KUALA LUMPUR, July 6 — Umno president Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi insisted in court today that his charity foundation used RM8.6 million in 2016 to buy shares in an hotel operator in Bali, Indonesia as an “investment”, and denied his daughter had a personal interest in the matter.
Testifying in his own defence in his corruption and money laundering trial, Ahmad Zahid confirmed that funds in law firm Lewis & Co’s client account — purportedly held on trust for the Yayasan Akalbudi charity — had been used in 2016 to buy shares in hotel operator Ri-Yaz Assets Sdn Bhd.
Asked by deputy public prosecutor Harris Ong Mohd Jeffery Ong if his daughter Datuk Nurulhidayah Ahmad Zahid also had an interest in this alleged investment, Ahmad Zahid disagreed.
“I stated that it is for the purposes of investment and my daughter does not have personal interest, does not own shares, except that it was agreed by that company for her to monitor the carrying out of that investment on behalf of Yayasan Akalbudi,” the former deputy prime minister claimed.
But Ahmad Zahid confirmed that there was “no written agreement” that stated Nurulhidayah’s role, and instead said it was a verbal agreement by Ri-Yaz’s main shareholder, Tan Sri Rashid Abdul Manaf, and main officials of the company.
Ahmad Zahid then went on to say that there is no need for appointment letters for company directors to be appointed, and that forms filed by company secretaries to the Companies Commission of Malaysia were sufficient for the appointment of individuals as non-executive directors or other positions allowed by a company’s constitution and according to the Companies Act.
Asked if he was aware that Ri-Yaz had financial problems due to its outstanding debt to the Exim Bank then, Ahmad Zahid said the company’s loan could be one of the reasons why it was looking for new investors, but suggested that the company was also seeking to expand.
When it was suggested that he had took on the risk in carrying out an investment by buying shares in the company, Ahmad Zahid said: “In investments, there would certainly be risks, but in business, what is said is that risks must also be taken into account, but there is always the other side of the coin, when problems are faced, at the same time, we have to look into opportunities.”
When pointed out that he had said the funds in Lewis & Co’s client account were from public donations from both Muslims and non-Muslims for charity, Ahmad Zahid then stressed that the objectives in Yayasan Akalbudi’s company constitution allows the foundation to carry out investments for the purpose of “generating extra income” for charity and welfare works related to religion.
Harris then noted that buying shares in the hotel operator is not related to mosques which was alleged to be the purposes of millions in ringgit of donations to Yayasan Akalbudi, but Ahmad Zahid continued to maintain that the foundation has to at the same time make efforts to carry out investments in order to generate profits to be able to continue carrying out charity works.
Ahmad Zahid disagreed with Harris’s suggestion that the RM8.6 million shares purchase in the hotel company was for his own interest, also denying that a separate RM5.9 million purchase of two houses in Country Heights — described as “bungalows” allegedly converted for religious use for Islamic studies — using Yayasan Akalbudi’s funds were for his own interests instead of for charity.
Ahmad Zahid confirmed that he had only given verbal instructions to Lewis & Co to make the RM8.6 million payment for the share purchase, he also said he had verbally told the law firm that it is meant as an “investment”.
Harris: Agree with me that no instructions were given in writing, and that this was purely to protect your interest in this case.
Ahmad Zahid: Not true.
Harris: Similarly for the instructions to buy the two bungalow lots, no instructions were given in writing, it is to protect your interests?
Ahmad Zahid: Never, because it is not for my personal use.
In this trial, Ahmad Zahid is facing 47 charges, namely 12 counts of criminal breach of trust in relation to RM31 million of Yayasan Akalbudi’s funds, 27 counts of money-laundering, and eight counts of bribery charges.
One of the 12 criminal breach of trust charges involves Ahmad Zahid allegedly having transferred Yayasan Akalbudi’s RM17.9 million to Lewis & Co.
Before Lewis & Co had placed the RM17.9 million received from Yayasan Akalbudi into fixed deposits, almost half of the funds or around RM8.6 million were initially used for the purchase of shares in the hotel company, before it was returned to the law firm after the deal fell through and then only placed into fixed deposits.
The prosecution had previously suggested that the actual purpose for the RM17.9 million transfer to Lewis & Co was to facilitate the share purchase deal, having highlighted that the RM17.9 million transfer was on June 28, 2016, while the law firm had issued the RM8.6 million cheque to the hotel company on June 30, 2016.
The prosecution had also questioned how the RM8.6 million share purchase deal in the hotel firm would fit in with Yayasan Akalbudi’s stated aim of eradicating poverty and enhancing the welfare of the poor.
Ahmad Zahid’s lawyer Hisyam Teh Poh Teik had previously argued that the RM8.6 million hotel share purchase deal was not related to the criminal breach of trust charge involving the RM17.9 million sum, as the charge did not mention the deal.
Ahmad Zahid’s trial before High Court judge Datuk Collin Lawrence Sequerah continues tomorrow.