KUALA LUMPUR (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Malaysia's former deputy prime minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi on Tuesday (March 9) pleaded not guilty to an amended charge of money laundering involving funds from his family-owned welfare foundation Yayasan Akalbudi at the Kuala Lumpur High Court.
Zahid was alleged to have given, in cash, the RM7,511,250.20 (S$2.45 million) to Bukit Bintang-based money changer Omar Ali Abdullah and instructed him to convert the money into 35 cheques which were later given to Messrs Lewis & Co for the opening of Maybank fixed deposit accounts. The money had originated from questionable sources, Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) investigator Mohd Fahmee Mohamad Nor testified.
Still in the middle of his graft trial, which is into its 49th day, the Umno president claimed the amended charge was aimed at making his sentence heavier.
"I understand that this (amended) charge is to increase my sentence. Thank you, I plead not guilty," he said after the charge was read to him.
Earlier, High Court judge Justice Collin Lawrence Sequerah allowed the prosecution's application to amend the 27th charge against the former deputy prime minister and ordered the new charge to be read out.
Changes made to the charge were on the amount and value of the cheques involved in the case. In the amended version, there are 35 cheques involved with a total value of RM7,511,250.20. In the original charge, 30 cheques were involved to the sum of RM6,885,300.20.
Zahid allegedly committed the money laundering offence at Marhaba Enterprise Sdn Bhd, LG 1.15, Farenheit88,179 Jalan Bukit Bintang in Kuala Lumpur on March 29, 2016 and July 15, 2016.
Zahid, 68, faces 47 criminal charges: 12 for criminal breach of trust (CBT), eight for corruption and 27 for money laundering involving tens of millions of ringgit of funds from Yayasan Akalbudi.
The foundation, which does charitable work such as building mosques, tahfiz schools and orphanages, was set up by his family with personal donations from himself and close friends. Records showed the foundation was registered in 1997 and its purpose is to receive and administer funds to eradicate poverty.
Zahid, who was also in charge of the Home Affairs Ministry under the Najib administration, had also pleaded not guilty in June 2019 to seven separate charges of receiving S$4.24 million in bribes from a contractor who managed Chinese visa processing facilities, One Stop Centre in China and Overseas Visa System in Malaysia.
He was also being investigated by Parliament's Public Accounts Committee (PAC) over a RM9 billion littoral combat ship project.
It has been reported that the government paid RM5.94 billion to contractor Boustead Naval Shipyard (BNS) for the project that was commissioned in 2014, when Zahid was the defence minister.
The first of the ships, meant to patrol Malaysia's coastal waters, was set to be delivered in April last year. But none of the ships has been built.