KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 4 — A businessman’s RM6 million cheques given as a purported “political donation” should have been passed in 2017 to Barisan Nasional directly, instead of being handed over to then deputy prime minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and paid out to a law firm, the prosecution said today.
The prosecution today was presenting its arguments in the High Court on why Ahmad Zahid has to be called to enter his defence over eight bribery charges, including two charges involving the RM6 million cheques.
Under these two corruption charges, Ahmad Zahid was accused of having on April 26, 2017 corruptly received gratification from Datasonic Group Berhad’s director Chew Ben Ben in the form of two cheques issued by Sarana Kencana Sdn Bhd for RM5 million and RM1 million — which were made payable to law firm Lewis & Co — as a “reward”.
Under the same two charges, Ahmad Zahid was accused of having received the two cheques totalling RM6 million as a reward for his role as the home minister then in carrying out any transactions that later led to Datasonic Technologies Sdn Bhd’s appointment to supply Malaysian passport chips for five years through direct negotiation between this company and the Home Ministry.
Today, deputy public prosecutor Gan Peng Kun noted that Ahmad Zahid’s lawyers had sought to rely on the claim by two former Datasonic Group officials that the RM6 million was not meant for bribery.
“The defence submitted the 32nd prosecution witness (Datasonic Group Berhad’s then chief executive officer Datuk Abu Hanifah Noordin) and the 34th prosecution witness (Datasonic Group Berhad’s then deputy managing director Chew Ben Ben) said the money is not a bribe, it is a political donation, and that is the end of the matter as that is direct evidence from the prosecution witness,” Gan said in explaining what Ahmad Zahid’s lawyers had previously argued in court.
(Abu Hanifah retired from Datasonic Group Berhad on January 31, 2020, while Chew resigned from the same company in March 2021.)
Gan however cited past court judgments where it was stated that it is the duty of a trial judge to give a maximum evaluation to all evidence available and that the testimony or evidence given by all prosecution witnesses must withstand strict scrutiny and cannot be taken at “face value”.
“We submit the evidence of witnesses SP32 (Abu Hanifah), SP34 (Chew) that the money is a political donation should not be taken at face value,” he said.
Even if the High Court finds it needs to consider Abu Hanifah’s and Chew’s intention, Gan argued that the evidence that has been brought forward in court in Ahmad Zahid’s trial so far shows that the RM6 million could not have been meant as a political donation.
“First, if it is true that the money was intended to be a political donation, then why it was given to the accused, the home minister, whose ministry was instrumental in giving the job to supply passport chips to Datasonic Technologies, and not to other ministers?
“Secondly, the money was made payable to Lewis & Co, and not to Barisan Nasional,” Gan said, noting that the law firm is not related to BN.
Gan added that if it was true that the RM6 million was meant to be a political donation, the cheques should be made payable to BN, instead of being handed by Ahmad Zahid to Lewis & Co’s partner Muralidharan Balan Pillai to be banked into Lewis & Co’s account.
Gan argued that the circumstantial evidence points to the irresistible conclusion that the RM6 million cheques were meant as a reward for Ahmad Zahid’s role as home minister that led to Datasonic Technologies subsequently being given the job of supplying the passport chips.
Gan also noted that Chew had told the court that he would not have suggested to Abu Hanifah to give the RM6 million cheques to Ahmad Zahid, if Ahmad Zahid was not the deputy prime minister and home minister then.
Gan then referred to then High Court judge Raja Azlan Shah in the 1977 judgment in the corruption case of former Selangor mentri besar Datuk Harun Idris, where the judge had said the circumstances where the money or gratification was solicited gives rise to the inference that it was solicited corruptly.
In considering whether there was corrupt intention in the soliciting of a political donation, the judge in the 1977 judgment had said the donations — whether via cheque or not — would ordinarily be personally handed over by a representative of the firm making the donation “at a proper place and in the presence of witnesses, not in some ‘back alley’”.
The judge had in the 1977 case said that a donor would ordinarily want to be present to show that he is participating in whatever worthy cause the recipient is involved in — politics, charity, education or welfare — and that such a donation would be properly presented and properly acknowledged. (In that case, the purported donation of $250,000 (the Malaysian currency was then in $) allegedly for Umno was given in two batches, namely in cash at an airport before Harun’s departure overseas and in cash placed in a locked tin box kept at a bank which was left at Harun’s disposal or made available for him to access.)
“In our case, the alleged donation was handed by SP34 (Chew) to the accused (Ahmad Zahid) in the accused’s official residence, not in some ‘back alley’, but without presence of media or close aides of the accused, bearing in mind he was the deputy prime minister.
“The similarity in Harun Idris’s case with our case is too glaring to ignore. Therefore subjecting all evidence to maximum evaluation, the cheques are not a political donation but a gratification to the accused as reward to appoint Datasonic Technologies as supplier of passport chips,” Gan argued.
In this trial, Ahmad Zahid — who is the current Umno president — 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.
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