Appeals court reserves verdict on Isa appeal against conviction, jail sentence

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Isa was sentenced to six years’ jail and fined RM15.4 million on nine counts of corruption.

Mohamad Shahril Badri Saali/NST

The Court of Appeal has reserved its decision on an appeal by former Felda chairman Tan Sri Isa Samad against his conviction and six years’ jail and the RM15.4 million fine on nine counts of corruption involving RM3.09 million over the authority’s purchase of a hotel in Kuching, Sarawak.

The three-man bench comprising Justices Datuk Vazeer Alam Mydin Meera, Datuk Ahmad Zaidi Ibrahim and Datuk SM Komathy Suppiah reserved the decision after they completed hearing submissions from Isa’s counsel Datuk Salehuddin Saidin and deputy public prosecutor Afzainizam Abdul Aziz appearing for the prosecution.

Justice Vazeer, who chaired the bench said the Court of Appeal registry will inform the prosecution and defence of the decision date.

Isa, 73, was found guilty by the High Court on Feb 3, 2021, on nine bribery charges amounting to RM3 million in the Felda acquisition of Merdeka Palace Hotel & Suites in Kuching, Sarawak.

The offences allegedly took place on the 49th Floor of Menara Felda, Platinum Park, No 11, Persiaran KLCC, Kuala Lumpur between July 21, 2014, and Dec 11, 2015.

High Court judge Mohd Nazlan Mohd Ghazali (now Court of Appeal judge) handed down a sentence of six years for each offence with a cumulative total of 54 years and a fine of RM15.45 million or 18 years’ imprisonment in lieu of the fine.

He was ordered to serve the sentences concurrently, which means Mohd Isa is to serve only six years. Isa, who was also the former Negeri Sembilan menteri besar, filed the notice of appeal on Feb 4, 2021.

He was also allowed to be released on bail of RM1.5 million pending disposal of his appeal and was also required to report to the nearest police station on the 1st of every month until the appeal was settled.

In today’s proceedings, his lawyer Salehuddin argued that the trial judge had heavily relied on the testimony of Isa’s former aide Muhammad Zahid Arip whose evidence was contradictory during cross-examination by the defence.

He said Muhammad Zahid had once denied during cross-examination the fact he had asked Sarawak businessman Ikhwan Zaidel about alleged political funds that Isa was said to have requested through a phone call, where else Ikhwan, in his statement, stated that Muhammad Zahid had inquired with him about the matter.

“So, who is the actual party making the request for whom? Is it safe for the court to convict Isa based on the testimony that is evidently tainted with the personal interests of the two witnesses?” asked Salehuddin.

He said his client should be acquitted and discharged on all the charges as the facts of the case showed there was no evidence that Isa received the monies.

He also argued that the High Court judge had misdirected himself on the basic principle of law and had applied the wrong legal principles. He also said that the judge failed to give proper attention to all the evidence before the court and he also did not assess the overall evidence before arriving at a conclusion.

Afzainizam, however, countered saying that Isa intended to get the gratification, although he (Isa) did not deal directly with Ikhwan in any of the transactions by which the sum was paid, the gratification was received by him (Isa) through Zahid. He said the money was handed by Zahid to Isa in a discreet manner.

He said the gratification was paid for fear that Isa may use his influence to cancel or delay payment for the acquisition of the hotel, adding that Felda’s subsidiary Felda Investment Corporation Sdn Bhd had previously rejected a proposal to purchase the hotel.

He said there was evidence from prosecution witnesses, including Ikhwan that the sum of money was withdrawn and given to Zahid to give Isa.