KUALA LUMPUR, May 23 — Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi today sought in the High Court to blame his former executive secretary for the alleged misuse of Yayasan Akalbudi’s funds — where he was a trustee and later its sole signatory — for unrelated purposes such as to pay his and his wife’s credit card bills.

Testifying in his own trial over the alleged misappropriation of millions of ringgit from charitable foundation Yayasan Akalbudi, Ahmad Zahid accused Major Mazlina Mazlan @ Ramly of having misused a stamp for his signature meant for Hari Raya cards and certificates of appreciation — on Yayasan Akalbudi’s cheques for unauthorised use.

While working as his executive secretary from December 2011 to May 2018, Mazlina was tasked with handling both Ahmad Zahid’s personal cheques and Yayasan Akalbudi’s cheques while Ahmad Zahid was a minister and deputy prime minister, with Ahmad Zahid saying today that she was also tasked with handling a stamp with his signature.

But Ahmad Zahid stressed that the signature stamp was only for certificates of appreciation and festive cards, insisting that he had never allowed Mazlina to use this signature stamp for other purposes such as for his personal cheques or Yayasan Akalbudi cheques.

Ahmad said that the certificates of appreciation could go up to even hundreds or thousands such as for officials working at agencies under the Home Ministry or Defence Ministry which he was heading previously, noting that the signature stamp would also be used for Hari Raya cards which could go into the tens of thousands instead of him physically signing them.

Ahmad Zahid claimed that Mazlina had decided on her own to use his signature stamp on cheques without first seeking his approval, accusing her of having decided on her own to do so when paying for his credit card bills.

"I stress that I had never given any approval, especially whether either verbally or directly or indirectly to Mazlina to use the signature chop for any other purposes besides signing invitation cards and Hari Raya cards and festive cards and certificates of appreciation,” he said.

As for cheques that he had signed ahead of time, Ahmad Zahid said he had practised this since before Mazlina became his executive secretary, and said these "presigned” cheques were specifically for urgent invoice payments by Yayasan Akalbudi to construction contractors when he is outstation or overseas.

"Because there are many developments carried out by Yayasan Akalbudi especially orphanages, mosques, suraus, maahad tahfiz and others that require Yayasan Akalbudi to contribute based on requests made, therefore payments to contractors or the recipients of contributions had to be expedited, I would not be able to sign when I’m overseas, so I signed the cheques first,” he explained.

He told the court that he had never ordered Mazlina to use the Yayasan Akalbudi cheques which he had pre-signed for any other purposes besides the foundation’s welfare and charity work.

"I did not know at all that there were cheques using the signature stamp and pre-signed cheques had been used by Mazlina from 2013 to 2016. If at any time I knew it, I would have terminated Mazlina as she had misused Yayasan Akalbudi’s cheques,” he told the High Court.

"Specifically, I had never allowed Mazlina to use the signature stamp and/or pre-signed cheques for the purposes of paying my personal credit cards and/or insurance policies of vehicles owned by me and for my supplementary cardholders,” he added.

Ahmad Zahid accused Mazlina of having been careless or "negligent” in handling his and Yayasan Akalbudi’s finances, including having used the stamp of his signature on Yayasan Akalbudi cheques to pay for his and his wife’s credit card bills allegedly without his knowledge, and for failing to understand the credit card statements and overpaying or underpaying the bills on several instances.

Other reasons why he said Mazlina was negligent was over her alleged use of his pre-signed cheques for Yayasan Akalbudi for other purposes instead of for the charitable foundation’s charity works, and allegedly failing to understand he and Yayasan Akalbudi are two separate entities, and failing to know that stamped signatures cannot be used on cheques.

Claiming that Mazlina had failed to show him the monthly bank statements for his bank account and Yayasan Akalbudi’s bank account, Ahmad Zahid said this also showed her alleged negligence.

Saying that he had requested Mazlina to show the monthly bank statements several times but that this was not done, Ahmad Zahid suggested that Mazlina could have taken advantage of his busy schedule as minister previously to avoid showing such documents.

"When I requested, she said she will give, and then she will go from my office to her office, I waited, she didn’t come. After that, there are other appointments and other meetings, she buat-buat (pretended) to have forgotten. Each time I asked, each time she gives me all sorts of excuses.

"My schedule is very tight, I always skip my lunch, my only break is for my solat, prayers and also to toilet. Other than that, I wish to say that my schedule is 365 (days), 24/7, and I feel guilty to my family because I don’t have much time for them.

"So with such a tight schedule, although I manage my time management, but I prioritised the ministerial duties and the nation as a priority, because of that busyness, could have caused Mazlina to take the opportunity to not fulfill my requests in showing the bank account statement or showing how much is the balance in my account and the Yayasan’s account,” he said.

