KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 4 — The attorney general’s (AG) decision to stop the Yayasan Akalbudi trial against Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi is merely an ordinary exercise of his powers to discontinue court cases, Zahid’s lawyers said today.
In trying to pre-empt any potential “manipulation” of the AG’s move to discontinue all 47 charges against Zahid as an issue, Zahid’s lawyer Datuk Ahmad Zaidi Zainal sought to defend the prosecution’s move.
“Following the attorney general’s decision today, we believe that the attorney general’s decision here may possibly be manipulated by certain quarters, however, we wish to stress that the attorney general is only exercising his existing discretion as provided for under Article 145(3) of the Federal Constitution,” Zaidi said when reading out a joint statement by him and Zahid’s lead defence lawyer Datuk Hisyam Teh Poh Teik, Hamidi Mohd Noh and Aiman Abd Rahman.
A check of Article 145(3) shows that the attorney general has the powers “exercisable at his discretion” to initiate, conduct or discontinue any court proceedings for any offences, except for proceedings before a Shariah court, a native court or a court martial.
Reading out Zahid’s defence team’s six-page press statement to a large number of media personnel at the Kuala Lumpur court complex, Zaidi also sought to defend both the AG’s decision to discontinue the trial as well as Zahid’s repeated attempts through representation letters to ask the AG to drop all 47 charges.
“This is not the first time for any attorney general to use the existing discretion as provided for under the laws to take action to withdraw charges from being prosecuted in court.
“In other words, the exercise of discretion under Article 145(3), Federal Constitution actually is an ordinary matter when the attorney general can accept the reasons given by the accused through the representations given.
“Furthermore, this process of representation is also not a new matter, as it has already become a practice before this, regardless of whether at the various stages of trial at the Magistrate’s Court until the Federal Court, including for cases involving the mandatory death penalty,” Zaidi said, when referring to the practice by accused persons who may typically write to the attorney general through representations for various types of cases and for cases at various levels of courts.
Accused persons can typically send in representation letters to the attorney general for purposes such as to seek the dropping of charges or to ask for alternative charges with lower penalties.
Throughout Zahid’s lawyers’ statement, they did not mention the name of the attorney general who decided to temporarily discontinue Zahid’s Yayasan Akalbudi’s trial at this stage.
Previously on August 24, Zahid’s lawyers had also in a joint statement urged the attorney general to speed up his decision on Zahid’s application to have all 47 charges reviewed.
Tan Sri Idrus Harun’s contract as AG ends tomorrow, with Solicitor-General Datuk Ahmad Terrirudin Mohd Salleh to succeed him as AG this Wednesday.
The High Court was initially scheduled to continue hearing Zahid’s trial today, but the prosecution informed the court that it wished to discontinue the trial against Zahid in line with the AG’s powers under Article 145 of the Federal Constitution and Section 254 of the Criminal Procedure Code.
The prosecution applied for a DNAA based on at least 11 reasons including to enable more comprehensive and complete investigations to be carried out on Zahid’s case, while Zahid’s lead defence lawyer Datuk Hisyam Teh Poh Teik had argued that Zahid should be fully acquitted without the possibility of being charged with the same charges hanging over his head.
Judge Datuk Collin Lawrence Sequerah then decided to grant a discharge not amounting to an acquittal (DNAA) for Zahid’s case, which means Zahid has been released of the 47 charges for now but could still be prosecuted with the same charges again in the future.
In the same joint statement today by Zahid's lawyers, Zaidi also sought to prevent negative perception by the public towards the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) and the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) by reiterating Zahid's claim during the Yayasan Akalbudi trial that this is a case of alleged "political prosecution".
Zaidi repeated Zahid's testimony in court that he had allegedly met with then prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad in June 2018 where he was allegedly asked to dissolve Umno or face the consequences, and said Zahid refused to comply and was called in on July 2, 2018 by the MACC to be probed and was charged on October 19, 2018.
The entrance of the MACC headquarters in Putrajaya is pictured on November 19, 2018. — Picture by Hari Anggara
In reading out the joint statement, Zaidi said Zahid has sent eight representation letters to the AGC, with the latest letter on January 25 this year seeking for the AGC to review the charges with the purpose of withdrawing all charges for allegedly being baseless.
According to Zaidi, the MACC had written a letter to the AGC regarding Zahid's case but had also on February 20 given a copy of this letter to Zahid's lawyers.
Among other things, Zaidi claimed that the MACC's letter to the AGC had spoken of the need for further investigations to be carried out for the prosecution's case to be stronger and that the MACC had started obtaining new evidence, and also of the need for a more comprehensive investigation to avoid being accused of selective prosecution.
Reading from Zahid's lawyers' joint statement, Zaidi also claimed that the MACC letter — which Zahid's legal team received — had assured the attorney-general that the further investigations would be carried out comprehensively without fear and favour and that no stones would be left unturned.
Zahid's lawyers also claimed that their client had maintained a consistent defence at both the prosecution and defence stages of the Yayasan Akalbudi trial, and highlighted several points including his disagreement with the prosecution's opening statement that not a single sen of Yayasan Akalbudi's funds were used for welfare and that his lawyers had shown proof that Yayasan Akalbudi had allegedly spent millions of ringgit on charitable projects including building mosques.
Zahid's lawyers said that the majority of Yayasan Akalbudi cheques used to pay credit card bills, in this case, were not personally signed by Zahid and that his former executive secretary had placed a stamp of his signature on those cheques, claiming this was confirmed through prosecution witnesses and an expert from the Department of Chemistry Malaysia.
(During the trial, Zahid and his lawyers have previously faulted the executive secretary for using Yayasan Akalbudi cheques for his personal credit card bills, but the prosecution had previously argued that those payments were done with Zahid's consent and knowledge and that he was attempting to make his secretary the "scapegoat".)
In their joint statement today, Zahid's lawyers also said the prosecution witnesses regarding the eight bribery charges had denied giving bribes to Zahid, and said a key witness for the 27 money laundering charges had confirmed that the Yayasan Akalbudi funds that went into his law firm Lewis & Co's account was not suspicious and did not break the law in relation to money being handled on Yayasan Akalbudi's behalf.
Zahid, who is also Umno president and Barisan Nasional chairman, was facing 47 charges in this case, namely, 12 counts of criminal breach of trust in relation to over RM31 million of his charitable organisation Yayasan Akalbudi’s funds, 27 counts of money laundering, and eight counts of bribery charges of over RM21.25 million in alleged bribes.
The 12 counts of criminal breach of trust were in relation to the alleged misappropriation of Yayasan Akalbudi funds, namely RM1.3 million via 43 cheques for Zahid's and his wife’s credit card bills; RM107,509.55 via three cheques for vehicle insurance and road tax for 20 privately-owned vehicles; a RM1.3 million cheque to the police’s football association; a RM10 million cheque for a loan to Armada Holdings Sdn Bhd; RM360,000 via two cheques to political consultancy firm TS Consultancy & Resources; and over RM17.9 million of funds transferred from Yayasan Akalbudi to law firm Lewis & Co.
Yayasan Akalbudi was founded with the purported objectives of receiving and administering funds for the eradication of poverty and enhancing the welfare of the poor.