KUALA LUMPUR, June 28 — Umno president Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi today suggested in High Court that three of the MPs who were first to leave his party after the 14th general election in 2018 possibly wanted to "save themselves” from alleged graft investigations.

Claiming that his ongoing corruption and money laundering trial is a politically-motivated persecution, Ahmad Zahid in testifying in court today said that he had refused to dissolve Umno as requested by then prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad sometime in June 2018.

Ahmad Zahid, who was carrying out the duties of the Umno presidency in June 2018 as Datuk Seri Najib Razak had resigned from the role, said that he had refused the request by Dr Mahathir to disband Umno.

Ahmad Zahid explained that he was unwilling to see Umno being buried and to "save myself” by joining Dr Mahathir’s then party Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM).

His lawyer Datuk Ahmad Zaidi Zainal then asked him: What do you mean, ‘save yourself’?

Ahmad Zahid then went on to make his claim and allegation against several former Umno MPs.

"Yang Arif, many had saved themselves. Of the 54 Umno members who won in GE14 in 2018, three MPs who were the first to hop and join PPBM. And I know that these three, they have several cases which I understood MACC wanted to investigate.

"On that fear, maybe they wanted to save themselves and had joined PPBM,” he replied.

Without directly naming names, Ahmad Zahid then went on to say the first to jump from Umno to Bersatu or PPBM, was the Masjid Tanah MP who is currently a deputy minister in the prime minister’s department.

"I understood that at that time she was entrusted to handle election funds but that money was not used for elections to mobilise the Puteri Umno Malaysia’s machinery. Instead, that money was taken out from the fund and sent to other accounts and used for personal purposes and that money was not used to mobilise the Puteri Umno election machinery,” he claimed.

"This was known by not only the highest leadership of Umno, Puteri Umno, but when it was heard that investigations would be carried out, the way to save herself is by joining PPBM which at that time was part of the Pakatan Harapan government,” he further claimed.

As for the second person, Ahmad Zahid said this was the Jeli MP who was chairman of Kelantan Umno prior to the elections, and who is now a minister.

"He was entrusted to handle the Kelantan Umno machinery and part of the money was supposed to be used for logistics to bring Kelantan voters who are working or living in the Klang Valley to return to vote in Kelantan, I was told that more than RM30 million of that money was not used for logistics,” he claimed.

At this point, lead prosecutor Datuk Raja Rozela Raja Toran objected to Ahmad Zahid’s testimony based on concerns of whether such evidence was hearsay and whether it would then be admissible evidence in this trial.

"I’m sorry, the witness has been speaking, raising about misusing of funds by other people, sounds like hearsay to me, Yang Arif. And it should not be allowed unless the defence is going to call these people, those persons he mentioned.

"I can understand what he’s trying to say or where’s he’s going, but I think it should be limited because if it is merely for political assasination, I think it should not be allowed this far where he makes claims that are unfounded and says something that is hearsay, should not be admissible,” she said.

Ahmad Zahid’s lead defence lawyer Hisyam Teh Poh Teik then said his client’s testimony is part and parcel of his narration on the point of alleged political persecution and that the prosecution could raise its objections to any parts of the evidence later on during submissions.

"He has taken the oath to speak the truth, he is under trial for certain charges against him, the gravity of the offences are serious, he must be given all the latitude and space to elaborate on his defence, no intention whatsoever to cast mischief or ill-conduct on any parties concerned,” he said.

The judge then allowed Ahmad Zahid to continue testifying as he said some "leeway” would have to be given to enable the latter to stray a little bit in order to complete the narrative, but also ask Ahmad Zahid to not stray too far and also said he would take note of whether the evidence is admissible in the final analysis.

Asked by Ahmad Zaidi if he had personal knowledge of these two MPs or if he had heard these stories from others, Ahmad Zahid said he had personal knowledge as well as proof.

In the afternoon when the trial resumed, Ahmad Zahid went on to claim that he had information that the Jeli MP had allegedly given the logistics funds for Kelantan voters to his wife to be placed into a private account, claiming: "So certainly we became a worry to him, and I was told that investigations would be carried out on him due to the misuse of funds, therefore that worry is what caused him to decide to jump to PPBM which was part of the government then.”

As for the third individual, Ahmad Zahid said this was the Bagan Serai MP, claiming that the latter’s younger sibling who was his special officer was handling allocations for this MP --- typically allocated to MPs to develop their parliamentary constituency --- and that there was some abuse of funds.

"And on worries of investigations and charges would be carried out on him, I got to know and I know myself that he made the decision also to jump to PPBM,” he further claimed, insisting he has proof of this.

"Yang Arif, the three individuals that I mentioned with my sworn testimony, I have facts and I have proof to what I said, because at that time, I held the position as the individual who was responsible or entrusted with carrying out the duties as Umno president after Datuk Seri Najib resigned," he said.

Ahmad Zahid explained that he was Umno vice-president, but that the party's supreme council had decided that he would carry out the duties of the party's deputy president after Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin was in 2016 sacked from that role.

Following the 14th general elections on May 9, 2018 where Barisan Nasional (BN) as well as its main component party Umno lost federal power, Najib on May 12, 2018 announced his resignation as both BN chairman and Umno president, while Ahmad Zahid was then entrusted with handling the duties of both positions.

"Because of that, I know and have proof on the matters that I have stated, based on the capacity of my positions that I held then," he said.

In this trial, Ahmad Zahid — who is a former deputy prime minister and former home minister — 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 tomorrow, with the prosecution expected to begin its cross-examination of Ahmad Zahid.