Three years after being charged, the trial of Muhammad Shafee Abdullah finally kicked off today.
The trial began with the prosecution vowing to prove that the senior criminal lawyer had received RM9.5 million as his fee but kept the information from the IRB.
The much-anticipated trial of Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah finally got off the blocks today, with the prosecution vowing to prove that the senior criminal lawyer had committed offences of receiving RM9.5 million as his fee but suppressing the information from the Inland Revenue Board (IRB).
Deputy Public Prosecutor (DPP) Afzainizam Abdul Aziz said the prosecution would prove that the circumstances in which the money was received, and concealed from the board showed that Shafee, 69, had engaged in unlawful activity and therefore committed the offence of money laundering.
In his opening statement, the DPP said Shafee had received the money via cheques issued by former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak.
He said Shafee received a cheque for RM4.3 million on Sept 5, 2013, and another for RM5.2 million on Feb 17, 2014, which were deposited into the lawyer’s personal CIMB Bank Bhd account.
However, he said Shafee failed to declare the payment for his legal services to the IRB.
“The accused is an advocate and solicitor of these courts.
“The prosecution will prove that the accused, in his capacity as an advocate and solicitor, received a sum of RM9.5 million as his fee but intentionally suppressed that fact from Revenue (Inland Revenue Board or IRB),” the DPP contended before the High Court in Kuala Lumpur.
On Sept 13, 2018, at the Kuala Lumpur Sessions Court, Shafee claimed trial to four charges linked to the RM9.5 million allegedly received from Najib via two cheques.
He was charged with two counts of money laundering over the RM9.5 million, which he was accused of receiving in two tranches: the first RM4.3 million on Sept 13, 2013, and the second payment of RM5.2 million on Feb 17, 2014.
Shafee was also charged with two counts of giving false statements to the IRB in relation to the payments, on March 3 and June 29, 2015.
The lawyer was alleged to have deposited the two cheques into his personal account with a CIMB bank branch in Bukit Tunku, Kuala Lumpur.
For this, Shafee is liable to be jailed a maximum of 15 years and fined not less than five times the amount of proceeds from the unlawful activity, if convicted.
“In his statement to the MACC officer on July 28, 2017, Shafee said the money was his fee even though it was deposited into his personal account and not that of the firm Shafee & Co.
“Then on Sept 11, 2018, he gave another statement and stated that the money was actually a loan from Najib pending the rationalisation of the fees already payable to him,” Afzainizam said, adding Shafee had then produced a letter purportedly carrying Najib’s initials.
Afzainizam said the prosecution did not accept the letter as genuine and it would establish that fact based on circumstantial evidence.
The trial finally started after three years after Shafee was first charged.
The trial dates were previously vacated to make way for Najib’s ongoing trials where Shafee is the lead counsel for the Pekan member of parliament.
The trial is being held before Judge Datuk Muhammad Jamil Hussin. Lawyer Harvinderjit Singh is appearing for Shafee.
The court also heard testimonies from two bank officers – Jalan Raja Chulan Ambank manager R Uma Devi and Bukit Tunku CIMB manager Rosnita Ahmad.
Uma Devi testified as the first prosecution witness and read a prepared statement listing out each and every account number and the amount of money which had been transacted through cheques.
The 41-year-old said an MACC investigating officer visited her branch in March 13, 2019, to obtain several documents related to Najib’s account, including the account’s statement between July 2013 and December 2014.
She also testified that the bank had issued two cheques under Najib’s current account totalling RM4.3 million (Sept 5, 2013) and RM5.2 million (Feb 14, 2014) respectively.
Uma Devi said both cheques were issued to Shafee and were cashed on Sept 11, 2013, and Feb 17, 2014, respectively.
“However, I don’t know the purpose of the cheques,” she said, adding that she surrendered both documents to the MACC investigating officer on March 13, 2019.
Questioned by Shafee’s lawyer, Harvinderjit, on whether Ambank was aware of any red flags being raised about Najib’s accounts or 1MDB accounts, Uma said she only knew investigations had begun as early as December 2014.
Harvinderjit: You have testified in the SRC International trial and are scheduled to testify in the 1MDB trial later?
Uma had previously testified in the former prime minister’s RM42 million SRC International case.
Rosnita told the court that Shafee had been a client of the bank since 1998.
She confirmed that RM4.3 million was deposited into Shafee’s account on Sept 13, 2013, and another RM5.2 million into the same account on Feb 17, 2014.
The hearing continues next Friday.
Earlier, Harvinderjit applied to the court for his client to be excused from sitting inside the dock.
He said it would be easier for him to get instructions from Shafee.
The court allowed his application after there was no objection from the prosecution team.
Shafee, clad in a dark blue shirt, then exited the dock and sat behind Harvinderjit during the whole proceedings.