Why mention Zahid’s luxury goods ‘shopping spree’, spending habits in court? Lawyer asks in CBT case

Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi is pictured at the Kuala Lumpur High Court November 24, 2021. — Picture by Firdaus Latif
Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi is pictured at the Kuala Lumpur High Court November 24, 2021. — Picture by Firdaus Latif

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KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 24 — Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi’s spending habits and the description of his and his wife’s credit card spending as a “shopping spree” in luxury goods outlets should not have been mentioned in court, the former deputy prime minister’s lawyer argued today.

Zahid’s lawyer Hamidi Mohd Noh today zeroed in on lead prosecutor Datuk Raja Rozela Toran previously remarking that she could not help but wonder whether Zahid and his wife had the poor in mind when they were shopping such as for Armani, arguing that this was “not relevant at all”.

“The spending habits of the accused being brought into play is not relevant. We must discredit that evidence, especially that part which she said in court, she plays it up, at the end of the day, it was said and reported in the news.

“We strongly object to the use of irrelevant facts mentioned by the prosecution Yang Arif, these highly prejudicial statements.

“We now humbly pray to the court to not take into consideration the spending habits which has no relevance at all. The words of ‘shopping spree’ and ‘had in mind the poor in Malaysia’.

“The defence is highly offended by the use of these prejudicial statements which are irrelevant to the facts in issue,” he said.

Hamidi was referring to Raja Rozela’s last month’s remarks where she acknowledged that the couple’s spending habits would not be part of the legal issue involved in proving the criminal breach of trust charges against Ahmad Zahid, but remarked on the shopping shown.

“When we look at the credit card statements themselves, My Lord, we will be able to see the spending habits of the accused and his spouse.

“Although I admit that this is not an issue, their spending habits is not an issue in our case, My Lord, but one cannot help but wonder whether they had in mind the poor people in Malaysia when they went shopping in Giorgio Armani, Louis Vuitton or Hermes,” she had told the court.

Yayasan Akalbudi is a foundation aimed at eradicating poverty and enhancing the welfare of the poor. It is registered with the Companies Commission of Malaysia, with Ahmad Zahid being a trustee as well as subsequently from June 2013 onwards the sole authorised person who could sign on the foundation’s cheques.

Zahid is accused in this trial of having committed criminal breach of trust involving more than RM31 million of Yayasan Akalbudi’s funds, including over RM13 million paid out using 50 cheques — including the 43 cheques for credit card bills.

In this trial, Zahid ― who is also 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.

The RM13 million sum alone is regarding 11 out of the 12 criminal breach of trust charges that Zahid is facing in this trial.

Raja Rozela had previously listed the alleged dishonest misappropriation by Zahid of Yayasan Akalbudi’s funds totalling RM13 million which he were entrusted with, namely the RM1.3 million payment via 43 cheques for personal credit card bills, a RM107,509.55 payment using three cheques for vehicle insurance and road tax for privately-owned vehicles, a RM1.3 million cheque to the police’s football association, a RM10 million loan given out via a cheque to company Armada Holdings Sdn Bhd and a RM360,000 payment via two cheques to political consultancy firm TS Consultancy & Resources which helped register voters.

Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi's lawyer Hamidi Mohd Noh speaks to reporters at the Shah Alam High Court August 25, 2021. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi's lawyer Hamidi Mohd Noh speaks to reporters at the Shah Alam High Court August 25, 2021. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

Today, Hamidi repeatedly disagreed with the prosecution’s choice of words, complaining for example about the prosecution saying that “not a single sen” from Yayasan Akalbudi’s RM31 million was used for giving to the poor.

“That is not right, that is not correct. The media reported everything, but this list and the answers by (Yayasan Akalbudi trustee) Khairuddin, board of trustees proved otherwise. That the Yayasan exists from day one and the Yayasan served its purpose from day one with all these charities,” Hamidi insisted.

Hamidi had today read out a list of contributions or donations that Yayasan Akalbudi allegedly made for charitable purposes such as for mosques and suraus and which he said was according to the foundation’s company constitution, including the RM1.3 million amount to the police’s football association.

High Court judge Datuk Collin Lawrence Sequerah observed however that only the alleged aid to the police’s football association in the list was related to the charges that Zahid is facing, while the rest of the list would just be for the purpose of Zahid’s lawyers’ arguments to show that the foundation was acting according to its objectives.

