KUALA LUMPUR, June 27 — Former home minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi today insisted in the High Court that the RM5.9 million used to buy two bungalows in Country Heights, Kajang were not illegally-sourced funds.
Testifying in his own defence in his trial here involving 27 money-laundering charges, Ahmad Zahid claimed that the two bungalow lots were purchased for the purpose of setting up a Quran studies centre for future retirees and for tahfiz students who wish to learn and memorise the Quran.
"I state that I have never used those two bungalow lots as my residence or for my personal use,” he said today.
Ahmad Zahid said one of the bungalows is now already equipped with facilities such as a meeting room and surau and that it is being used by tahfiz students, while the other bungalow is still being upgraded and modified for use as a madrasah tahfiz for tahfiz students.
For the bungalow which is already in use, Ahmad Zahid today described what a series of photos of the building showed, including a signboard with the name Yayasan Al-Falah written on it.
He explained that he had told his neighbour Datuk Eric Yong Chong Long of his desire to purchase those two bungalows, adding that a sales and purchase agreement was then made between the seller Bee Garden Holdings and Yayasan Al-Falah which became the new registered owner of the two bungalows.
"I state that those two bungalow lots are placed under Yayasan Al-Falah’s name as it is a donation from Yayasan Akalbudi to Yayasan Al-Falah,” he said.
Yayasan Akalbudi is a charitable foundation meant to help the poor and where Ahmad Zahid is both a trustee and its sole signatory on cheques, while Yayasan Al-Falah is Ahmad Zahid’s family’s foundation where his younger brother Datuk Seri Mohamad Nasaee Ahmad Tarmizi is a trustee and the chairman.
Lawyer Muralidharan Balan Pillai is pictured at the Kuala Lumpur Court Complex, August 13, 2020. — Picture by Hari Anggara
In explaining how the two bungalows’ purchase was made, Ahmad Zahid said he had instructed law firm Lewis & Co’s partner Muralidharan Balan Pillai to pay for the two buildings by issuing a cheque for RM5.9 million to Bee Garden Holdings in January 2017.
But he claimed that he did not give further details to Muralidharan on the exact bank account where the RM5.9 million of funds from Yayasan Akalbudi would be sourced for the RM5.9 million cheque.
In this trial, 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 Lewis & Co via a client account at Maybank, with the funds said to be illegal proceeds.
But Ahmad Zahid today insisted that all funds placed in Lewis & Co’s client account or placed in fixed deposits by the law firm including the RM5.9 million "are not proceeds from unlawful activities”.
Insisting that Lewis & Co acts as a "custodian” or "trustee” to manage Yayasan Akalbudi’s funds by placing it in the law firm’s client’s account, Ahmad Zahid said he had never gave any instructions to any officials or employees at the law firm to place Yayasan Akalbudi’s funds into fixed deposits accounts.
Today, Ahmad Zahid claimed that he had never told Muralidharan whether to make the RM5.9 million payment by using funds in the client account or retrieving it from any fixed deposits, claiming that this was because Muralidharan allegedly had full discretion in managing the Yayasan Akalbudi funds —including deciding how much of funds to place in fixed deposits and how much funds are left in the client account.
Whenever payments were required, Ahmad Zahid claimed it would be Muralidharan who would decide on his own initiative whether to use funds in the client account or fixed deposits.
"I state that these are all on Muralidharan’s own initiative and not on my instructions,” he claimed when remarking on how the RM5.9 million payment was made.
For the RM5.9 million cheque, Lewis & Co had withdrawn a RM2 million fixed deposit which was from a RM2 million cheque given by businessman Mubarak Hussain Akhtar Husin as a donation for the monthly costs of Sekolah Menengah Ulul Albab in Melaka, with the law firm having also withdrawn a fixed deposit that originated from 10 cheques worth RM5 million given by businessman Junaith Asharab Md Shariff as a donation for a mosque and tahfiz school in Bagan Datuk, Perak.
Ahmad Zahid claimed that the cheques totalling RM7 million given by the two businessmen are not funds from illegal activities, as they had given the cheques as a donation and for charity.
He also claimed to not have any personal knowledge about Muralidharan withdrawing the two fixed deposits for the RM5.9 million payment for the two bungalow lots, saying that he never ordered the lawyer to withdraw them and believed that the lawyer had made this decision on his own.
The prosecution had previously argued that the two businessmen’s donations were not genuine donations for charitable purposes as the funds were eventually used to buy the two bungalows, also claiming that the renovation works — including to add a surau or prayer hall for Muslims in one of the bungalows — was an afterthought and would not be able to justify the bungalows’ purchase.
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 before High Court judge Datuk Collin Lawrence Sequerah resumes tomorrow morning.