KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 13 — There was nothing illegal about the multi-million ringgit donations made by two businessmen, and which were eventually used to buy two houses in Country Heights, Kajang for Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi’s family’s religious foundation Yayasan Al-Falah in 2017, his lawyer told the court today.
Ahmad Zahid’s lead defence lawyer Hisyam Teh Poh Teik was arguing why his client should not continue to be prosecuted for the 26th out of 27 money laundering charges.
Under the 26th money laundering charge, Ahmad Zahid was accused of having committed the offence of money laundering by allegedly being engaged directly in a transaction involving proceeds of an lawful activity by giving instructions for the purchase of the two property lots using a RM5.9 million cheque issued by law firm Lewis & Co.
Teh today argued that the prosecution had failed to show a prima facie case or sufficient case that would require his client to defend himself against the 26th money-laundering charge.
Teh said the prosecution would have to prove two ingredients of the 26th money-laundering charge, noting that Ahmad Zahid’s lawyers concede that Ahmad Zahid did give instructions for the property purchase as required under the first ingredient.
But as for the second ingredient of showing that the RM5.9 million are proceeds of unlawful activity, Teh argued that the prosecution has not proven this and that this ultimately meant that there is no prima facie case for this charge.
He argued that as there was allegedly “no evidence whatsoever” to prove the RM5.9 million came from illegal origins, the further issue of mens rea or knowledge that would be required to prove the charge does not arise at all.
Lawyer argues funds were legitimate
The RM5.9 million cheque issued by Lewis & Co for the two property lots’ purchase came from the uplifting or withdrawal of funds that were previously put into fixed deposits worth RM2 million and RM5 million respectively, with the fixed deposit funds originating from a RM5 million donation from textile wholesaler Junaith Asharab Md Shariff and RM2 million from businessman Mubarak Hussain Akhtar Husin.
He noted that Mubarak Hussain as the 62nd prosecution witness had told the court previously that his RM2 million donation was sourced from the profits of his business, and he had given the donation in a cheque to Lewis & Co as a “sincere donation” for Ahmad Zahid’s tahfiz or religious school.
Teh said Junaith Asharab as the 36th prosecution witness had previously told the court that he had instructed for 13 cheques — worth RM8 million — to be issued by the company Mastoro Kenny IT Consultant & Services as donations for the building of a mosque and a tahfiz school in Bagan Datuk.
Junaith Asharab had in the past testified to have gone together in 2016 with Ahmad Zahid’s younger brother Datuk Seri Mohamad Nasaee Ahmad Tarmizi to meet with Ahmad Zahid in the latter’s residence to hand over these 13 cheques as donations for such purposes.
Teh highlighted that Junaith Asharab had previously also testified in court that the donation had nothing to do with the company MYEG, and that Ahmad Zahid himself had never promised MYEG projects but that such promises were made by Nasaee instead and that Nasaee was always present when he met Ahmad Zahid.
“So again, we submit, My Lord, based on the evidence of both SP36 (Junaith Asharab) and SP62 (Mubarak Hussain), there’s no element of illegality,” he argued.
“These are contributions from donors, they said, yes, I give this money for charity, for mosque construction, construction of school. These monies were invested in the account of the trustee for safety. There is no element of illegality,” he argued.
Lawyer claims donation from one foundation to another
Zahid’s lawyers have been asserting that the law firm Lewis & Co acts as a trustee to charitable foundation Yayasan Akalbudi (where Zahid is a trustee).
Earlier, Teh also argued that the RM5.9 million purchase of the two property lots via a cheque from Lewis & Co represents a donation from Yayasan Akalbudi to Yayasan Al-Falah.
“It is our defence, the defence of the accused, that as far as these are concerned, it’s a donation from Yayasan Akalbudi to Yayasan Al-Falah. And we say that under Yayasan Akalbudi’s memorandum, that donation is permissible, nothing wrong in law,” he said.
Teh pointed out that Yayasan Al-Falah trustee Faisalludin Mohamat Yusuff had as the 66th prosecution witness told the court that both foundations share similar objectives and that he had agreed that Yayasan Akalbudi’s donation to Yayasan Al-Falah to buy the houses could be considered wakaf or endowment for religious purposes.
“So he agrees it is a donation from Yayasan Akalbudi to Yayasan Al-Falah and they share the similar objectives,” Teh said.
Faisalludin had previously testified that one of the houses is still under renovation while the other has been opened for religious activities with its own surau and space for religious lectures.
“It is our contention that these RM5.9 million are not proceeds from any unlawful activities,” Teh added.
Teh noted that Lewis & Co had taken out the RM5.9 million from the law firm’s trust account and that these were recorded in a file marked as “charity”, and argued the funds’ sources of donations from the two businessmen were not illegal.
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 charitable foundation Yayasan Akalbudi’s funds, 27 counts of money laundering, and eight counts of bribery charges.
Last week, Ahmad Zahid’s lawyers had argued to the court on why he should have “immunity” from being prosecuted for 46 of the 47 charges that he is facing, further arguing that the 12 criminal breach of trust charges against him cannot stand.
Ahmad Zahid’s lawyers had also last week argued that 25 of the 27 money laundering charges against him cannot stand, with Hisyam having concluded his arguments today on why the 26th money laundering charge should fall.
The trial before High Court judge Datuk Collin Lawrence Sequerah will resume tomorrow morning.
Hisyam is expected to present further arguments tomorrow on why Ahmad Zahid should not be prosecuted for the 27th money laundering charge, which involves Ahmad Zahid’s alleged instructions to moneychanger Omar Ali Abdullah to convert alleged illegal proceeds of RM6,885,270.20 or RM6.8 million from cash into 30 cheques that were then given to law firm Lewis & Co to be placed in fixed deposits.
The trial, where 99 prosecution witnesses had testified previously over 53 days, has now reached the end of the prosecution’s case.
Both the prosecution and Ahmad Zahid’s lawyers are to present their final arguments verbally before the court decides if the prosecution has made out a prima facie case for all 47 charges and whether Ahmad Zahid has to enter his defence. If the court finds that there is no prima facie case, Ahmad Zahid would be acquitted and released from the charges.
It is yet to be the prosecution’s turn to present its arguments verbally in court.