Law firm’s partner says Zahid didn’t give documents to prove RM76m cheques were ‘donations’, but did not suspect funds to be illegal

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 — Lawyer Muralidharan Balan Pillai today said he did not report to Bank Negara Malaysia that he suspected cheques eventually totalling more than RM76 million from Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi to be illegal or part of money-laundering activities, as he saw no reason to do so.

A partner in law firm Lewis & Co, Muralidharan, who is 87th prosecution witness in Zahid’s corruption and money-laundering trial, told the High Court that he believed that the funds were donations for charity and religious purposes as told to him by Zahid.

But in his earlier testimony today, Muralidharan also said Zahid had not shown any documents to back the claim that the 92 cheques worth RM76 million were donations when handing the funds over to the law firm to be held on behalf of Yayasan Al-Falah.

Cross-examined by Zahid’s lawyer Hisyam Teh Poh Teik, Muralidharan agreed that there were proper records of the 92 cheques in Lewis & Co’s file for its client Yayasan Al-Falah, agreeing that the companies or individuals who issued the cheques could be easily identified.

He agreed that the file’s records had been audited both internally and externally.

Muralidharan also agreed that the transactions related to the 92 cheques were “open transactions” as they are transparent and can be scrutinised or examined by third parties.

Muralidharan had previously testified that his law firm had in May 2016 opened a client account in Maybank specifically to hold money on behalf of Zahid-linked Yayasan Al-Falah, with the cheques of more than RM76 million deposited into the client account before placing the money into fixed deposit savings to earn interest for Yayasan Al-Falah.

No report to authorities of illegal, suspicious funds

Zeroing in on a May 2016 letter of undertaking that Muralidharan and his co-partner Premshangar Venugopal had given to Maybank when seeking to open the client account, with both lawyers signing off on the undertaking, the defence lawyer asked: “In consideration of your bank allowing us to open / maintain / operate the above account of ours, we hereby confirm and give our assurance that we are aware and have verified the true identity of our clients and their sources of funds as required under the Anti-Money Laundering and Anti-Terrorism Financing Act 2001 (Amlatfa).”

Muralidharan confirmed that the Yayasan Al-Falah file ― which recorded the 92 cheques’ transactions ― had the word “charity” written as its title by Lewis & Co accountant V. Sothilechmy  on his instructions, agreeing that he was satisfied that the funds that came in via the cheques were for charitable and religious purposes.

Hisyam also asked Muralidharan if he had ever reported to Maybank or Bank Negara or other authorities the cheques that Zahid had given Lewis & Co to keep for Yayasan Al-Falah.

Hisyam: After this letter of undertaking, did you at any point of time write a letter to the bank to say that I’m now suspicious of the source of funds?

Muralidharan: No, My Lord.

Hisyam: After this letter, apart from the bank, did you write to any authorities for example, Bank Negara to say that you are suspicious that the funds were unusual or illegal?

Muralidharan: No, My Lord. I did not see the need to do so.

Muralidharan also confirmed that he did not write to Maybank, Bank Negara or the authorities to say that the funds given by Zahid had no clear economic purpose or were proceeds from unlawful activities, or to say that he suspected that his client is involved in money-laundering activities.

Hisyam: In other words, you were satisfied that the funds were both legal and legitimate?

Muralidharan: Yes, My Lord.

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

No supporting documents

Earlier today, Muralidharan had however confirmed to deputy public prosecutor Lee Keng Fatt that Zahid did not attach any documents when handing over the funds via cheques to Lewis & Co to be kept on behalf of Yayasan Al-Falah.

Lee: You did say Datuk Seri told you this money was for donation to be kept in the file. Did you receive at any time any letters of donations or supporting documents about donations from Datuk Seri when he passed you the cheques.

Muralidharan: No, my Lord.

Lee had also asked Muralidharan if efforts were made to find out the origin of the money in the cheques given by Zahid.

Lee: Did you verify the source of money or cheques given to you by Datuk Seri before you bank in?

Muralidharan: My Lord, I did ask him and he told me these were contributions for religious and charitable purposes.

Lee: That’s the only verification you did?

Muralidharan: That’s all.

On Wednesday, Muralidharan had testified that Zahid had told him the funds in the 92 cheques to be held on behalf of Yayasan Al-Falah were for “religious and charitable purposes”, particularly to build a mosque and also for a tahfiz or religious school in Bagan Datuk, Perak.

Muralidharan had also testified that Zahid had instructed him to place the funds via the cheques into fixed deposits on behalf of Yayasan Al-Falah to earn interest, and that he had also made payments from these funds when instructed to do so.

Previously, Lewis & Co accountant V. Sothilechmy as the 85th prosecution witness had verified the transfer of more than RM66.6 million from Lewis & Co’s client account into 28 fixed deposits from May 2016 to April 2018, based on records under Yayasan Al-Falah’s file.

Today, when asked by deputy public prosecutor Ahmad Sazilee Abdul Khairi on the status of all the funds that Lewis & Co kept in fixed deposits for Yayasan Al-Falah, Muralidharan replied: “A freeze has been placed on the fixed deposits by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission. The deposits are with Maybank’s Dataran Maybank branch.”

Zahid’s lawyer Hisyam today suggested that the RM76 million cheques given by Zahid were actually meant for and belonged to Yayasan Akalbudi, but Muralidharan disagreed and insisted that Zahid had handed these cheques over for Yayasan Al-Falah’s benefit.

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, with Zahid’s lawyers expected to continue cross-examining Muralidharan.


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