KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 8 — Former deputy prime minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi could not be presumed to have acted dishonestly or to have made any wrongful gain when RM17 million was transferred from charitable foundation Yayasan Akalbudi to a law firm’s client account, his lawyer argued in court today.
Lawyer Hamidi Mohd Noh claimed that it was “ridiculous” for his client Ahmad Zahid — who is a trustee and sole authorised signatory of Yayasan Akalbudi’s cheques — to have been charged with criminal breach of trust over the RM17 million transfer.
Hamidi argued that this was because Ahmad Zahid did not make any wrongful gain when the RM17 million was transferred, as the foundation’s funds were for example not transferred to himself.
“There is no issue of dishonesty, ill will or wrongful gain, wrongful loss. There’s no intention to cause wrongful gain or wrongful loss. Why we say this? Because if that were to be the case, why transfer it to lawyers’ account and not to himself? Why transfer to a trust account instead of himself?
“If he were to have misappropriated, if he were to have been dishonest, then the money belonging to Yayasan Akalbudi would have been transferred directly to him or transferred in cash directly to him, but it was not, Yang Arif. It was sent to a client account in a law firm,” Hamidi argued.
In this trial, Ahmad Zahid is facing 47 criminal charges, with 12 of them being for alleged criminal breach of trust in relation to millions of ringgit belonging to Yayasan Akalbudi — a foundation registered with the Companies Commission of Malaysia with the stated objectives of receiving and administering funds to eradicate poverty.
About the RM17m’s owner
Earlier today, Hamidi argued that Ahmad Zahid should be acquitted and discharged of all 12 criminal breach of trust charges, including the charge involving the alleged “dishonest transfer” of RM17,953,185.21 from Yayasan Akalbudi to law firm Lewis & Co.
“We submit this is the most ridiculous charge against the accused,” Hamidi argued.
Hamidi said this was because the RM17 million’s “legal and beneficial owner” was Yayasan Akalbudi, and that the foundation had in a June 2016 letter signed by Ahmad Zahid instructed Affin Bank to transfer the funds to Lewis & Co.
Hamidi said the RM17 million was then transferred in July 2016 to Lewis & Co’s client account, with the back of the cheque stating that it was made out to Lewis & Co’s client account.
He noted that law firms usually have separate bank accounts, namely the general account holding funds for the firm’s operations, and client account where money is held on trust on behalf of clients who still remain the legal owner.
While acknowledging that the 87th prosecution witness, Lewis & Co partner and lawyer Muralidharan Balan Pillai had disagreed that the funds worth RM17 million belong to Yayasan Akalbudi, Hamidi today insisted that the money actually belonged to Yayasan Akalbudi as it had came from its bank account before being sent over to Lewis & Co’s client account.
“We can see the money actually came from Yayasan Akalbudi, belongs to Yayasan Akalbudi, and therefore Yayasan Akalbudi is the legal owner. The beneficial interest for that money belongs to Yayasan Akalbudi as well,” he argued.
When the judge noted that the Lewis & Co partner had said the RM17 million belonged instead to Yayasan Al-Falah (a foundation linked to Ahmad Zahid’s family), Hamidi continued to assert his belief that the courts would have found Yayasan Akalbudi to be the legal owner if the RM17 million’s ownership was to hypothetically be disputed in lawsuits in the courts.
“Yes, but if this was brought to court on the issue of who owns the money in client account of Lewis & Co, the answer would still be Yayasan Akalbudi. Because the money is transferred from that source to a client account.
“So the beneficial owner of RM17 million in client account of Lewis & Co is still Yayasan Akalbudi,” he said, adding that this was why Ahmad Zahid’s lawyers argue that there is no prima facie case for this charge or no sufficient case for him to defend himself against.
Hamidi also said there was no transfer of beneficial ownership of the RM17 million, which meant it still belongs to Yayasan Akalbudi.
He then went on to say that Ahmad Zahid did not misappropriate, convert for his own use, use or dispose the RM17 million when this sum was transferred from Yayasan Akalbudi to Lewis & Co, and that Ahmad Zahid could not be said to have acted dishonestly over this matter.
Based on the law including past court judgments, the offence of criminal breach of trust would require the proving that a person entrusted with or having control of property had acted dishonestly when misappropriating, converting for own use, using or disposing of such property.
The trial — involving 47 charges — before High Court judge Collin Lawrence Sequerah resumes tomorrow morning, with Ahmad Zahid’s lawyers expected to present more arguments on why he should not continue to be prosecuted.
The trial is now at the stage of the end of prosecution’s case, with 99 prosecution witnesses previously having testified over 53 days.
The court will be hearing final verbal arguments from both the defence team and the prosecution, before deciding on whether the prosecution has proven a prima facie case against Ahmad Zahid.
If a prima facie case is found, Ahmad Zahid will have to defend and explain himself; if no prima facie case is established, he will be freed of the charges.
This week is the first week that Ahmad Zahid’s trials have resumed following his previous sick leave after suffering pain from a recent fall.
Ahmad Zahid had shown up daily for the trial in the High Court in Kuala Lumpur since Monday, with court proceedings held during the morning session with regular breaks and without continuing on into the afternoon. The High Court here previously said that Ahmad Zahid’s medical condition would be accommodated with regular breaks, with the latter’s doctor previously confirming this would be possible with the use of painkillers.
Hamidi today had requested for the trial to resume tomorrow morning instead of going on in the afternoon, as Ahmad Zahid has an appointment for physiotherapy at 2pm as he had been sitting in the courtroom for three consecutive days including today and suffered from pain.
The prosecution asked if there were any available letters or documents on this, with the judge allowing for the trial to resume tomorrow morning while also saying that the defence could produce the related documents tomorrow.
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