At Zahid’s trial, judge asks why foundation used ‘bag of cash’ instead of cheques to donate millions to Yayasan Akalbudi

(MMO) – The High Court judge presiding over Datuk Ahmad Zahid Hamidi’s trial today raised a question many Malaysians want to know, but had no chance to ask — why were the purported donations worth millions of ringgit from Yayasan Albukhary to Yayasan Akalbudi not made through cheques, but in cold hard cash stuffed into bags and passed to a moneychanger first and then converted into cheques?

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.

Today, Ahmad Zahid’s lead defence lawyer Hisyam Teh Poh Teik was arguing on why the 27th money-laundering charge against his client must fall.

Under the 27th money-laundering charge, Ahmad Zahid was accused of having instructed money changer Omar Ali Abdullah to convert RM7,511,250.20 (RM7.5 million) — said to be proceeds of an unlawful activity or illegal funds — into 35 cheques.

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 Al Bukhary 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.

Ahmad Zahid’s lawyers have throughout the trial argued that Lewis & Co is a trustee that holds money on trust for Yayasan Akalbudi, a foundation where Ahmad Zahid is a trustee.

High Court judge Collin Lawrence Sequerah today sought for clarification from Ahmad Zahid’s lawyer on matters relating to the 27th money-laundering charge.

“If it’s donations from Albukhary to Akalbudi, wouldn’t it have been easier to just write a cheque? Why bring a bagful of cash?” the judge asked.

Ahmad Zahid’s lawyer Teh told the judge that the answer is unknown as the investigators did not carry out a probe on this.

“That’s our complaint, the prosecution did not investigate. The answer can only come from Albukhary.

“We asked the investigating officer, the investigating officer never investigated. Because there’s no investigation, we cannot say this is proceeds from unlawful activity. Unless and until they investigate, unless and until they call a witness from Albukhary before My Lord and give evidence,” he replied.

Hisyam noted that the prosecution’s written submission had argued that there was a money-laundering scheme orchestrated by Ahmad Zahid was Omar Ali as the agent, and that the prosecution was arguing that the money received by Omar Ali was in doubt as the investigation had never revealed Yayasan Albukhary as having donated in the manner testified by Omar Ali.

Hisyam however shot back by challenging the prosecution to show that there was investigation done to confirm the money was not donated by Yayasan Albukhary, saying that the prosecution’s arguments were “totally baseless, not supported by evidence, none at all”.

Hisyam confirmed to the judge that Yayasan Albukhary was not related to Ahmad Zahid or his younger brother Datuk Seri Mohamad Nasaee Ahmad Tarmizi.

Hisyam said the law is very clear and the investigating officer must investigate all corners, but went on to confirm to the judge that no one from Yayasan Albukhary was called in to testify in this trial over the RM7.5 million amount.

“No investigation whatsoever, because there’s no investigation, cannot say these are illegal proceeds, the charge falls. To conclude, we challenge and invite the prosecution to show us evidence that Yayasan Albukhary never donated,” he said.

He also questioned the prosecution’s written submissions which argued that all the RM7.5 million were illegal proceeds and not from Yayasan Albukhary as there were no proper documentation, asking what is the basis and evidence for such an argument as he suggested that the prosecution had failed to “grab the opportunity” to prove their argument.

The trial ended earlier today at slightly before 11am, to enable Ahmad Zahid to be present as an MP at the Dewan Rakyat for a vote on the new Dewan Rakyat deputy speaker.

The trial will resume tomorrow morning.