Why the untouchables are so terrified of Anwar’s crackdown

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Pharaoh Mahathir had never in his wildest dream thought anyone would dare to touch his children.

Get ready for more whining, moaning and bitching from former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad. Malaysia’s longest serving premier, once the most powerful man, is set to go ballistic again after another son – Mokhzani – has been summoned by the MACC (Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission). After Mirzan and Mokhzani, his two other children, namely Mukhriz and Marina, could be next.

Amusingly, while Mahathir, despite his advanced age of 98 years old, struggles to defend his mega rich children, his sidekick and former finance minister – Daim Zainuddin – is hiding in the hospital, leaving his wife to fend for herself. It appears that even Daim isn’t any different from other crooks such as Najib Razak or Musa Aman, who would suddenly become very sick when faced with corruption charges.

Of course, Mahathir already knew that Mokhzani would be charged following Mirzan’s probe. As the ninth richest man in Malaysia by the Malaysian Business magazine in 2014 and celebrated as the second-richest Malay in the country, Mokhzani would be very busy with his homework – declaring his assets, both in and outside the country. That is the easiest part.

The toughest part is to explain his source of income after the declaration of assets. That’s how the authorities, and the Anwar government for that matter, are trying to nail Mahathir’s balls to the wall. First, they would summon the distinguished families of Mahathir and Daim to the MACC for a cup of Nescafe, during which they will also be served with a notice to declare their respective assets.

Next, they will need to justify those assets, and any discrepancies could and would be used against them. The best part is they don’t know how much the MACC knows about their hidden wealth. The MACC might know very little, hence they were on a “giant fishing expedition” as accused by Daim’s lawyers after the ex-minister’s wife and two sons spent almost nine hours at MACC’s headquarters.

However, it’s likely that the anti-corruption agency had in its possession a complete database of Daim’s business empire, including the money trail of his ill-gotten money. What they needed is the confirmation – and admission – from Daim’s wife, Na’imah Abdul Khalid, and his two sons, Muhammad Amin Zainuddin Daim and Muhammad Amir Zainuddin Daim, for verification purposes before charges are triggered.

Unless the Attorney General’s Chambers is retarded or incredibly clueless and incompetent, the fact that the wife of Daim was swiftly charged in court on Jan 23 (after the coffee session at the MACC) for failing to declare assets speaks volumes that the MACC knew more than what both Mahathir and Daim had hoped for. Apparently, Na’imah failed to declare the prime asset – Ilham Tower.

The 60-storey Menara Ilham, built at an estimated cost of US$580 million (RM2.7 billion), is the crown jewel of Daim’s fortune. It was seized on Dec 18, 2023, after Daim repetitively refused to entertain MACC’s petition to declare his and his family’s financial holdings. This means the authorities actually knew that the tower was part of “undeclared assets” before it was frozen.

Even if 85-year-old “womaniser” Daim Zainuddin, who was known as the so-called financial wizard in the 1990s, is senile, exactly how could his 66-year-old intelligent wife forget to declare assets as massive as Ilham Tower, two companies (Ilham Tower and Ilham Baru), two Mercedes-Benzes, seven properties in Kuala Lumpur and one property in Penang. At best, it was tax evasion. At worst, it was money laundering.

To put it in perspective, Ilham Tower was as huge as RM2.6 billion found in disgraced Najib’s bank accounts linked to the infamous 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) scandal. Both didn’t declare their assets. The only difference is Najib claimed the money was donations from Saudi royal family, while Daim’s wife might claim in court that the tower was built using Daim’s own pocket money.

Facing up to five years’ jail and a fine of up to RM100,000 if found guilty, Na’imah was so furious that she had even warned – and threatened – PM Anwar that “power is brief”, hinting that her super billionaire husband, who could easily qualify as the richest man in the country, would use his wealth to launch a political persecution against Anwar once he is no longer in power.

In truth, Daim was also on a fishing expedition, challenging and testing the limit of the MACC. His wife deliberately refused to declare Ilham Tower even after she had been given multiple opportunities to do so because the Daim family wanted to see what type of offences that the anti-graft agency would charge them. At the same time, the tycoon is trapped and can’t declare Ilham Tower.

If the Daim family suddenly declares the tower as an asset, they could be charged for tax evasion or even money laundering. If they don’t, the offence is failure to declare assets. When even rental income from residential properties must be declared, what more profits derived from the 60-storey Menara Ilham. Either way, they have committed offences since 2015 when the tower was opened.

