KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 10 — The prosecution was today allowed to make minor amendments to 12 counts of criminal breach of trust charges involving some RM31 million and two counts of corruption charges involving alleged bribes totalling RM6 million in Umno president Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi’s ongoing criminal trial.
When the amended version of the charges were read out to Zahid in court today, he pleaded not guilty to each of the 14 amended charges.
In this trial, Zahid — who is a former deputy prime minister and former home minister — 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.
This afternoon, deputy public prosecutor Datuk Raja Rozela Raja Toran applied to amend all 12 criminal breach of trust charges and two of the bribery charges.
Back to the initial phrasing
For the criminal breach of trust charges, Zahid was accused of having such offences as Yayasan Akalbudi’s trustee by having allegedly used the charitable organisation’s funds for matters such as payment for several of his credit cards, payment for vehicle insurance and licensing, giving out a loan to a company, making payments to a company and a football association.
The criminal breach of trust charges were brought under Section 409 of the Penal Code, where it is an offence for anyone — as a public servant or an agent — to commit criminal breach of trust over property which they were entrusted with or entrusted with dominion over such property.
Raja Rozela said the proposed amendment was to replace the words “entrusted with property” belonging to Yayasan Akalbudi to the phrase “entrusted with dominion over property” in all 12 criminal breach of trust charges against Zahid, pointing out that this would actually be in line with the original wording of “entrusted with dominion over property” used when the charges were first read out to Zahid in the Sessions Court.
Raja Rozela explained that the missing words of “dominion over property” were inadvertently omitted when the prosecution reframed the charges after Zahid’s case was brought over to the High Court, noting: “The missing words were not noticed until recently when we were preparing to wrap up our case.”
Raja Rozela said that the evidence in the trial so far had shown that Yayasan Akalbudi’s property was indirectly entrusted to Zahid as a member of the Yayasan Akalbudi’s board of trustee, and that such indirect entrustment enabled him to exercise dominion or control over Yayasan Akalbudi’s property.
Raja Rozela said that the application to amend the charges were in line with the attorney-general’s powers under Article 145(3) of the Federal Constitution read together with Section 376(1) of the Criminal Procedure Code over the conduct of criminal trials.
Raja Rozela also noted that the High Court had the discretion under Section 158 of the Criminal Procedure Code to make amendments to charges before a decision is delivered in a trial, with such amendments to the charges to be read and explained to the accused.
Raja Rozela said that the prosecution’s application to amend the charges were within acceptable limits, further indicating that Zahid would not be disadvantaged by these amendments.
“The proposed amendments, we humbly submit, will not give rise to any new salient facts. And as such I humbly submit there is no real risk of prejudice against the accused in making these amendments,” she said, also noting that Zahid as the accused still has the right under Section 162 of the Criminal Procedure Code to recall any witnesses in the trial.
Under Section 162, both the prosecutor and accused are allowed to recall or resummon and examine any witness who had already testified and been examined in the trial, if a charge is altered by the court after the trial has started.
“My Lord, the public prosecutor acts in good faith in making these amendments, we are duty bound to ensure that the charges are properly spelt out in clear terms so as to provide or give sufficient notice to the accused,” she added.
Mild change to contract’s description
Deputy public prosecutor Gan Peng Kun meanwhile proposed a “minor amendment” to two of the bribery charges, which he said would not prejudice Zahid.
The proposed amendment was to remove the word “Penambahan” in describing a project or contract that was given via direct negotiation by the Home Ministry to Datasonic Technologies Sdn Bhd, with Zahid accused in the two bribery charges of having received in April 2017 two bribes via two cheques of RM1 million and RM5 million from a Datasonic Group Berhad director as a reward for the direct award of the contract.
The contract was for the government’s procurement of the supply of 12.5 million passport chips or passport chips for five years, with the proposed amendment to remove the word “additional” before the word “supply”.
Zahid’s lead defence lawyer Hisyam Teh Poh Teik indicated disagreement with the prosecution’s request to make changes to the 12 criminal breach of trust charges and two corruption charges, saying: “We cannot consent to the application made by the prosecution.”
Hisyam noted that the application to amend the charges were made “rather late in the day” or in the prosecution’s case, but recognised the right of the prosecution to amend the charges.
“At the same time we would like to inform the court we would like to reserve our rights under Section 162 of the Criminal Procedure Code,” he said, referring to the accused’s right to recall witnesses.
After hearing arguments from both sides, High Court judge Collin Lawrence Sequerah then noted that the court is empowered under Section 158 of the Criminal Procedure Code to make such changes to the charges.
“The amendments are therefore allowed, subject of course to the defence’s right under Section 162 to recall witnesses because evidence has already been led,” he said.
Hisyam then said the defence would need time to discuss with Zahid and among the legal team on whether to recall any of the prosecution witnesses, saying that Zahid’s team was “taken by surprise” as they were only informed this morning of the prosecution’s plan to amend the charges.
After the amended charges were read out to Zahid and he claimed trial to each of them, the High Court then said that the trial would resume tomorrow.
Today is the 32nd day of Zahid’s trial, with the 85th prosecution witness V. Sothilechmy having completed her testimony this morning.
Related Articles In court, lawyer says his law firm never acted as Zahid-linked Yayasan Akalbudi’s trustee Zahid’s trial: Despite helping place RM66.6m in fixed deposits, law firm’s accountant says never dealt with Yayasan Al-Falah’s trustees Iranian escapes gallows, gets 20 years’ jail for possession of drugs