Foreign Visa System trial: Zahid only following then PM Najib’s orders in granting contract extension to contractors, court hears

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Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi is pictured at the Kuala Lumpur High Court October 18, 2021. — Picture by Hari Anggara
Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi is pictured at the Kuala Lumpur High Court October 18, 2021. — Picture by Hari Anggara

SHAH ALAM, Oct 22 — Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi was merely following orders from then prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak when the contract extension approval for the government’s Foreign Visa System (VLN) between 2016 and 2017 took place, the High Court heard today.

Defence lawyer Hamidi Mohd Noh made the assertion during cross-examination of former Home Ministry deputy secretary-general (Policy and Enforcement) Datuk Suriani Ahmad based on three letters minuted by Najib to Ahmad Zahid who at the time was also the deputy prime minister.

Hamidi had proposed to Suriani that a handwritten note penned by Najib to Ahmad Zahid on May 23, 2013 subsequent to a letter undersigned by Ultra Kirana Sdn Bhd’s (UKSB) was a specific instruction issued by the former to the latter.

This was after she had previously testified in court that she was merely following instructions after the Home Ministry went ahead with the contract extension despite not having sufficient time to evaluate UKSB.

In Najib’s handwritten note, Hamidi noted that the former had written “the project must proceed” to Ahmad Zahid, which also meant that Zahid, as deputy prime minister, was following instructions from his superior, Najib who was prime minister.

Hamidi then highlighted another one of Najib’s handwritten minutes to Ahmad Zahid dated January 20, 2014 on a letter sent by UKSB to Najib, urging the government to maintain UKSB as the sole Malaysia visa management operator in China in line with existing government policies at that time.

Najib had written: “YB Datuk Seri Zahid, please assist in this matter. The contract must be continued”.

Hamidi then referred to a third Najib handwritten note dated October 27, 2015, where the latter had minuted to Ahmad Zahid: “This company (UKSB) has been awarded the E-Visa contract. Please proceed with its implementation. E-Visa for China can be launched on January 1, 2016”.

After reading all three handwritten notes in court, Hamidi then asked Suriani whether the prime minister’s minuted notes to Ahmad Zahid can be construed as orders to be obeyed from the higher-up, to which she replied in the affirmative.

Later during re-examination, Suriani told the court that federal ministers are given the liberty to decide on whether to continue or discontinue any government contracts.

This was after she was asked by prosecutors on why she had disagreed with the defence that Ahmad Zahid was merely continuing the legacy of his predecessor Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein for the VLN in granting the contract extension approvals after taking over the ministerial portfolio.

She also disagreed that two out of three letters from UKSB minuted by Najib were related to matters concerning the contract extension of the VLN based on their heading and contents.

Later, deputy division secretary for Constitution and Parliament Affairs in the Prime Minister’s Department (PMD) Sheeba Kunhimon affirmed in court that Ahmad Zahid’s appointment as federal minister had been gazetted in a government gazette dated June 26, 2013.

The prosecution’s fifth witness, who is attached to the PMD’s Cabinet, Constitution and Government Relation Division, also affirmed that Zahid’s tenure as home minister officially began on May 16, 2013.

She also confirmed that Ahmad Zahid was appointed Malaysia’s deputy prime minister on July 29, 2015.

The hearing before High Court Judge Datuk Mohd Yazid Mustafa resumes on December 20.

In this VLN case, Ahmad Zahid pleaded not guilty to 33 charges of receiving bribes amounting to S$13.56 million (RM42 million) from UKSB as an inducement for himself in his capacity as a civil servant then as home minister to extend the contract of the company as the operator of OSC in China and the VLN.

He allegedly committed the offences at Seri Satria, Precinct 16, Putrajaya and in Country Heights, Kajang, between October 2014 and March 2018.

The Bagan Datuk MP also pleaded not guilty to 33 alternative charges under Section 165 of the Penal Code as home minister for receiving bribes amounting to S$13.56 million in relation to the VLN system between 2014 and 2017.

For another seven charges, Ahmad Zahid was charged as home minister for accepting S$1,150,000, RM3,000,000, €15,000 and US$15,000 in cash from the same company which he knew had a connection with his function as then home minister.

He was charged with committing the offences at a house in Country Heights, between June 2015 and October 2017, under Section 165 of the Penal Code which carries a maximum jail term of two years, or a fine, or both if found guilty.

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