Crime & Courts

Isa freed of corruption charges [NSTTV]

PUTRAJAYA: The Court of Appeal today (March 6) acquitted and discharged Tan Sri Mohd Isa Abdul Samad of nine corruption charges involving RM3 million over Felda Investment Corp's acquisition of Merdeka Palace Hotel & Suites (MPHS) in Kuching, Sarawak.

The court's three-man bench, led by judge Datuk Vazeer Alam Mydin Meera, unanimously set aside the 2021 High Court's conviction.

"We find that in the overall, the conviction on all nine charges are not safe. We find that there are merits in the appeal and the appellate's intervention is warranted.

"So the appeal against conviction and sentence in respect of all charges is allowed and the order of the High Court is set aside.

"The appellant is acquitted and discharged."

Other members of the bench were Datuk Ahmad Zaidi Ibrahim and Datuk S.M. Komathy Suppiah.

Vazeer said the prosecution had presented two narratives of their case in the charges and its opening statement.

It was stated that the gratification that Isa, as Felda Investment Corp Sdn Bhd (FICSB) board of director, had allegedly sought from Ikhwan Zaidel, the director and shareholder of Gegasan Abadi Properties Sdn Bhd, was a reward for helping to approve the purchase of MPHS.

Vazeer added that during trial, the narrative was changed to "inducement", so that the appellant did not interfere with the contract for the purchase of MPHS.

"The question then arises as to which part of Section 16(a)(A) of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Act was used by the trial judge in deciding whether a prima facie case had been established against the appellant.

"Is it one of reward or is it one of inducement?

"The prosecution cannot change the goalpost midstream. They must keep to the stated charges.

"The charges were amended once, but the reason for the gratification stated in the original charges remained the same in the amended charges — that it was a reward for the appellant in assisting to get approval for the purchase of MPHS and not the perceived fear that the appellant would throw a spanner in the works."

Vazeer said the trial judge had misdirected himself when ruling that a prima facie case had been established based on Ikhwan's evidence — that his apprehension and fear of the appellant's influence as chairman in the contract completion was the reason why he gave the gratification — as satisfying the element of charges under Section 16(a)(A) of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission.

He said there was no credible evidence showing that Isa had instructed SP21 (Isa's former special officer, Muhammad Zahid Md Arip) to make monetary demands from Ikhwan as gratification for Isa helping to obtain FICSB's approval for the purchase of MPHS.

"The decision to buy MPHS for RM160 million was made at the 10th FICSB board of directors' meeting on April 29, 2014.

"However, according to Zahid, the demand for gratification by the appellant came after that.

"If that was so, then it cannot be said that the gratification was for the assistance rendered to obtain the approval of FICSB, as that event had happened and the appellant's assistance would not be required any further."

He said the words, "Kalau dia orang bagi apa apa, nanti kau ambil lah", even if said by the appellant, could not be construed as an instruction or direction by the appellant to Zahid to take any money offered by Ikhwan for and on his behalf.

He said there was no credible evidence showing that there was an understanding between the appellant and Zahid to use the code word "salam" to ask for payment from Ikhwan.

"We find that the trial judge's finding that there was demand for payment made by the appellant through Zahid and that Ikhwan had made nine payments through Zahid to the appellant was not borne out by credible evidence.

"The evidence shows that Ikhwan made nine payments to Zahid.

"But apart from Zahid's oral evidence, there is no other evidence showing that the appellant had received these payments from Zahid."

After proceedings, deputy public prosecutor Afzainizam Abdul Aziz said it would discuss the case with the attorney-general before making a further decision.

The former Negri Sembilan menteri besar, 75, arrived at court complex about 8.40am accompanied by his family members. The courtroom gallery was also packed with his friends and supporters.

The former Umno vice-president had sought the Court of Appeal to set aside the 2021 sentence that had found him guilty of nine bribery charges amounting to RM3 million in Felda's acquisition of Merdeka Palace Hotel & Suites.

On Feb 3,2021, Isa was sentenced to six years' jail and fined RM15.4 million, in default 18 years' jail, after he was found guilty of receiving bribes of more than RM3 million over the purchase of Merdeka Palace Hotel & Suites.

Then High Court judge Datuk Mohd Nazlan Mohd Ghazali (now Court of Appeal judge) convicted Isa of all nine charges, ruling that the defence had failed to raise any doubt in the prosecution's case against him.

Isa's notice of appeal asked the court to set aside Nazlan's decision.

On Dec 14,2018, Isa was charged with one count of CBT charge and nine counts of receiving gratification involving more than RM3 million, by approving a proposal for the purchase of a hotel in Kuching for FICSB, a Felda subsidiary.

He allegedly committed the CBT offence at Level 50, Menara Felda, Platinum Park, 11 Persiaran KLCC near here on April 29, 2014.

The charge under Section 409 of the Penal Code carries an imprisonment for up to 20 years, whipping and fine, if found guilty.

On June 16,2020 he was acquitted and discharged of the CBT charge he faced involving the same hotel.

On the corruption counts, he was charged with committing the offences at Level 49, Menara Felda, between July 21,2014 and Dec 11,2015.

He pleaded not guilty and his wife posted RM1.5 million bail following his conviction, pending an appeal at the Court of Appeal.

The charges framed under Section 16(a)(A) of the MACC Act, punishable under Section 24(1) of the same law, carries a jail term of not exceeding 20 years and a fine of at least five times the bribe amount, or RM10,000, whichever is higher, upon conviction.

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