Law firm’s partner denies Zahid gave instructions as ‘legal stranger’ on RM76m cheques, insists funds belong to Yayasan Al-Falah and not Yayasan Akalbudi

Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi is pictured at the Kuala Lumpur Court Complex August 14, 2020. ― Picture by Shafwan Zaidon
Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi is pictured at the Kuala Lumpur Court Complex August 14, 2020. ― Picture by Shafwan Zaidon

KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 14 — Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi was not a “legal stranger” to Yayasan Al-Falah when giving instructions on how more than RM76 million of funds via 92 cheques should be handled on behalf of the foundation, a partner in law firm Lewis & Co told the court today.

Lawyer Muralidharan Balan Pillai, testifying as the 87th prosecution witness in Zahid’s corruption and money-laundering trial, also insisted that his law firm had held the RM76 million funds on trust for Yayasan Al-Falah which is linked to Zahid’s family instead of Zahid’s Yayasan Akalbudi.

Cross-examined by Zahid’s lawyer Hisyam Teh Poh Teik, Muralidharan agreed that Zahid was not the chairman or office-bearer or trustee of Yayasan Al-Falah and had no legal connection to this foundation.

Confirming that Zahid was not the law firm’s client when he gave the RM76 million funds via cheques from 2016 to 2018, Muralidharan maintained that the law firm’s client for the funds is Yayasan Al-Falah.

Hisyam: In other words, you are taking instruction from a legal stranger. Yes or no?

Muralidharan: No.

Hisyam: I put it to you, Mr Murali, your position defies logic, your position is not legal in law?

Muralidharan: I don’t agree, My Lord.

Muralidharan disagreed that Zahid was a “stranger” when it came to Yayasan Al-Falah, also disagreeing that he had been taking instructions from non-client Zahid as a man who has nothing to do with his client Yayasan Al-Falah.

Hisyam then questioned if Muralidharan had found it “strange” to take instructions from a man who is a “legal stranger” for two years when the 92 cheques were given to his law firm by Zahid, but Muralidharan said: “No, My Lord, I did not.”

Muralidharan had previously testified that the 92 cheques from Zahid were deposited into Lewis & Co’s client account that was opened specifically for ithe law firm’s client Yayasan Al-Falah, and were subsequently placed into fixed deposits on Zahid’s instructions to earn interest for Yayasan Al-Falah.

Disagreeing that Zahid did not give instructions for the cheques to be placed in fixed deposits, Muralidharan however also confirmed that there were documents in Yayasan Al-Falah’s file to show that Zahid had given such instructions.

While agreeing that lawyers are duty-bound to place money above RM5,000 into fixed deposits if they are holding the funds on behalf of their clients, Muralidharan said that the reason Lewis & Co had placed the funds given by Zahid into fixed deposits was also due to him having given such instructions.

Lawyer Muralidharan Balan Pillai is pictured at the Kuala Lumpur Court Complex August 13, 2020. ― Picture by Hari Anggara
Lawyer Muralidharan Balan Pillai is pictured at the Kuala Lumpur Court Complex August 13, 2020. ― Picture by Hari Anggara

Keeping funds given by non-client in client account

Earlier today, deputy public prosecutor Datuk Raja Rozela Raja Toran quizzed Muralidharan over the holding of funds in the law firm’s client account, asking: “Mr Murali, are you obligated as an advocate and solicitor to hold cheques in a client account even though the monies do not come from a client?”

Muralidharan then replied: “I don’t think there’s anything wrong about it, My Lord. My client was Yayasan Al-Falah, monies were given to me by Datuk Seri Zahid to be paid to Yayasan Al-Falah, my Lord.”

On Wednesday, Raja Rozela had also asked Muralidharan the same question, with Muralidharan then citing the family ties of Zahid and Yayasan Al-Falah’s chairman Datuk Seri Mohamad Nasaee Ahmad Tarmizi: “I know Datuk Seri Zahid and Datuk Seri Nasaee are very closely related and he wanted this because if not mistaken, it is a family foundation.”

Muralidharan had previously testified that both he and his law firm were not trustees of Zahid-linked Yayasan Akalbudi or any charitable organisations, and that only a former partner of the law firm was personally a trustee of the Alzheimer Foundation in the 1990s.

Quizzed by deputy public prosecutor Lee Keng Fatt however on whether any money from the Alzheimer Foundation was banked into Lewis & Co while the former partner was a trustee of the organisation, Muralidharan said that there were no such deposits at that time.

Funds belonging to Yayasan Al-Falah or Yayasan Akalbudi?

Today, Hisyam sought to suggest that Zahid had in an April 2016 meeting in his house told Muralidharan that he wanted to transfer a major part of Yayasan Akalbudi’s funds to Lewis & Co to hold on trust, but Muralidharan disagreed.

“No, My Lord, we were never a trustee for Yayasan Akalbudi,” Muralidharan said, further disagreeing that the RM76 million in the 92 cheques belonged to Yayasan Akalbudi or were held on trust for Yayasan Akalbudi.

Muralidharan instead insisted that the funds given by Zahid were meant for Yayasan Al-Falah.

In this trial, 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.

The trial before High Court judge Collin Lawrence Sequerah resumes on August 24.

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