Trial: Zahid likes donating, but won’t toot own horn, school principal says

Malay Mail
Malay Mail

KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 22 — Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi likes to donate to religious causes, but does not like to have his deeds publicised, a school principal told the High Court today.

Azharizan Yaacob, 47, said this while testifying as the 12th defence witness in Zahid’s favour in the latter’s trial involving charges of alleged dishonest misappropriation of charitable foundation Yayasan Akalbudi’s funds.

Azharizan, who was previously principal of Sekolah Menengah Imtiaz Ulul Al-bab in Melaka from 2012 to 2020, claimed he was told by Zahid that the latter had fully funded the construction of the school.

For the secondary school, which has 350 students, Azharizan said Zahid had also sponsored and borne the fully air-conditioned school’s operational costs, saying that Zahid had allocated almost RM30 million for this since the school started running in 2012 and until the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) froze Zahid’s Yayasan Akalbudi’s funds in 2018.

“Almost every month, Datuk Seri Zahid will issue a cheque from Yayasan Akalbudi to Sekolah Menengah Imtiaz Ulul Al-bab with payments in the range of RM170,000 to RM200,000,” he told the High Court, later adding that he personally receives these Yayasan Akalbudi cheques but that he does not know the source of these funds.

“Datuk Seri Zahid’s purpose of helping to sponsor that school’s operation costs is because I know Datuk Seri Zahid is someone who really likes to donate to ‘jalan agama’ (religious causes) particularly mosques, suraus and education.

“However, for the entire time that I have known Datuk Seri Zahid, he really dislikes his name being mentioned and for it to be announced that the donation is from him. He had previously said to me, his principle is that ‘when the right hand gives, let the left hand not know’,” he said.

In Sekolah Menengah Imtiaz Ulul Al-bab, students have to go through the mandatory dual stream system of memorising the Al-Quran and the Education Ministry’s pure science stream namely the subjects of Physics, Chemistry, Biology and Additional Mathematics.

Azharizan said Zahid’s intentions in setting up the school was to churn out those who are not only skilled in terms of religion but also are professionals, saying that there were students who went to the US for studies, as well as those who went to Russia and Jordan for medical studies and those who went to Saudi Arabia and Egypt for religious studies.

Azharizan said the monthly costs per student is RM1,500 for the pure science stream subjects and for full boarding.

Azharizan said the Melaka school is a private school which has to cover its own operational costs and also rely on student fees, and that Zahid’s previous monthly donations was used to cover expenses such as the school bills, educators’ salaries, and food for students.

Initially, the school fee in 2012 was RM100 per person, but this was increased in 2015 to RM300 per month for each student after the school was fully built, and then to RM500 per month in 2017, and RM700 per month starting from July 2018.

Azharizan said the 2018 fee increase was due to Zahid no longer being able to support the school’s operation costs, and that the school had together with the parents agreed to raise the school fees.

Azharizan said the MACC had in June 2018 taken away original copies of school files such as cheques, receipts and letters and said he understood that this was because the MACC wanted to investigate Zahid in relation to Yayasan Akalbudi and related donations.

Azharizan said the MACC had also called him four times to provide his testimony for the investigation in 2018.

Zahid’s lawyer Aiman Abdul Rahman asked Azharizan to explain why the freezing of Yayasan Akalbudi’s account after Zahid was charged in this trial resulted in the latter’s monthly donations being halted and why it resulted in the school lacking funds to continue operating, and why the Melaka state government had to take over the school.

Azharizan said Yayasan Akalbudi’s account was frozen after the 2018 general elections, and that Zahid had told him he could no longer fund the school’s operation costs.

Azharizan said the school lost its source of funds as Zahid was the one fully bearing its costs, and that the school took various measures to continue operating including increasing the school fees, cutting teachers’ salaries, reducing meals for students from six times per day to three times per day, and only using fans instead of the air conditioners installed throughout the entire school (except for the dorms and toilets). Azharizan said he had also borrowed money from his friends in order to keep the school running and that the school actually cost around RM350,000 per month to operate, and that the school had to propose that it be handed over to the Melaka state government and that this was agreed to by Zahid since he could no longer help with its operations.

In 2020, the Melaka state government took over the administration of the school.

Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Zahid Hamidi at the Kuala Lumpur High Court August 22, 2023. — Picture by Miera Zulyana
Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Zahid Hamidi at the Kuala Lumpur High Court August 22, 2023. — Picture by Miera Zulyana

Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Zahid Hamidi at the Kuala Lumpur High Court August 22, 2023. — Picture by Miera Zulyana

Azharizan, who is now principal of Maahad Tahfiz Al Quran Hamidiyah in Bagan Datuk, Perak, also listed several charitable donations which he said Zahid had made.

Azharizan said Zahid’s donations included an almost RM12 million donation for the construction of Masjid Salmah Khamis in Melaka and said he knew this as both he and Zahid were the signatories of cheques for this mosque; and donations to build Surau Hidayat in Masjid Tanah and to build a hall at Sekolah Kebangsaan Kem Terendak in Alor Gajah and said he had brought villagers to receive cheques from Zahid for the latter two donations.

Azharizan said Zahid’s donations also included sending three teachers from Sekolah Menengah Imtiaz Ulul Al-Bab every year for umrah at a cost of RM7,000 per person since 2014 as a gift for excellence, and spending RM130,000 to sponsor students for six semesters for A-level courses at Help University in preparation for further studies in the United Kingdom.

Azharizan said Zahid had also sponsored 12 teachers from Sekolah Menengah Imtiaz Ulul Al-Bab to study at Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM), adding that he was one of these 12 teachers.

Azharizan said, however, that he did not complete his sponsored studies for a master’s degree for education management at UPM.

Zahid’s trial before judge Datuk Collin Lawrence Sequerah resumes on Thursday.

Zahid, who is also Umno president and Barisan Nasional chairman, is facing 47 charges in this trial.

The 47 charges are namely, 12 counts of criminal breach of trust in relation to over RM31 million of 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 is in relation to the alleged misappropriation of Yayasan Akalbudi funds, namely RM1.3 million via 43 cheques for his 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.