Why PM and Zahid could have struck a secret deal.
Ahmad Zahid Hamidi was acquitted of all 40 corruption charges on Friday (Sept 23), amid high expectations that he would be convicted. The president of the United Malays National Organization (UMNO) was first charged in June 2019 under the now-toppled Pakatan Harapan administration. Since then, the country has seen three prime ministers.
The acquittal means Zahid walks away free, despite the fact that he had taken bribes from Ultra Kirana Sdn Bhd (UKSB), the company awarded a government contract for a foreign visa system (VLN). However, the UMNO president is still on trial in another corruption case where he is accused of 47 criminal breach of trust, corruption and money laundering charges.
Still, people should not condemn the judiciary when Zahid is acquitted, after having praised the same judiciary when Najib was convicted. It screams hypocrisy, as demonstrated by Zahid when he now brags that he has had faith in the judiciary since “day one” of his trial – contrary to his recent criticism of the same judiciary when his mentor-turn-prisoner Najib Razak was sent to jail last month.
But how could a crook like Zahid be freed by the court when all evidence showed otherwise? In his ruling, Judge Mohd Yazid Mustafa said the prosecution failed to successfully prove a “prima facie” case against Zahid. Meaning the judge was not convinced that the prosecution has sufficiently established evidence to justify a verdict to convict the UMNO chief.
In the rule of law, a presumption of innocence means that any defendant in a criminal trial is assumed to be innocent until he or she has been proven guilty. Therefore, the burden of proof was with the prosecution to prove that Zahid was guilty. Only with prima facie established against Zahid will the burden of proof shift from prosecution to the defence, as seen in the conviction of Rosmah Mansor.
Unfortunately, the prosecution had failed to establish the fact beyond reasonable doubt that the defendant (Zahid) was guilty, leading to his acquittal. As UMNO supporters celebrate their leader’s acquittal, they are “munafiqs” or “hypocrites” who now believe in the judiciary, but keep condemning the same judiciary that had earlier convicted former Prime Minister Najib Razak.
Judge Yazid said the testimonies by three key prosecution witnesses – former UKSB executives Wan Quoris Shah Wan Abdul Ghani and Harry Lee Vui Khiun, and former administrative manager David Tan Siong Sun – were unreliable and untrustworthy. The judge also raised his doubts whether money was delivered to and exchanged hands with Zahid.
During the trial, Harry Lee Vui Khun, a former director of Ultra Kirana Sdn Bhd (UKSB) told the High Court that his company was paying cash in Singapore Dollars (SGD) on a monthly basis to then-former deputy prime minister Zahid Hamidi from 2014 to 2018 in relation to the Foreign Visa System (VLN) Contract. Zahid also had received sponsored overseas trip from UKSB.
The payments, started with SGD200,000 per month and began in late 2014, was increased to SGD520,000 per month some time in 2017. Zahid had received bribes amounting to SGD13.56 million from UKSB for himself as Home Minister to extend the contract of the company as the operator of OSC service in China and the supply VLN system.
The High Court judge said that although the three witnesses had testified that the brown envelope containing the money was given to Zahid, the court did not know the size of the envelope. Judge Yazid said – “I simply cannot imagine what envelope in what size would contain the SGD600,000 in cash, equivalent to around RM1.6 million at the time.”
Actually, the largest and latest denomination of Singapore currency is SGD10,000, which is still in circulation today. Hence, it will take only 60 pieces of SGD10,000 notes to do the job. But that was not the biggest issue. The biggest problem was testimonial contradictions from the witnesses – Lee and Wan Quoris said the cash payments were delivered in an envelope, but Tan said it was done using luggage.
Additionally, monies from UKSB’s business in Hong Kong had entered Malaysia, but were not channelled into the company’s bank account. Instead, it was kept in a safe box under the supervision of Tan – raising suspicions that the witnesses too were helping themselves to the money. That’s why Judge Yazid highlighted that the three witnesses maintained a “luxurious lifestyle” and owned expensive property and vehicles.
To make matters worse, the prosecution could not produce some important witnesses who had knowledge of the source of funds, including Nicole Tan. Judge Yazid said if Nicole had been called, she would have been able to verify David Tan Siong Sun’s testimony that he received cash on a weekly basis from two money changers, who received money from Hong Kong.
The trial also became more complicated – even political – when a ledger listing payments to former prime ministers (Mahathir Mohamad and Muhyiddin Yassin), top ministers (Khairy Jamaluddin and Hishammuddin Hussein), politicians, civil servants and even a “bomoh” (shaman) was dramatically produced in the court. The ledger undermined the credibility of the testimony.
So, the burning question is – how could the prosecution allow its witnesses to screw up so royally? That’s the beauty of corruption after 60 years under UMNO. But the country has plunged into an entirely new level of destruction when power-crazy Muhyiddin Yassin plotted with crooks like Najib and Zahid, along with Islamist extremists like Hadi Awang, to snatch power from a democratically elected government.
