KUALA LUMPUR, July 5 — Former deputy prime minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi today told the High Court that the RM10 million a Sarawak donor deposited in 2016 to his charity Yayasan Akalbudi was a “donation” that could not have been from illegal sources.

Ahmad Zahid explained that this was because he would not have accepted such donations if they came from gangsters or gambling activities.

Testifying in his own defence in his corruption and money laundering trial, Ahmad Zahid said the law firm Lewis & Co’s ledger showed that this RM10 million sum via 10 cheques were banked into the law firm’s client account held on behalf of Yayasan Akalbudi.

Ahmad Zahid was referring to 10 cheques totalling RM10 million issued by Chia Bee Enterprise Sdn Bhd, whose director is Paul Wong Sang Woo. Wong is said to be a Singaporean businessman and a friend of Sarawak’s KTS Group’s late founder Datuk Seri Lau Hui Kang.

Confirming he had seen Wong’s name in the law firm’s ledger, Ahmad Zahid noted that Wong was said in this trial to be a donor and a businessman based in Sarawak, but he did not know this person and has never met him.

Asked how he concluded that Wong told investigators the RM10 million donation was not from illegal proceeds, Ahmad Zahid said: “Yang Arif, of course I am confident that the donation given comes from business, not originating from illegal activities. If I know it comes from kingpin or gangster or gambling money, definitely I won’t take that money. So the donor in Sarawak whose identity is not made clear by Wong Sang Woo is certainly not a gangster, and there is no need for gangsters to donate to Yayasan Akalbudi and I will not carry out charity with funds which are not good which come from forbidden sources.”

Yayasan Akalbudi is a charitable foundation established with the aim of eradicating poverty and helping the poor, with its trustee and sole signatory for cheques being Ahmad Zahid. Ahmad Zahid and his lawyers have repeatedly asserted that Lewis & Co is a trustee holding funds in a client account for Yayasan Akalbudi.

Omar Ali Abdullah is seen at the Kuala Lumpur Court Complex in this file picture from June 17, 2020. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
Omar Ali Abdullah is seen at the Kuala Lumpur Court Complex in this file picture from June 17, 2020. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

Separately, Ahmad Zahid also defended RM7.5 million as donations made in cash to Yayasan Akalbudi in the past, insisting that the bulk of this figure were donations from his tycoon friend Tan Sri Syed Mokhtar Albukhary.

In one of his 27 money-laundering charges, Ahmad Zahid is accused of having been involved in transactions involving illegal funds by instructing money changer Omar Ali Abdullah to help him convert RM7,511,250.20 in cash during March to July 2016 into 35 cheques to be given to Lewis & Co to buy fixed deposits.

Explaining that Omar Ali was born and raised in Bagan Datuk and that he had known him for decades since the former was in secondary school while he himself was Bagan Datuk Umno Youth chief, Ahmad Zahid said they shared the same hobby of motoring and big bikes and that they were not close to the point of being considered as “best friends forever”.

Ahmad Zahid also confirmed that he had entrusted Omar Ali with handling donations that came in cash and subsequently came up to the tune of RM7.5 million, agreeing that he had “high trust” in Omar Ali as this money changer was entrusted with handling RM7.5 million in cash.

However, Ahmad Zahid also said that he did not know how much was actually being donated by donors and that he did not actually see the cash that was passed by unknown individuals to Omar Ali before the latter banked in the funds.

Insisting that the RM7.5 million was by various donors but with Syed Mokhtar’s Yayasan Albukhary as the biggest donor, Ahmad Zahid clarified that it was Syed Mokhtar who wanted to donate on behalf of Yayasan Albukhary — where the businessman was the chairman — to Yayasan Akalbudi.

Explaining that Syed Mokhtar would usually greet him and state that there would be a donation given with the intention of charity being carried out for himself and Yayasan Albukhary, Ahmad Zahid said however that Syed Mokhtar did not mention the amount that would be donated.

“I don’t care about the actual amount because I’m confident that amount is given sincerely, but I didn’t ask because I would be questioning the sincerity of someone in giving donations to Yayasan Akalbudi.