Hamidi today also insisted that the RM1.3 million to the police’s football association was a “charitable donation”, suggesting that the football players would become poor if not paid wages for months.

“It is now a charity when the accused gave the money from him to police to pay for the wages, because these football players, yes they are professional football players, they have sons, daughters, wife, they have people to take care of, and when they are not paid wages, this is charity. Is charity allowed? Yes, charity is allowed,” he said.

Hamidi also claimed that the list of charitable activities by Yayasan Akalbudi which the foundation allegedly spent millions of ringgit on, would then show that the “miniscule amount” of Yayasan Akalbudi funds that were used via cheques amounting to RM1.3 million to pay for Zahid’s credit card bills were an act of negligence by Zahid’s former executive secretary Major Mazlina Mazlan @ Ramly.

“Now that shows the miniscule amount is actually a negligent mistake done by the secretary which ― is confirmed by the prosecution itself ― does not possess credit card and does not possess knowledge of how to handle credit card bills,” he argued, further adding that Zahid allegedly could not have conducted spot checks on Yayasan Akalbudi’s cheques or on how the funds were being spent.

Hamidi also took issue with Raja Rozela’s previous description of Zahid being the “boss” in Yayasan Akalbudi, or of how he was allegedly controlling the other trustees in Yayasan Akalbudi like “puppets” or how he had allegedly “brought in his men from Bagan Datuk” to replace the trustees in the foundation.

“In this as well, my learned friend uses the connotation, ‘what the boss wants the boss gets’. It was widely reported in the media, I would like to stress this is not fair. They were all common board of trustees in Yayasan Akalbudi, the boss is three of them. And this is why they were confronted as trustees, not as men from Bagan Datuk or subservient to the boss, they came in as trustees, and prosecution called them as trustees,” he said when seeking to argue that all Yayasan Akalbudi trustees were of equal status as Zahid as a trustee there.

Former Yayasan Akalbudi trustees Mohd Samsuri Tun and Zulkifli Senteri were asked to resign on April 4, 2012 without any reason, and were later replaced by two new trustees — Muhammad Nabil Salleh and Datuk Khairuddin Tarmizi — who signed a resolution on April 4, 2012 to make Zahid the sole authorised person to sign on Yayasan Akalbudi cheques.

When the judge pointed out that there was only one authorised signatory for Yayasan Akalbudi’s account ― namely Zahid ― at the time the events in the charges took place, Hamidi replied: “Making a person signatory does not make a person a boss, they are still trustees equally treated in Yayasan Akalbudi.”

Hamidi insisted that it was “misguided” to say “what the boss wants the boss gets”, saying that the issue was instead whether the money of the foundation being used to pay for matters such as credit card bills and insurance payments was wrong and also claiming that Zahid had no control over Yayasan Akalbudi’s cheques which were kept with the secretary and when some of the cheques were stamped with his signature.

He reiterated that what has to be proven is not whether Zahid had dominion over the foundation’s board of trustees, but whether he had dominion over the foundation’s funds.

Hamidi also argued that Zahid was the main funder of Yayasan Akalbudi.

But the judge noted: “Even though the accused is said to be the main funder of the Yayasan, but still the payments must be in line with the objectives of the Yayasan. Even if the majority of funds, even if all the funds come from one person, it doesn’t mean the payments can be for all sundry purposes.”

As for a statutory declaration which Yayasan Akalbudi trustee Khairuddin had signed and admitted that it had false contents regarding the use of the foundation’s funds to pay for Zahid’s credit card bills, Hamidi claimed that this document was actually in Zahid’s favour.

In responding to the prosecution’s arguments that the statutory declaration proved Zahid knew from day one that Yayasan Akalbudi funds were being used to pay the credit card bills, Hamidi said the last of the cheques issued from the foundation was in December 2016, while the statutory declaration was made on April 20, 2017.

“So the issuance of this statutory declaration is favourable to the accused because this shows the accused has no knowledge of the issuance of the cheques prior to this statutory declaration, because the statutory declaration was only affirmed in 2017,” he claimed.

Previously, Khairuddin had admitted in court to having signed an April 20, 2017 statutory declaration that contained inaccurate and factually untrue information, including parts where he had claimed to had believed he could use Yayasan Akalbudi funds to settle Ahmad Zahid’s credit card bills and where he claimed to have asked Ahmad Zahid to refund the funds used to settle the bills and that these funds were refunded as requested.

In this trial, Zahid ― who is also 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.

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