Zahid claims never wrote instructions for charity’s funds as he fully trusted lawyer he’s known for 30 years

·7-min read
Malay Mail
Malay Mail

KUALA LUMPUR, May 26 — Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi today insisted he had verbally entrusted Yayasan Akalbudi’s funds to the law firm Lewis & Co, but did not formalise this as he fully trusted the firm’s partner Muralidharan Balan Pillai whom he has known for three decades.

The former deputy prime minister also said he decided to lodge a police report after being shocked at the lawyer’s court testimony that the law firm was holding the money on trust for Yayasan Al-Falah, another charity foundation where Ahmad Zahid’s younger brother Datuk Seri Mohamad Nasaee Ahmad Tarmizi is a trustee and the chairman.

Testifying in his own defence during his trial for alleged money laundering via Lewis & Co’s client account, Ahmad Zahid said he had around April 2016 to May 2016 appointed the law firm as trustee for Yayasan Akalbudi’s funds.

Ahmad Zahid said the appointment of the law firm as Yayasan Akalbudi’s trustee was done during a meeting at his house in Country Heights, Kajang, where he had invited Muralidharan.

“I did not make the appointment of Lewis & Co as Yayasan Akalbudi’s trustee in writing, as I have known Muralidharan for 30 years where I fully trusted Muralidharan,” he told the High Court today.

Ahmad Zahid said Muralidharan came to the meeting with fellow Lewis & Co lawyer Premshangar Venugopal and a friend known as Datuk Sashi Menon, adding that the word “Yayasan Al-Falah” was not mentioned at all during the meeting to appoint Lewis & Co as Yayasan Akalbudi’s trustee.

He also said none of Yayasan Al-Falah’s trustees — including Ahmad Zahid’s younger brother Mohamad Nasaee and lawyer Faisalludin Mohamat Yusuff —- were present in this 2016 meeting.

Among other things, Ahmad Zahid also said he had taken Sashi’s advice as a former senior lawyer to place Yayasan Akalbudi’s funds in Lewis & Co’s client account to resolve the problem of inefficient and careless management of the funds, pointing out he had decided to heed the advice in order to “save” the Yayasan Akalbudi funds which came from donations in the law firm as he “coincidentally” knew its partner Muralidharan for more than 30 years.

In the meeting, Ahmad Zahid said he had explained to Muralidharan that he wanted to have the law firm manage Yayasan Akalbudi’s funds — which could reach millions of ringgit from donations from himself, companies and individuals for charity, as his then executive secretary Major Mazlina Mazlan @ Ramly was allegedly unskilled in handling the foundation’s accounting matters and had made mistakes in issuing cheques.

Claiming that Muralidharan had agreed to have Lewis & Co be the trustee for Yayasan Akalbudi funds and having allegedly informed that he would manage such funds by placing it in a client’s account, Ahmad Zahid said that he had understood this to mean that the law firm is the trustee for Yayasan Akalbudi’s funds.

Ahmad Zahid said he was “shocked” when Muralidharan had testified in this trial in August 2020 that the law firm Lewis & Co had opened a client’s account to keep money received on behalf of its client Yayasan Al-Falah.

Insisting that what Muralidharan said was untrue, Ahmad Zahid insisted that the funds held by Lewis & Co were not owned by Yayasan Al-Falah: “I believe Muralidharan had made a serious mistake about this.”

After hearing Muralidharan’s insistence in court that Lewis & Co is a trustee for Yayasan Al-Falah, Ahmad Zahid said he had consulted his lawyers and decided to lodge a police report on December 31, 2020 on his lawyers’ advice.

Ahmad Zahid’s lawyer Datuk Ahmad Zaidi Zainal then asked why he had only lodged this police report in December 2020 — over Mazlina’s alleged unauthorised use of a stamp of his signature on Yayasan Akalbudi’s cheques and over Muralidharan’s testimony in court — which was after Ahmad Zahid was charged in court, instead of earlier.

Saying he was very shocked with these two matters after witnesses testified in this trial, Ahmad Zahid said he had filed the police report as evidence of misconceptions and to right the perceptions made and to stress the “truth”.

Muralidharan had previously testified to personally receiving 92 cheques made payable to Lewis & Co worth more than RM76 million from Ahmad Zahid including at Hari Raya or birthday events, insisting that these funds were held on trust by the law firm for its client Yayasan Al-Falah on Ahmad Zahid’s instructions and that the law firm was never a trustee for Yayasan Akalbudi.

Previously, Lewis & Co’s accountant V. Sothilechmy had confirmed in court that Yayasan Akalbudi is not a client of the law firm, while the law firm’s partner Premshangar had also told the court the law firm had never acted as a trustee for Yayasan Akalbudi and did not have a file for this organisation. But Ahmad Zahid today denied having ever instructed the duo on Yayasan Akalbudi’s funds placed with the law firm.

Ahmad Zahid also highlighted Yayasan Al-Falah’s trustee Faisalludin as having previously confirmed in court that the funds in Lewis & Co’s client’s account are not Yayasan Al-Falah’s.

In this trial, Ahmad Zahid is facing 27 money-laundering charges relating to funds that were allegedly proceeds from unlawful activities, including 25 charges involving his alleged instructions to law firm Lewis & Co on 25 separate occasions to put over RM53 million into fixed deposit accounts.

The 26th charge is over Ahmad Zahid’s alleged instructions to buy two bungalows worth RM5.9 million via a cheque from Lewis & Co involving unlawful funds, while the 27th charge involves his alleged instructions to moneychanger Omar Ali Abdullah to convert over RM7.5 million of illegal funds into 35 cheques that were then given to the same law firm to be placed in fixed deposits.

Ahmad Zahid today argued that the 25 money laundering charges involving his alleged instructions to the law firm to place funds in 25 fixed deposit accounts were “not true”, claiming that this was because Muralidharan had told him that he would manage Yayasan Akalbudi’s funds.

“He had also told me that he will use Yayasan Akalbudi funds to open fixed deposit accounts so that Yayasan Akalbudi could generate income through interest obtained from the fixed deposit,” he said.

Ahmad Zahid added that Muralidharan had also told him that lawyers are obligated under the law to put clients’ funds in fixed deposits to generate interest and that he would make payments from the client’s account when he receives instructions from Ahmad Zahid to make payments.

Ahmad Zahid today also insisted that none of the cheques that he said were given to Yayasan Akalbudi to be banked into Lewis & Co’s client account were from illegal funds, arguing that all of the “donors” who testified in court had said the donations were for charity and that no prosecution witnesses had testified these to be proceeds from illegal activities.

Ahmad Zahid also said Muralidharan had testified that all such funds were for charity and that there were no illegal elements. Muralidharan previously also confirmed to have not received any supporting documents about the cheques handed over by Ahmad Zahid being donations, but said he had been told by the latter that the funds were for charitable and religious purposes.

Apart from the 27 counts of money laundering, Ahmad Zahid who is Umno president is also facing 12 counts of criminal breach of trust in relation to over RM31 million of Yayasan Akalbudi’s funds, and eight counts of corruption for having allegedly received RM21.25 million in bribes.

Ahmad Zahid’s trial in the High Court in Kuala Lumpur — involving the 47 charges — before High Court judge Datuk Collin Lawrence Sequerah is scheduled to resume on June 27.

Ahmad Zahid has a separate trial involving 40 counts of corruption which is being heard in the High Court in Shah Alam before judge Datuk Mohd Yazid Mustafa, with this trial set to resume next Monday.

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