“When the donations were made, I haven’t even become the deputy prime minister, because I know Tan Sri Syed Mokhtar since he started being involved in business and his business has nothing to do with the many ministries that I had headed, I consider him to be my friend,” he told deputy public prosecutor Harris Ong Mohd Jeffery Ong.

Ahmad Zahid said he never saw the cash that was purportedly donated by Yayasan Albukhary, and that it was only told to him by Syed Mokhtar and the latter’s officials.

Confirming that he did not provide Yayasan Akalbudi’s Affin bank account to Omar Ali and that the latter had received the client account number from Lewis & Co, Ahmad Zahid also said he did not pass the cash donation to Omar Ali and it was Yayasan Albukhary’s officers who had handed the cash to Omar Ali.

Ahmad Zahid insisted that the RM7.5 million donation handled by Omar Ali were not illegally sourced, explaining today: “Because I know Yayasan Albukhary never carried out illegal business activities.”

Ahmad Zahid confirmed he did not know the individuals who had passed the cash donations allegedly from Yayasan Albukhary to Omar Ali, as Syed Mokhtar has a few officers and he did not know which of these officers had carried out the cash handover.

Ahmad Zahid confirmed he was not told the details on the amount, place and time when the cash was handed over to Omar Ali, but insisted that he believed the donations were not illegal funds as it was not possible for Yayasan Albukhary to conduct illegal business, adding: “And I never believed that money are illegal money laundered funds that were donated to Yayasan Akalbudi.”

Asked to confirm that he did not know the amount of the funds donated, Ahmad Zahid said: “I did not take attention as the amount that was given I consider as donation, therefore I baik sangka (gave the benefit of doubt) not just to the donor, but the officer who handed the money and Omar Ali, usually they are people who are beramanah (of integrity) so my confidence is very high when the receipts are shown to me.”

Ahmad Zahid said he knew that the cash money had reached Omar Ali as the latter would usually show receipts showing the money had been credited into the Lewis & Co’s client account.

Agreeing that documentation such as receipts are important in banking matters, Ahmad Zahid said he did not need to hold on to these receipts as his own officers would be able to check that the figures tally with the actual amount in the bank account.

Ahmad Zahid said he had never instructed Omar Ali to convert the RM7.5 million into 35 cheques or told him the method to bank in the money to Lewis & Co’s client account, and insisted that it was the money changer’s own initiative to do so.

Ahmad Zahid said he never received the 35 cheques from Omar Ali, and said the cheques were directly credited into Lewis & Co’s client account.

In explaining why he had tapped Omar Ali’s help as it would be “quite complicated” for Lewis & Co to directly deposit the RM7.5 million cash into the bank, Ahmad Zahid said this was due to Bank Negara Malaysia’s rules which disallowed the banking in of more than RM50,000 in cash to any personal or corporate bank account unless an explanation has been given and it complies with Malaysia’s banking rules.

Asked if he had faced the same problem previously in crediting cash to the bank, Ahmad Zahid said he had never deposited cash into his personal accounts, explaining that he only has two personal accounts — one for his wages as an MP and another for his wages as minister.

“No cash came in, this can be proven by investigations by the MACC when investigations was carried out on whether I abused, or used illegal funds to enter my personal accounts, none,” he said.

Ahmad Zahid disagreed with Harris Ong’s suggestion that there would have been no problems for the RM7.5 million in cash to be directly banked into Lewis & Co’s client account if the appropriate explanation was given to the bank by the depositor.

As for why he had asked Omar Ali to “collect” the RM7.5 million of cash donations, Ahmad Zahid explained that the donations did not come simultaneously or at one go, adding: “The RM7.5 million came from various parties, but the biggest contributor I say is from Yayasan Albukhary, so collection means the amount that came is not once a month or once a week, as and when the donations are given to Yayasan Akalbudi, and the officers contacted Omar Ali and handed the money to Omar Ali.”

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 RM31 million charitable foundation Yayasan Akalbudi’s funds, 27 counts of money-laundering, and eight counts of bribery charges.

Ahmad Zahid’s trial before High Court judge Datuk Collin Lawrence Sequerah resumes tomorrow, with Harris Ong expected to cross-examine him on the 26 other money laundering charges.