KUALA LUMPUR, June 27 — Former home minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi today said he had sought the services of moneychanger Omar Ali Abdullah to help bank in cash donations allegedly from tycoon Tan Sri Syed Mokhtar Albukhary’s charity Yayasan Albukhary into a bank account purportedly held on trust for Ahmad Zahid’s charity Yayasan Akalbudi.
Ahmad Zahid said this was because it was “complicated” for the law firm Lewis & Co — which he insisted was a trustee managing the client account for Yayasan Akalbudi’s funds — to bank in the large sums of cash to the client account.
Ahmad Zahid was testifying in his own defence against one of the 27 money-laundering charges which he is facing in court, where he was accused of having being directly involved in transactions involving funds from illegal activities during March to July 2016, by ordering Omar Ali to convert RM7,511,250.20 or over RM7.5 million in cash into 35 cheques that were given to the law firm Lewis & Co to buy fixed deposits in Maybank.
Disagreeing that the RM7.5 million were illegal funds, Ahmad Zahid insisted that the cash handled by Omar Ali are donations from Yayasan Albukhary.
Insisting that Yayasan Albukhary’s Syed Mokhtar “had given donations to Yayasan Akalbudi”, Ahmad Zahid claimed that “it is a normal thing for a foundation to give donations to another foundation”.
He cited this based on experience, and also noted how Yayasan Akalbudi — a charity meant to help the poor and where Ahmad Zahid is a trustee and later its sole signatory on cheques — had also donated to his family’s foundation Yayasan Al-Falah — where his younger brother Datuk Seri Mohamad Nasaee Ahmad Tarmizi is a trustee and chairman.
Ahmad Zahid had testified today of how Yayasan Akalbudi had allegedly donated two bungalows in Country Heights in Selangor to Yayasan Al-Falah to be used for those studying the Muslims’ holy book, the al-Quran.
Ahmad Zahid did not specify today how much Yayasan Albukhary was said to have donated to Yayasan Akalbudi.
Ahmad Zahid noted that he had previously told the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) investigators who recorded his statement in the MACC’s Putrajaya headquarters in October 2018 — before he was charged in this trial — that Syed Mokhtar had “donated to me”.
He said the prosecution had not called in any witnesses from Yayasan Albukhary to dispute or deny his claim that Yayasan Albukhary had made cash donations to Yayasan Akalbudi.
Omar Ali Abdullah is pictured at the Kuala Lumpur High Court June 18, 2020. — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon
Ahmad Zahid claimed to have been told that Yayasan Albukhary would be making the donations in cash, and that he had then met with Omar Ali as the latter is a moneychanger and had informed the latter that the cash that were received are donations from Yayasan Albukhary.
“I then asked for Omar Ali’s help to deposit the cash into Lewis & Co’s client’s account because it was quite complicated for Lewis & Co to deposit that cash in the bank,” he said, without elaborating why it would be “complicated” for the law firm.
“Because Omar Ali is a moneychanger and always handles cash, I asked Omar Ali whether he could help me to collect the donation money and then deposit the money into Lewis & Co’s client’s account.
“Then, Omar Ali told me that he could help but it is quite complicated for him to deposit that cash as the maximum cash that can be deposited is only RM50,000. Therefore, Omar Ali was of the view that he would convert the cash into cheques through his customers who needed cash,” he said.
“I state that I never ordered Omar Ali to convert the cash donations into cheques,” he said, adding that Omar Ali had previously testified in court that it was his own initiative to carry out the conversions from cash to cheques.
Ahmad Zahid insisted that he had nothing to do with the cash being converted into cheques.
“Therefore, I wish to stress again that the donation money from Yayasan Albukhary is not proceeds from unlawful activities,” he claimed.
Omar Ali, who was the 81th prosecution witness in this trial, had previously testified that multiple unknown individuals that Ahmad Zahid had told him were from Yayasan Albukhary had handed him cash at a shopping mall and hotel lobbies, with the first involving a piece of luggage which he recalled had cash possibly in the range of RM1.5 million.
Omar Ali had subsequently converted the cash amounting to RM7.5 million — which were said to be meant as donations for Yayasan Akalbudi — into cheques that were made out to the law firm Lewis & Co.
High Court judge Datuk Collin Lawrence Sequerah had also last September asked Ahmad Zahid’s lawyers for clarification on why donations from Yayasan Albukhary to Yayasan Akalbudi was in cash instead of via a cheque which would be easier, while Ahmad Zahid’s lawyers said this was unknown as the investigators did not probe this and argued that this meant it cannot be proven that the funds are from illegal activities.
In this trial, Ahmad Zahid — who is a former deputy prime minister and currently the Umno president — 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.
Ahmad Zahid’s trial resumes tomorrow morning.