SINGAPORE, April 16 — He siphoned S$372,000 (RM1.13 million) from the mosque’s coffers, but he did it only to help the homeless and needy, the lawyer for the former chairman of a mosque’s management board argued in court yesterday.
The court heard that Ab Mutalif Hashim, 58, was a Robin Hood figure who took money from the coffers of Darussalam Mosque over seven years to hand it out to the downtrodden who needed money urgently.
In fact, lawyer Satwant Singh argued, Ab Mutalif is a “hero”.
Singh was seeking a sentence of no more than a year for his client, while the prosecution sought a jail term of between 30 and 36 months.
Ab Mutalif had pleaded guilty to six counts of criminal breach of trust last month.
He handed out between S$67,000 and S$84,000 to the homeless, needy schoolchildren, foreign workers, ex-offenders, and others who come to the mosque to “find shelter and seek solace”, Singh said.
Ab Mutalif bypassed layers of accountability as he knew that these beneficiaries would have had to “fill up many forms” if they wanted to receive the funds in the proper way, and their situations could have “gone dire” by the time they had passed all the red tape, he added.
“Our client was aware that he needed the approval of Muis (the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore) whenever he needed to utilise funds, but he realised that it took a lot of time for approval to be given,” Singh said.
“He could not bear to turn away those who appeared at the mosque doors. In his mind, it was unIslamic to turn someone in need away if the individual had the power or the means to help.”
Singh also pointed out that it was under Ab Mutalif’s leadership that the mosque, located along Commonwealth Avenue West near Clementi, began running as a 24-7 operation — a move lauded by members of the community.
The money “needed to come from somewhere” to run such an outfit, he added.
He noted, too, that Ab Mutalif spent S$130,848 of the funds he siphoned on the mosque’s toilet renovations.
“Villain or hero, he is a hero to many, your Honour,” said Singh, adding that among the supporters who had shown up in court to give moral support to Ab Mutalif were two Bangladeshi construction workers who had received help from him.
DPP: Accused acted on own whims and fancies
Deputy Public Prosecutor Kenneth Chin, however, argued that the court should distinguish the charitable acts of the mosque and that of the accused, and noted that it is “not disputed” that the mosque had served the community well.
Decisions on who and how to help should be based on a “collective decision” by the mosque’s management board rather than an individual’s whims and fancies, Chin argued.
“These people received money from the accused, but it was not clear on what basis money was disbursed to them,” he added. “(Rather, it was on) his whims and fancies of who should get more or less, and who should get it at all.”
He added: “Is this a situation whereby the accused took money to help the needy, or a situation where the accused took so much money that he felt bad and decided to give some back to the people who might need them?”
He also pointed out that there is no proof that the money taken all went to the needy.
Rather, investigations revealed that part of the misappropriated money was channelled to another charity called Just Parenting Association, of which Ab Mutalif was the executive director, he added.
As for the amount used for the mosque’s toilet renovation, Chin pointed out that it was a work that was not approved by Muis.
“This is an unfortunate case of the fox guarding the henhouse,” he said.
“Instead of guarding and managing the proper usage of cash collections from the public for its proper intended use, the accused as chairman decided to misappropriate these charity funds and unilaterally decide how and when the apply the funds, with no accountability.”
District Judge Ong Chin Rhu said she would need some time to mull over the submissions and come to a “just and fair outcome”.
Ab Mutalif’s will be sentenced next Wednesday. He remains out on bail of S$70,000. — TODAY