would like to ask to postpone the case today under my condition right now, having pain, I can’t even speak straight.
“So I apologise for my condition and I think I need to see my doctor now, Yang Arif. I tried to accommodate but I don’t think I can. I’m not in a proper condition to represent my client,” Hamidi told the judge.
The judge then noted: “Hamidi is in pain, I don’t think he can carry on.”
Lead prosecutor Datuk Raja Rozela Raja Toran also agreed and said “I think we should let him get treatment.”
The High Court then allowed the trial to end earlier today, with the hearing to resume on the previously scheduled date of this Wednesday.
In this trial, Ahmad Zahid ― who is a former home 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.
About the CBT charge on RM17.9m
Hamidi was presenting the defence’s reply to the prosecution’s arguments that Zahid had allegedly committed criminal breach of trust in relation to charitable foundation Yayasan Akalbudi’s RM17.9 million.
Referring to Raja Rozela’s previous arguments, Hamidi said: “She addressed the court, that the accused made the conscious decision to withdraw approximately RM17.9 million and cause that to be remitted to the legal firm without any authorisation.”
Hamidi maintained that the RM17.9 million still belongs to Yayasan Akalbudi when it was transferred to Lewis & Co, and insisted that the law firm was holding the money on trust for the foundation.
“The money from Yayasan Akalbudi went to a law firm’s client account. It didn’t go into a third party,” he argued, adding that Muralidharan Balan Pillai, a partner in Lewis & Co, had testified that the client account is a stakeholder account or a trust account.
“It is a well-established law, in the trust account, the monies belong to the person on which the trust is to be held for. In this instance, it is a pure misdirection of law to say the money changes hands, the money never changed hands.
“The money went into stakeholder account, that stakeholder is Yayasan Akalbudi. Because of that, on the RM17.9 million charge, there is no removal of rights of Yayasan Akalbudi, the money inside that account still belongs to Yayasan Akalbudi,” Hamidi said.
In this trial, Zahid is facing 12 criminal breach of trust charges involving a total of over RM31 million belonging to Yayasan Akalbudi — a foundation aimed at eradicating poverty — that was used for various matters such as his credit card bills, vehicle insurance and road tax for his personal vehicles, a football club, a political consultancy firm.
One of the 12 criminal breach of trust charges involves Ahmad Zahid allegedly having transferred Yayasan Akalbudi’s RM17.9 million to Lewis & Co in June 2016.
Previously, the prosecution had argued that the RM17.9 million transfer from Yayasan Akalbudi’s fixed deposit accounts to Lewis & Co before the funds were eventually placed into fixed deposits was not for investment purposes, as a genuine investment would have instead seen Yayasan Akalbudi directly transferring and placing its fixed deposits in another bank if the intention was to seek higher interest rates.
The prosecution had suggested that the real reason for the RM17.9 million transfer from Yayasan Akalbudi to the law firm was to channel RM8.6 million to help Zahid’s daughter buy shares in a hotel operator in a deal that was later aborted and with the RM8.6 million returned to the law firm, but Zahid’s lawyers had argued that the hotel share purchase deal was unrelated to the charge.
Today, Hamidi said the fixed deposits that Lewis & Co later made was to satisfy requirements under the Legal Profession Act.
About Zahid’s CBT charges in general
Hamidi also addressed the prosecution’s arguments that the three elements of criminal breach of trust had been proven — with Zahid being an agent to Yayasan Akalbudi, being entrusted with dominion over Yayasan Akalbudi’s property, and dishonest misappropriation of the property.
Hamidi claimed that the prosecution has failed to prove all three elements, arguing that Zahid is indeed entrusted with Yayasan Akalbudi’s funds as a trustee of the foundation.
But Hamidi argued that the dominion or control over Yayasan Akalbudi’s funds is not with Zahid, insisting that it was instead Zahid’s then executive secretary Major Mazlina Mazlan @ Ramly as she was the one who held and kept Yayasan Akalbudi’s cheque books.
“The dominion over that property is exercised by the person who has control. Now it is also pertinent to note there were pre-signed cheques and she uses stamped cheques.
“These very important facts will bring Yang Arif to the conclusion that the dominion of the entrusted property is no longer with him, because we have even established through her that she was negligent, that she was not paying attention, she doesn’t know how cheques work, she doesn’t know how credit cards work.
“All those things are pertinent to show the person entrusted no longer has dominion, because now the dominion is now separated from him. Because the cheques were as good as automatic cheques, they were presigned, they were stamped,” he argued.
Hamidi said the stamp with Zahid’s signature was allegedly normally used to sign off on greeting cards for Hari Raya or congratulatory notes or appreciation notes that were issued in bulk, saying that such a stamp exists as there would be no time for a person to sign each and every copy.
Hamidi claimed that this signature stamp was under Mazlina’s control and with her all the time, alleging that the stamp was misused to issue cheques from Yayasan Akalbudi.
Hamidi later argued that the existence of multiple stamped cheques and cheques that were allegedly pre-signed showed that Zahid allegedly did not have any knowledge about the cheques.
The prosecution had previously argued that Zahid would as Mazlina’s boss still have access to Yayasan Akalbudi’s cheques and that Mazlina was acting in compliance with Zahid’s instructions by using the signature stamp for credit card payments, and had also disputed the claim that there were cheques pre-signed by Zahid.
As for the prosecution’s arguments that Zahid had control or dominion over Yayasan Akalbudi’s funds by controlling its board of trustees, Hamidi said this was an “absurd” thing to suggest as the element required to be proven for the criminal breach of trust charges is dominion over the funds and not over the other trustees.
“We also have to keep reminding ourselves that the element of dominion here is not the dominion over the board of trustees or the board of directors. The dominion element that we have to prove is the dominion over the property, which in this instance is the cheques,” he said.
Hamidi urged the judge to disregard the court testimony of two former Yayasan Akalbudi trustees — Mohd Samsuri Tun and Zulkifli Senteri — or how they were asked to resign on April 4, 2012 without any reason, as they were not the trustees during the time when the Yayasan Akalbudi cheques relating to the criminal breach of trust charges were issued.
Samsuri had previously in court said he had pre-signed blank Yayasan Akalbudi cheques at Zahid’s instruction, while Zulkifli had told the court that he had signed a resignation letter that was delivered by Zahid’s driver.
Both Samsuri and Zulkifli were later replaced by two new trustees — Muhammad Nabil Salleh and Datuk Khairuddin Tarmizi — who later signed a resolution on April 4, 2012 to make Zahid the sole authorised person to sign on Yayasan Akalbudi cheques.
Hamidi claimed it was not “bizarre” for a person to be a sole signatory for a company, arguing that this was especially when most of the funds of Yayasan Akalbudi allegedly came from Zahid.