Zahid says bought RM5.9m ‘bungalows’ at discount as Country Heights boss Lee Kim Yew needed money urgently

·5-min read
Malay Mail
Malay Mail

KUALA LUMPUR, July 7 — Former deputy prime minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi today claimed in court that the 2017 purchase of two houses in Country Heights in Kajang, Selangor was at a “discounted” price of RM5.9 million, as their owner, property development tycoon Tan Sri Lee Kim Yew, needed money at the time.

Testifying in his own defence in his corruption and money laundering trial today, Ahmad Zahid was explaining details of the RM5.9 million purchase using charity Yayasan Akalbudi’s funds.

Ahmad Zahid explained that law firm Lewis & Co was holding and handling millions of ringgit of Yayasan Akalbudi’s funds, based solely on his verbal instructions to appoint the law firm to the role. He yesterday confirmed that there was no appointment letter for this.

Today, Ahmad Zahid verified details in the law firm’s ledger, which showed that the law firm had placed RM2 million in fixed deposits on November 30, 2016 and RM5 million in fixed deposits on December 9, 2016.

Ahmad Zahid verified that the law firm had on January 4, 2017 uplifted or withdrew the same RM2 million and the same RM5 million from the fixed deposits. This January 4, 2017 date is also the same day when the law firm had issued a RM5.9 million Maybank cheque to Lee’s company Bee Garden Holdings Sdn Bhd for the purchase of the two houses.

Asked by deputy public prosecutor Harris Ong Mohd Jeffery Ong whether he agreed that the period the money was kept in the fixed deposits were short, Ahmad Zahid replied: “In banking terms, it is premature, meaning it is premature, before reaching the period of six months or one year according to time deposit or fixed deposit.”

Asked to explain why the law firm did not wait for the fixed deposits’ maturity date of either six months or one year before withdrawing the funds, Ahmad Zahid then said this was because the seller of the two houses in Country Heights gave a short timeframe for the purchase.

“This offer from Tan Sri Lee Kim Yew, the owner of Country Heights — he needed the money badly, that’s why he sold it below the market price, I know he was facing problems to pay his income tax, that’s why the timeline given to us was very short. That’s why the discounted price was given to Yayasan and the decision needed to be very fast,” Ahmad Zahid, adding that the fast withdrawal of the fixed deposits totalling RM7 million was “basically management decision”

The prosecution then immediately asked whether the RM5.9 million purchase of the two properties — previously described repeatedly as “bungalows” in this trial — were not for charitable purposes.

Harris: The purchase of the buildings is not for charity, but to help Tan Sri, ‘he needs’, this is based on your answer. You can agree or disagree.

Ahmad Zahid: I don’t agree.

Yesterday, Ahmad Zahid said the two houses were bought below the market price of RM12 million, and that they were bought to be converted into centres for Islamic religious studies.

For the RM5.9 million purchase, the 1,872 square feet house at Lot 356 (HSD 24906 or PT No.20397) was priced at RM3 million, while the slightly smaller house measuring 1,787 square feet at Lot 403 (HSD 24881 or PT No.20372) was priced at RM2.9 million.

Tan Sri Lee Kim Yew is pictured at the Kuala Lumpur High Court June 16, 2020. — Picture by Miera Zulyana
Tan Sri Lee Kim Yew is pictured at the Kuala Lumpur High Court June 16, 2020. — Picture by Miera Zulyana

Tan Sri Lee Kim Yew is pictured at the Kuala Lumpur High Court June 16, 2020. — Picture by Miera Zulyana

Previously, Country Heights Holdings Bhd chairman Tan Sri Lee Kim Tiong @ Lee Kim Yew had as the 57th prosecution witness in this trial testified about his company Bee Garden Holdings’ sale of the two houses in Country Heights, purportedly to Yayasan Al-Falah.

Lee had said he was contacted in December 2016 by a “Datuk Eric” who told him that Yayasan Al-Falah wanted to buy the two Country Heights houses, and that he had agreed to round down the price from RM5,907,750 or approximately RM150 per square foot, to just RM5.9 million for the two properties for ease of calculations and because the houses were old. Lee had recalled the properties to be worth RM200 per square foot back in 2017, and that their current market price as of his testimony in June 2020 is between RM150 and RM250 per square foot.

Lee had said the two homes had been “abandoned” houses and unoccupied since their original purchase, and confirmed he knew Yayasan Al-Falah was linked to Ahmad Zahid.

Lee previously agreed the two properties were sold below market price in 2017 due to his knowledge of Zahid’s links to Yayasan Al-Falah and due to the abandoned nature of the houses.

Ahmad Zahid has previously insisted that the RM5.9 million houses were purchased by Yayasan Akalbudi using its funds to be given to Yayasan Al-Falah as a donation, as Yayasan Al-Falah had sufficient staff to manage the properties and that was why the land title had recorded Yayasan Al-Falah as the new owner instead of Yayasan Akalbudi.

Ahmad Zahid is facing 47 charges, namely 12 counts of criminal breach of trust in relation to RM31 million of charitable foundation Yayasan Akalbudi’s funds, 27 counts of money-laundering, and eight counts of bribery charges.

One of the 27 money-laundering charges that Ahmad Zahid is facing alleges that he had engaged directly in a transaction that involves proceeds of unlawful activity, by giving instruction to buy the two “bungalow lots” for RM5.9 million using a cheque issued by the law firm Lewis & Co via a client account at Maybank, with the funds said to be illegal proceeds.

Throughout the trial, Ahmad Zahid and his lawyers have insisted that Lewis & Co is a trustee for Yayasan Akalbudi and holds funds on trust for it in a client account.

Yayasan Akalbudi was formed with the aim of eradicating poverty and enhancing the welfare of the poor, and Ahmad Zahid is a trustee of the foundation and also its sole signatory for cheques.

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