This article first appeared in The Edge Malaysia Weekly on September 26, 2022 - October 2, 2022
FORMER deputy prime minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi was acquitted last Friday of all 40 graft charges against him after High Court judge Datuk Mohd Yazid Mustafa found that the prosecution had not made out a prima facie case as it had failed to prove the element of graft.
Yazid found the three main witnesses in the trial — former Ultra Kirana Sdn Bhd (UKSB) directors Harry Lee Vui Khiun and Wan Quoris Shah Wan Abdul Ghani and former administrative manager David Tan Siong Sun — to be neither credible, trustworthy or believable and, thus, unreliable witnesses.
“There should be no weightage to their testimony,” he ruled.
“In view of the failure by the prosecution to prove the foremost important element in all charges levelled against the accused (Zahid), that is, the receipt of corrupt monies, upon the exercise of the maximum evaluation of the evidence in totality, I find the prosecution has failed to make out a prima facie case on all charges.”
Yazid said there were doubts as to whether money was delivered to and was received by Zahid as alleged in the charges.
The judge said he had reminded himself while presiding over the case that he would not be swayed or influenced by any comments of the public made outside of the courtroom, and that it is his solemn duty to uphold justice without favour or fear or prejudice.
“I am also reminded of the sanctity of the oath I took as a judge to decide based on evidence and to defend the Federal Constitution,” the judge added.
“Based on the foregoing reasons and analysis of the evidence and the law, it has now come for me to pronounce my judgement in this case. I hereby acquit and discharge the accused from all charges, without calling for the defence, as the prosecution has failed to make out a prima facie case.”
Yazid, who is scheduled to retire next month, said although the three witnesses had testified that a brown envelope containing money was given to Zahid, the court was not told the size of the envelope as the monies allegedly received ran into millions of dollars.
The court compared Zahid’s case with Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor’s graft case, where the prosecution provided evidence by showing two luggage bags and two knapsacks used to transport the money, as well as pictures taken from her Jalan Duta residence with the main witness, Rayyan Radzwill Abdullah, showing where the bags were placed.
“In Rosmah’s case, there were other independent witnesses who testified to the delivery of the bags containing the money and here, unfortunately, there was none with the exception of the three.
“There is also no CCTV footage produced by the prosecution to show the transactions in the exchange of money between UKSB and Ahmad Zahid took place,” he said, adding that such evidence was needed to corroborate the evidence by the prosecution.
He also said one of the UKSB directors, Datuk Fadzil Ahmad, who played a pivotal role in getting the contract, had testified that he did not know about the money being delivered to Zahid.
The judge also questioned the entries in the purported ledger owned by Tan that had been tendered as evidence, as the court noticed there were some missing notations in them and this raised questions about whether the money was received by UKSB and whether the money was also delivered to the accused.
In his judgment, Yazid said the blank notations gave rise to a possible inference as suggested by the defence that the monies could have been distributed among the three witnesses, as they maintained luxurious lifestyles.
“Each of Lee, Wan Quoris and Tan had one unit of property at Pavilion. Wan Quoris also owned a bungalow house in Putrajaya, one semi-detached house in Cyberjaya, two Range Rovers, expensive motorcycles and tax payment of millions.
“Without strong evidential support, I simply cannot consciously make a finding that the monies were in fact received by the accused as suggested by the prosecution based on transactions recorded in the ledger, with no record that the monies were in fact received by the accused in the ‘remark’ or notation columns,” he said.
Both Lee and Wan Quoris agreed that there was no independent evidence to support the contention that the monies were in fact paid to Zahid.
The court also pointed to the prosecution’s failure in not calling the person named “Nicole”, who allegedly delivered the money from Hong Kong to UKSB, to testify.
The defence had argued that not calling the Hong Kong witness had broken the purported money trail to prove the prosecution’s case that money was actually delivered.
In this case, the monies allegedly used to pay Zahid did not originate from UKSB’s accounts, as they were brought in from Hong Kong by business associates.
Yazid, however, dismissed Zahid’s contention that the amount received was a political donation or that the charges were a form of political persecution against him.
The defence had questioned the non-prosecution of others purportedly mentioned in the ledger, including former prime ministers Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, former foreign minister Datuk Seri Anifah Aman, former Sabah chief minister Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal and Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin.
All the politicians mentioned had denied that they were paid or received funds from UKSB.
Dressed in a white baju Melayu, Zahid had arrived in court around 8.40am, accompanied by Umno deputy president Datuk Seri Mohamad Hasan and Umno secretary-general Datuk Ahmad Maslan. He was greeted by supporters who included former Selangor menteri besar Dr Mohd Khir Toyo.
A total of 18 prosecution witnesses had testified in the trial. Among them were former senior officers from the Ministry of Home Affairs, where Zahid was a minister, and included former secretary-general Tan Sri Alwi Ibrahim.
Zahid faced 33 counts of graft for allegedly receiving S$13.56 million (RM43.39 million) from UKSB to facilitate the award of a contract for a foreign visa system (VLN) and one-stop services (OSC) in China, and the extension of the contract to 2025. These charges were framed under Section 16(A)(B) of the MACC Act.
He was also on trial for seven other bribery charges in his capacity as the home affairs minister then, for allegedly obtaining for himself bribes denominated in different currencies comprising S$1.15 million, RM3 million, €15,000 (RM67,032) and US$15,000 (RM67,548) from UKSB. These charges were framed under Section 165 of the Penal Code.
The purported offences took place at the deputy prime minister’s official residence, Seri Satria in Putrajaya, and his private residence in Country Heights, between October 2014 and March 2018.
Datuk Hisyam Teh Poh Teik, Datuk Ahmad Zaidi Zainal and Hamidi Md Noh represented Zahid while the prosecution was led by deputy public prosecutor Datuk Raja Rozela Raja Toran assisted by Datuk Wan Shaharuddin Wan Ladin, Abdul Malik Ayob and Zander Lim Wai Keong.
Following the acquittal, the prosecution has to decide within 14 days whether to appeal the decision.
The UKSB decision notwithstanding, Zahid has another outstanding criminal matter in the courts. He had been ordered by another Kuala Lumpur High Court to enter his defence against 47 charges of criminal breach of trust, graft and money laundering which relate to funds belonging to the charitable organisation Yayasan Akalbudi. Zahid has finished testifying in the Yayasan trial, which is scheduled to resume on Oct 31.
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