KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 28 — Umno president Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi’s money laundering and bribery trial will not proceed today or for the rest of the week as he is under mandatory quarantine pending further testing for Covid-19.
This is the second time that Zahid’s trial has been disrupted pending results of his Covid-19 tests following the Umno leader’s visit to Sabah for the state election campaign there.
Defence lawyer Hamid Mohd Noh explained that his client was absent in court this morning despite the scheduled resumption of the trial as Zahid was ordered into mandatory quarantine upon his return from Sabah on September 26.
“The accused is not able to be present because he is under a HSO (Home Surveillance Order) served on September 26, 2020 at his residence by the Pejabat Kesihatan Daerah Hulu Langat,” he told the High Court, while presenting a copy of the Health Ministry-issued order to the judge.
“If Yang Arif can see, according to this notice, he is quarantined to stay at home for a period of September 26 until September 28, that is today. So he is still under quarantine today,” he said.
Hamidi said that Zahid tested negative yesterday via a rapid test kit during a surprise visit by Health Ministry officers to his house yesterday, adding that further tests would be done today.
“Today he will be undergoing a mandatory KKM test at his residence — a RT-PCR (Reverse Transcription Polymerase Chain Reaction) test — to determine whether he is negative or positive. I was made to understand the test can only be carried out at the end of the day,” he said, adding that he believed it would take around 24 hours for such a test result to be available as compared to a shorter period if the test was done by a private hospital.
Hamidi then requested for the previously scheduled trial dates of tomorrow and Wednesday to be taken off, due to several reasons including the RT-PCR test result for Covid-19 being expected to only be available tomorrow.
“Coming to trial tomorrow would result in the court again having another exposure like last time. In order for the client to be truly free of Covid-19, 14 days of monitoring is required,” he said, reading from the home surveillance order that Zahid would be required to undergo monitoring for 14 days from September 26 with daily temperature checks.
Hamidi also noted the need to avoid unnecessarily exposing the court staff, the prosecution team, and other attendees to possible Covid-19 infection.
“Third, I was also made to understand there might be another exposure — I’m not saying there is — on September 19 by the accused to a second positive case in Sabah.
“The candidate from Pitas by the name of Sufian has been discovered positive Covid-19 on Friday itself. There are pictures of the client being taken with him... So now there is now a second possible exposure,” he said, before saying again it would be best to vacate the trial for this week to avoid others in the courtroom from having possible exposure to the risk of Covid-19 infections.
Deputy public prosecutor Datuk Raja Rozela Raja Toran then said the prosecution was already prepared for trial this week, but had no choice but to accept Zahid’s lawyers’ request to postpone the trial.
“I leave it to Your Lordship, we are prepared to proceed for today and for the next two days, but if the accused person is not able to come tomorrow. Seeing his quarantine period is only until today, but if he is put in that position where if he comes in, he might risk everyone here. I think there’s not much choice,” she said.
High Court judge Collin Lawrence Sequerah then granted Zahid’s lawyers’ request for the trial to not go on this week.
“I think we better err on the side of caution, this is a health issue. So I vacate the dates and we resume on October 12,” he said.
Zahid’s trial dates were previously scheduled to run from September 28 (today) until September 30 (Wednesday), as well as from October 12 to 14 and October 26 to 28; trial dates were also fixed from November until next March.
In this trial, Zahid ― who is also 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.
Last week, the afternoon session of Zahid’s Monday trial as well as the pre-scheduled trial date on Tuesday had to be called off, due to the need to wait for the results of his Covid-19 test. Zahid was campaigning in Sabah in the days prior to his Monday trial.
Zahid had last Monday noon taken two Covid-19 tests at a private hospital with the first test via the antigen rapid test kit returning negative results within hours, while the results of his second test via the RT-PCR test would have only been available on Tuesday evening, one of his lawyers had told the court then.
On Wednesday, Zahid’s lead defence lawyer Hisyam Teh Poh Teik confirmed that his client’s RT-PCR test results had returned negative.
Links to the three Umno men who tested positive
Today, when asked by reporters, Hamidi said that Zahid went for Covid-19 tests last week due to Umno supreme council member Datuk Mohd Razlan Muhammad Rafii having tested positive for Covid-19 while campaigining in Sipitang, Sabah for the state elections. News of Razlan testing positive and waiting further test results via a RT-PCR test had surfaced on about the same day that Zahid had went for his tests last week.
Hamidi told reporters that Zahid’s current quarantine is due to him having met Umno information chief Shahril Hamdan on around September 15 or 16. Shahril announced on September 23 that he tested positive for Covid-19 while also campaigning in Sabah. Shahril’s Twitter posts indicate that he had been present in Sipitang.
Barisan Nasional’s Pitas candidate Sufian Abd Karim had in a September 20 Facebook post mentioned an election campaign activity together with Zahid, and had on September 24 said he was undergoing home quarantine while awaiting Covid-19 test results and had also indicated that Shahril had visited Pitas.
On September 26, Sufian said the test results which he had just received showed that he had tested positive for Covid-19.
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