Several individuals in the local business community today said they had unwittingly complied with Bukit Bintang-based moneychanger Omar Ali Abdullah’s instructions on who to pay cheques totalling RM1.1 million to unknown entity Lewis & Co now revealed to be a law firm, just a day after the court heard of how others had signed RM1.3 million worth of blank cheques to him.
These revelations were made during the course of Umno president and former deputy prime minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi’s trial involving charges of corruption, criminal breach of trust and money-laundering.
Below are the four witnesses who testified today about the RM1.1 million worth of cheques:
Patt Siew Ming — RM25,950
Today, 69-year-old Patt when testifying as the 68th prosecution witness in the trial, confirmed that he had signed off on a Public Bank cheque dated June 21, 2016 for the amount of RM25,950, with the amount written at the moneychanger Omar Ali’s instructions. Patt said he issued the cheque as he wanted to obtain foreign currency for his trip abroad.
Patt, who is a managing director in a company, said Omar Ali had also asked him to have the cheque paid out to Lewis & Co.
Patt explained that he had at his house handed over the cheque to Omar Ali’s staff, in exchange for around US$7,200 in cash that was also handed over to him as agreed.
Three of these witnesses — Patt, Lee Fook Kheun and Mohyidin — identified Omar Ali, who was presented in court today briefly for identification by witnesses.
Construction firm HRA Teguh Sdn Bhd — RM313,000
HRA Teguh advisor Lee Fook Kheun, 69, when testifying as the 65th prosecution witness said he had known Omar Ali since 1986 when exchanging foreign currencies with the latter in the Sungei Wang Plaza.
Lee said he had frequently exchanged foreign currencies with Omar Ali for business trips abroad, also confirming that Omar Ali had in 2015 instructed him through a phone call to deposit funds to Yayasan Akalbudi in return for foreign currencies.
“I didn’t know that this Yayasan Akalbudi is owned by Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi. I only know Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi as a politician,” he said in his witness statement, confirming that a total of three cheques totalling RM258,080 from his CIMB personal account were deposited in 2015 into Yayasan Akalbudi’s Affin Bank account.
Lee said Omar Ali had in 2016 provided a loan totalling RM305,000 to HRA Teguh via RM217,000 banked in directly to the company and RM88,000 banked in to him, as the company had previously owed Lee money.
Lee confirmed that it was Omar Ali who had instructed the loan repayment to be made to Lewis & Co, with Lee confirming that he had then directed HRA Teguh’s account staff to issue a RM313,000 cheque (RM305,000 and RM8,000 service charge) to Lewis & Co.
Lee said Omar Ali did not request for a service charge but noted that the additional payment was made for his service in lending the funds to HRA Teguh as Omar Ali was a good friend and was also a businessman.
Lee today explained that he did ask Omar Ali about the identity of Yayasan Akalbudi, but trusted Omar Ali as an old friend and assumed that foundations are meant for charity, pointing out that he had also received the foreign currencies exchanged with Omar Ali then.
As for the payment to Lewis & Co, Lee said he had also asked Omar Ali about the entity, with the moneychanger then saying it was a law firm and with the understanding that Omar Ali wanted the loan to be repaid in the manner.
“To us, lawyers’ firm no problem, I think it’s a legal entity,” Lee said, adding that he had also not felt suspicious due to his long friendship with Omar Ali.
Lee also believed there was nothing illegal in paying RM313,000 to the law firm as instructed by Omar Ali, stating: “That’s what I believe, because I don’t know Lewis & Co. I only believe and trust Omar Ali. Because our purpose is to repay the money.”
HRA Teguh’s finance account executive Lee Wea, who was testifying as the 64th prosecution witness, said Lee Fook Kheun had told her on June 23, 2016 that money would be coming in from an individual known as “Ali” who was linked to a money-changer into the accounts of HRA Teguh and Lee Fook Kheun as a form of loan to the company.
The money loaned by “Ali” came in five batches, namely three transactions all dated June 23, 2016 to HRA Teguh (RM40,000, RM45,000, RM132,000) and two transactions to Lee Fook Kheun dated June 23 (RM18,000) and June 24 (RM70,000).