Despite its 22-month rule, Pakatan Harapan’s biggest achievement in restoring judicial independence was the appointment of Tommy Thomas as Attorney General and Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat as the first woman Chief Justice, who boldly and decisively sent former premier Najib Razak to prison on August 23, 2022 after a lengthy four years of corruption trial linked to SRC International.
Chief Justice is the head of the Federal Court, the highest court of Malaysia and therefore, the highest position in the Malaysian judicial system. Under Article 125 of the Malaysian Constitution, the chief justice can be removed only by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong (King) on a recommendation from a tribunal consisting of at least five Federal Court judges.
In theory, the chief justice appears to be the most powerful person in the judicial system. In reality, the Attorney General is more powerful, largely because the position plays two roles – as the attorney general as well as the public prosecutor. The AG is the chief legal adviser to the government of the day, while the Public Prosecutor possesses prosecuting authority.
Armed with extremely wide discretion over control of all criminal prosecutions, a corrupt AG could, under the instruction of the Prime Minister, sabotage an existing trial through various methods. The AG could send inexperienced prosecutors, introduce contradictory evidence, and influence witnesses to change testimonies or even withdraw cases based on whatever reasons he likes.
For example, AG Idrus Harun, appointed by then-PM Muhyiddin, had unilaterally discharged Riza Aziz, the stepson of Najib Razak, from five charges of money laundering involving US$248 million misappropriated from sovereign wealth fund 1MDB (1Malaysia Development Bhd). As part of a settlement, Riza Aziz was required to return just US$107.3 million worth of overseas assets.
AG Idrus had also freed another big crook – former Sabah Chief Minister Musa Aman – after dropping all 46 corruptions and money-laundering charges against Musa. UMNO warlord Tengku Adnan was similarly freed when the AG stunningly withdrew its appeal against the Court of Appeal’s decision to acquit Tengku Adnan in an RM2 million corruption case last year.
Heck, even in the money laundering case against Ahmad Maslan, he was freed after the UMNO warlord agreed to pay a compound of RM1.1 million. And the High Court Judge could not do anything after deputy public prosecutor under AG Idrus Harun said it would not continue prosecuting the accused, effectively allowing UMNO crooks to escape with a slap on the wrist.
Was it a coincidence that on the same day Zahid Hamidi was freed because of unreliable prosecution witnesses, his party colleagues – Abdul Azeez Abdul Rahim and Bung Moktar Radin also received good news? Abdul Azeez was given a discharge not amounting to an acquittal over nine corruption and money laundering charges, while Bung Moktar was given a stay in his corruption trial.
With the exception of Najib, now every UMNO corrupt leader can still contest in the next 15th General Election. It appears that PM Ismail Sabri and Zahid Hamidi could have struck a deal. In exchange to interfering in Zahid’s foreign visa system (VLN) trial, the UMNO president would stop demanding that a general election be immediately held, releasing pressure on the premier.
The only reason Zahid was vigorously beating the drums of war was because he would not be eligible to contest in the upcoming election if he were convicted. Without the timebomb hanging around his neck, he has no reason to threaten Sabri to dissolve Parliament. It’s a win-win deal – the premier can rule until next year, and Zahid can avoid the public anger of forcing an election during the monsoon season.
The turtle-egg man blinked in the game of brinkmanship. It was a brilliant strategy when Najib-Zahid hatched the plan to postpone the UMNO party election for six months after the 15th national election. As the party president, only Zahid can sign the letter of candidacy (“surat watikah”) for UMNO candidates to contest in the poll. Ismail Sabri was trapped.
When push comes to shove, the desperate Java-immigrant Zahid is willing to sack Sabri, who ranked only third in the party hierarchy as one of three vice-presidents. Sure, the premier might not lose power even after he is sacked from his party because the Opposition has pledged to support him. However, without his own party machinery and grassroots, Sabri is doomed.
Even so-called young talents like Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin is at the mercy of his own party leadership, crying and whining every day that he has no seat to contest. Khairy, despite trying to project himself as a clean leader, was caught smuggling prisoner Najib to Cheras Rehabilitation Hospital so that the crook could enjoy his jail term in the hospital’s VVIP ward instead.
By freeing Zahid, at least PM Sabri could try to prolong his administration to avoid the humiliation as the shortest serving prime minister, whose current record belongs to Muhyiddin’s 17-month rule. So far, based on reactions after Zahid’s acquittal, governing partners like Hadi’s PAS and Muhyddin’s Bersatu might have been involved in the deal to free Zahid.
But what about his other 47 criminal charges? Zahid can live with it, for now, because he believes not only UMNO will win big in the next election, he would finally become the next prime minister. He is the only UMNO president since independence who is not the prime minister, a humiliation he wanted to redeem. As far as Zahid is concerned, Sabri is merely warming up the seat for him.
There’s little doubt Zahid received bribes. However, by allowing even a small reasonable doubt in the trial, the prosecution – either ignorantly or deliberately – has lost the case. Crucially, you know AG Idrus Harun has no plan to appeal after he said the prosecution will study the judgement. One can smell a rat when UMNO leaders aligned to Zahid joined PM Sabri’s trip to New York – bird of the same feather flock together. – Finance Twitter