However, the charge slapped on Daim’s wife was just the beginning. Under Section 36(1)(a) MACC Act 2009, which was served on Daim, he is compelled to furnish information on his assets and sources of income – both in and outside Malaysia. Likewise, his family members were served notices under Section 36(1)(b), which compelled them to do the same.

It isn’t just about properties or luxury vehicles, but also other assets such as private jets, superyacht, paintings, jewellery, cash, expensive watches and of course, shares in companies. Such assets, if undeclared and discovered, could be confiscated. It doesn’t matter if those assets are abroad. The MACC, under the powerful AMLA, can work with foreign powers to bring those assets back.

Therefore, Daim could only pretend to be sick for so long. Similarly, Mahathir could only bark and accuse protégé-turned-nemesis Anwar of using the MACC as a political witch-hunt for so long. Having the “Tun” title in front of their names does not grant them immunity from prosecutions. The thought that it was clever to park their wealth under family members is a double-edged sword.

To hurt Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad the most, you need to hurt his children. For the old fox, that would be worse than death. Anwar does not need to go after his former boss as part of the Malay culture to “respect the elders”. Even if “Tun” is untouchable, which is not, it does not apply to the family members. Hence, targeting Mirzan, Mokhzani, Mukhriz and Marina is perfectly legitimate.

There’s a reason why the MACC is using civil rather than criminal charges against Mahathir and Daim families. In a criminal case, it is the prosecution who bears the legal burden to prove beyond reasonable doubt of the accused’s guilt. In a civil case, it is the plaintiff who bears the legal burden to prove his case on a balance of probabilities against the defendant.

Meaning, in a criminal case, the prosecution must convince the jury or judge that there is “no other reasonable explanation” that can come from the evidence presented at trial. In layman term, the court must be convinced 100%. The defence does not need to do anything. In a civil case, however, the prosecution just needs to convince the judge that there is 51% that the defence is guilty.

Obviously, it’s easier to score 51% than 100% in your exam papers. Another advantage of civil case over criminal case is that civil forfeiture allows the government to file cases against property that would not be reachable through criminal forfeiture. Asset forfeiture is designed to deprive criminals of the proceeds of their crimes, to break the financial backbone, and to recover property that may be used to compensate victims.

Crucially, a criminal conviction is required before asset forfeiture can be carried out in criminal cases. Unlike a criminal case, there is no conviction required in a civil case before asset forfeiture is carried out. That’s why both Daim and Mahathir were hopping mad like a cat on hot bricks when the Ilham Tower and other assets were seized and frozen even before any charges are drafted.

Furthermore, criminal forfeiture is generally limited to the property involved in the particular counts on which the defendant is convicted. So, in Daim’s case, it’s Ilham Tower that can be seized. Civil forfeiture, besides allowing the government to seize property located outside the country, also permits recovery of assets of defendants who have died or where the wrongdoer cannot be identified.

That’s why crooked Najib’s stepson Riza Aziz gladly agreed to pay US$60 million to the US government in order to settle a civil lawsuit in Sept 2020. The civil lawsuit was chosen and preferred by the US-DOJ so that Riza’s company, Red Granite, cannot sell anything or try to get money out of the country. If criminal lawsuit had been filed instead, the US government has to win their case in the court first, allowing the crook to potentially sell everything.

The juiciest part is that the Anti-Money Laundering, Anti-Terrorism Financing and Proceeds of Unlawful Activities Act 2001 (AMLA) is powerful enough to include offences committed before or after the commencement of the AMLA 2001. So, it doesn’t matter if the dubious wealth accumulated by Mahathir and Daim’s families occurred back in 1980s or 1990s (or in the 2020s as in the case of Muhyiddin Yassin or Ismail Sabri).

Pharaoh Mahathir had never in his wildest dream thought anyone would dare to touch his children. And for Anwar to use the same powerful law gazetted in July 2001 during the Mahathir dictatorship against his family is simply breathtaking. Worse, there’s nothing to stop the MACC from proceeding with criminal charges at a later stage after the civil charges.

It doesn’t help the Opposition Perikatan Nasional that the case could drag for years, cutting Mahathir-Daim’s access to funds critical not only to overthrow Anwar’s government, but also money needed to stop opposition MPs from switching sides. More importantly, Anwar would become more powerful as his crackdown on corruption could destroy the already fragile and demoralized opposition camp.

After he was given a second chance in the May 2018 General Election, Mahathir should not have betrayed the people through his silent participation in the “Sheraton Move” and broke his promise to hand over power after two years to Anwar. The last straw that broke the camel’s back was his stubbornness and arrogance to topple yet another Pakatan Harapan-led government. – Finance Twitter