Lee Wea said the loan money to the company and Lee Fook Kheun’s accounts totalled RM305,000, noting that Lee Fook Kheun had asked her on June 30, 2016 to have a company cheque issued for RM313,000 to repay the loan and including a RM8,000 service fee to Lewis & Co.
She noted that she had at that time asked Lee Fook Kheun why the RM313,000 payment was to be made to Lewis & Co as it had no business dealings with HRA Teguh, noting that the latter had then explained that it was Ali’s own request for the cheque to be issued to Lewis & Co.
“I confirm this is the first and last time HRA Teguh made payment to Lewis & Co,” the 57-year-old said in her witness statement, later confirming in court that she had never met “Ali”.
Mohyidin Al Halabi and his companies — RM783,444.20
Al-Halabi, 55, in testifying as the 67th prosecution witness today said he had known Omar Ali since 2001 as the latter is a customer at his restaurant in Bukit Bintang and as he owns a moneychanger outlet located nearby.
Al-Halabi said he did not have a formal working relationship with Omar Ali but would go to the latter’s moneychanger outlet to convert foreign currency into ringgit when the restaurant customers use foreign currency to pay or would refer customers to Omar Ali’s outlet.
Al-Halabi said he had issued four cheques to Lewis & Co on Omar Ali’s instruction, namely RM127,700 to repay a personal loan, RM222,300 to convert into US dollars, and also a split payment into RM233,444.20 and RM200,000 due to another foreign currency exchange transaction.
Al-Halabi said he was not sure why Omar Ali had instructed for Lewis & Co to be named as the cheques’ recipient but noted that he had complied as instructed, noting: “At that time, I assumed Lewis & Co to be one of Omar’s companies.”
Yesterday, CIMB Starhill Gallery branch manager Yong Jyi Kae as the 55th prosecution witness confirmed a total of RM783,444.20 worth of cheques all dated June 24, 2016 were made out to Lewis & Co’s Clients’ Account, namely from the CIMB accounts of Mohyiddin Al Halabi (RM127,700), Syarikat Al-Halabi Lounge Sdn Bhd (RM233,444.20, RM200,000) and Tarbush Al Halabi Holdings Sdn Bhd (RM222,300).
Omar Ali has emerged as an intriguing and key figure during the course of Zahid’s trial over the past few days, with several witnesses yesterday telling the court that they had placed their trust in Omar Ali when signing on cheques worth a combined RM1.3 million that had the recipient’s name left blank as instructed by him. Those blank cheques eventually ended up being paid to Lewis & Co.
On Monday, 10 bankers from five different banks had confirmed in court that over RM25.9 million funds were transferred via 41 cheques to Lewis & Co during the 2016-2018 period, with such cheques including those issued by Patt and HRA Teguh.
Yesterday, three other bankers’ court testimony showed that a separate sum totalling RM1,033,444.20 (or more than RM1 million) were transferred via six cheques to Lewis & Co, including the four cheques mentioned by Al Halabi today.
Today, moneychanger Omar Ali Abdullah’s own wife Kamarunisah Ahmah Shah testified that she had trustingly signed off on a blank cheque book for her company without any amount stated and had left it to him to manage the funds coming in to the company, also confirming that he had used her company’s account to pay out a total of nearly RM4.6 million worth of 16 cheques in 2016 using funds of an unknown source to Lewis & Co.
In this trial where Zahid is facing 47 charges, he is accused of having committed money-laundering by having allegedly ordered an individual known as Omar Ali Abdullah to launder RM6,885,300.20 (or more than RM6.885 million) in cash into 30 cheques that were given to law firm Lewis & Co to buy fixed deposits in Maybank between March 29 to July 15, 2016.
The trial before High Court judge Collin Lawrence Sequerah is expected to resume tomorrow. – MMO
Nov 21, Zahid’s Trial: Day Four
Nov 21, Zahid’s Trial: Day Three
Nov 19, Zahid’s Trial: Day Two