Zahid’s trial: Blank cheques over RM1.3m given to mystery moneychanger in exchange for cash, witnesses say
18 Jun 2020

Signed cheques that combined totalled over RM1.3 million were given to a moneychanger with the name of the recipient left blank, several prosecution witnesses testified today in the money-laundering trial of former deputy prime minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi.

The witnesses named the moneychanger as one “Omar Ali”, whose name resembles an individual named in Zahid’s money-laundering charges as purportedly having helped him to launder more than RM6 million in illegal funds by passing them to law firm Lewis & Co for fixed deposits.

Here are the details about “Omar Ali” the moneychanger that emerged in Zahid’s trial today.

The blank cheque issuers, the amount, and their reasons

(1) K. Rajan Gunaretnam — RM102,300 cheque for an alleged watch deal

Rajan, 64, who testified as the 58th prosecution witness confirmed that he had known Omar Ali for the last 22 years as a friend.

“Omar Ali is my friend, now recently, sometimes I need money to buy things, I borrow some money from him,” Rajan told deputy public prosecutor Harris Ong Mohd Jeffery Ong today.

Rajan said he started borrowing money from Omar Ali a few years ago, and that he usually borrowed once or twice a month from the same person to be used as capital for business and trading activities.

Rajan confirmed that he had personally issued a Maybank cheque dated June 23, 2016 for the sum of RM102,300, adding that he had delivered the cheque around June 20, 2016 to Omar Ali at the latter’s shop in the KL Plaza mall, now known as Fahrenheit 88.

“When I gave the cheque to Omar Ali, he instructed me to leave the name blank, so I left the name blank,” he said of the name of the recipient for the RM102,300 cheque.

Shown the cheque where the recipient’s name was now written as Lewis & Co, Rajan said he did not know who Lewis & Co is or who added the name. He emphasised that the name was not his handwriting.

In explaining his reason, Rajan said he borrowed RM100,000 from Omar Ali to “do a deal to buy a watch and sell a watch”, and that the cheque was a repayment of the loan after the watch was sold.

“Each time when I buy and sell something, we share the profit, so I gave him RM2,300 extra,” he said of this particular transaction, noting that this was after he had sold to a friend a Corum brand watch of a model that he could not recall now.

Rajan said he paid by cheque as the amount of RM102,300 was too huge. He said it was done on Omar Ali’s instructions, adding that he would always use cheques to repay loans given by Omar Ali. As far as he remembered, the RM102,300 cheque was the only one he had issued to Omar Ali in 2016.

Questioned further, Rajan said he had “never seen” and did not know about Lewis & Co, and had “no dealings” with the entity, further confirming that he only knows Zahid as being a minister but had not had any dealings with Zahid.

Rajan also said he did not have any suspicion when asked to deliver a blank cheque as Omar Ali had always asked him to do so for their transactions and he did not bother to know the recipient’s identity as he took it on “trust”.

Cross-examined by Zahid’s lawyer Hamidi Mohd Noh, Rajan agreed he had borrowed from Omar Ali whenever he was short of money as the latter was a person with means, and reiterated that it was his standard practice to issue “blank cheques” to repay money owed to Omar Ali whom he trusted.

While Hamidi had suggested that Omar Ali could have used the RM102,300 cheque as a donation to Yayasan Akalbudi or suggested that Lewis & Co is a law firm that acts as a trustee, Rajan later said he did not know anything about Yayasan Akalbudi and also had no knowledge of Lewis & Co being a law firm or whether it was acting as a trustee for the foundation.

Rajan also identified Omar Ali who was produced in court briefly today, and confirmed the latter is still his friend.

Zahid was also seen waving to Omar Ali.

(2) Ong Weng Fatt and Hwa Thong Bags Industries Sdn Bhd — Blank cheques totalling RM250k

The businessman was the 61st prosecution witness in Zahid’s trial. He confirmed that the family-owned company Hwa Thong Bags Industries Sdn Bhd where he is a director had issued a Public Bank cheque dated June 16, 2016 for RM80,000.

In his witness statement, Ong said the cheque was to pay for Hwa Thong’s supplies from a Singapore-based supplier that had asked for payment in cash in ringgit. He explained that the company issued a signed “blank cheque” as instructed by his “old friend” Omar Ali with the name of the cheque’s recipient left blank and only the amount filled in.

Ong explained this was because Hwa Thong did not have RM80,000 in cash in its savings. He said he personally handed over the company’s “blank” cheque worth RM80,000 to Omar Ali would then hand over the cash equivalent to the Singapore-based supplier.

“Omar Ali is an old friend of mine who I have known since 2014 when I made foreign exchange transactions with him. When I handed over the cheque in my office, he had not informed me that the cheque would be deposited into the Lewis & Co. Account,” he said in his witness statement, adding that he had only found out that the RM80,000 cheque was paid to Lewis & Co when the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) informed him.

Ong confirmed signing off on a June 24, 2016 cheque issued from his personal current account at Citibank for RM170,000 to obtain cash to exchange ringgit into New Zealand currency for his son who was studying there, but said this was once again a cheque with the recipient’s name left blank.

“When I issued this cheque, I just signed and handed the cheque over to Omar Ali at his premises, Money Changer Marhaba Enterprise Sdn Bhd located in Bukit Bintang,” he said, adding that Omar Ali had on the spot personally written down the name of Lewis & Co as the RM170,000 cheque’s recipient.

By Ida Lim, Malay Mail, 16 June 2020

Read more at Malay Mail

RiskScreen: Eliminating Financial Crime with Smart Technology

Advance your CPD minutes for this content, by signing up and using the CPD Wallet