Ahmad Zahid said that Mazlina had herself admitted in court to having been careless.

Major Mazlina Mazlan@Ramly is pictured at the Kuala Lumpur High Court August 25, 2020. - Picture by Firdaus Latif
Major Mazlina [email protected] is pictured at the Kuala Lumpur High Court August 25, 2020. - Picture by Firdaus Latif

What Ahmad Zahid told MACC in 2018

Explaining that Mazlina was initially appointed as his assistant military adviser when he first became defence minister and that she had later taken over the role of managing Yayasan Akalbudi’s finances when the previous executive secretary retired, Ahmad Zahid read from his previous statement to the anti-corruption investigators on October 10, 2018 that he had appointed Mazlina to be the foundation’s account administrator based on trust and believing that she would provide the foundation’s financial position when requested.

But while saying that he did not obtain the financial statements and bank statements of Yayasan Akalbudi during Mazlina’s tenure as he had hoped for and as his previous officers had provided, Ahmad Zahid said: “But based on trust, I still continued her services to handle Yayasan Akalbudi’s finances.” Still reading from an excerpt of his statement to the MACC during its third investigation in October 2018, he said his duties in managing the country’s affairs became busier when he was appointed as deputy prime minister in 2015 to replace Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin in then prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s new Cabinet, and said he had then placed all his hopes on Mazlina to help him manage Yayasan Akalbudi’s finances.

“At this time, I admit that I was too busy and had to place full hopes on Yayasan Akalbudi’s financial management to be handled by Major Mazlina well, and I will give orders from time to time, directions on contributions to be given to who and which agency. “At this time, due to duties as deputy prime minister and home minister, I did not supervise Major Mazlina much on her handling of Yayasan Akalbudi’s accounts and at this time I did not get the current financial position report and latest account statement each month for me to check and make plans on the next contribution to agencies which need it, whether old or new,” Ahmad Zahid read from his statement to the MACC while also saying that Mazlina did not handle the foundation’s finances professionally as he had wished for.

“After the federal government was taken over by the Pakatan Harapan government, and I was no longer home minister, Major Mazlina returned to her initial duty in the Defence Ministry. I informed the MACC that I also did ask for Yayasan Akalbudi’s financial documents to check with Major Mazlina, but she told me that between me and her, there’s already no relation. Due to that, I manage Yayasan Akalbudi’s finances myself besides my current duty as Bagan Datuk MP,” he said when reading what he had told the MACC in October 2018.

The 2020 police report

While he had initially confirmed to the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) in its second investigation session on July 3, 2018 that cheque images shown to him contained his signature, Ahmad Zahid today stressed that he had only confirmed his signatures as they appeared to be his and as he was not shown the original cheques.

Ahmad Zahid said that signatures which are signed on cheques by hand would usually vary in strokes, while signatures stamped on to cheques would all have the same strokes.

He claimed that he had told the MACC that the signatures on the cheques were his as he could not see whether the signatures were made using ink or stamped on, and that it was only after being charged and during this trial that he had realised many of the cheques did not carry his original signature but allegedly contained stamped signatures which he accused Mazlina of having made without his approval.

Ahmad Zahid also said that as a trained former banker, he knew that the only signature specimen he had given to the bank for Yayasan Akalbudi’s cheques was his handwritten signature and not a stamped signature, adding that the foundation had never authorised the bank to approve cheques stamped with a signature.

He claimed that he would not have allowed cheques to be issued with a stamped signature as he knew such signature stamps could not be used as signature specimens for banks.

Asked by his lawyer Ahmad Zaidi on why he had waited until December 31, 2020 to lodge a police report about the alleged use of his signature stamp for Yayasan Akalbudi cheques, Ahmad Zahid said he did so as he had allegedly found out during this trial based on the Department of Chemistry Malaysia’s findings presented in court that the signature on many of the cheques were outside of his knowledge.

Asked why he had only made the police report after Mazlina had testified in court instead of earlier when his legal team would have received all information from the prosecution, Ahmad Zahid said he felt “cheated” by the documents, asserting that the stamping of his signature allegedly by Mazlina on the Yayasan Akalbudi cheques especially for personal credit card bills were done when he was overseas.

Explaining what triggered his decision to file the police report years after the cheques were issued, Ahmad Zahid explained: “Yang Arif, I was suspicious at the initial stage about the use of the signature chop and on such suspicion and when confirmation was made by witness from the Department of Chemistry, therefore I discussed with my lawyers to reveal the actual matter about the cheque signatures that were not made by me, not original signature but using a signature chop.” In this trial, Ahmad Zahid ― who is a former home minister and currently the Umno president ― faces 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 tomorrow.