When and why Zahid’s corruption trial has been postponed 15 times since it began in Nov 2019

KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 26 : It was clear through High Court Judge Collin Lawrence Sequerah’s exasperated sigh and remarks in court on Monday that frustration was beginning to set in, as he faced yet another date where the corruption trial of Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi’s before him has been forced to postpone proceedings.

Sequerah’s stern warning towards the former home minister’s legal team on Monday to “impress” upon the Umno president the graveness of attending and concluding his graft trial could not be a clearer indication of a judge’s patience quickly thinning.

In this trial, Ahmad Zahid, 68, is facing 47 charges, namely 12 counts of criminal breach of trust involving tens of millions of ringgit from charitable foundation Yayasan Akalbudi’s funds, 27 counts of money-laundering, and eight counts of bribery charges.

To date, some 90 prosecution witnesses have testified, with at least seven more expected to testify before the end of the prosecution stage in the former deputy prime minister’s trial.

Ahmad Zahid was once again identified as a close contact to a Covid-19 positive case recently after he attended two meetings with Umno Supreme Council member Datuk Johan Abdul Aziz on Friday, February 19, in Janda Baik, Pahang. Johan tested positive for the virus on February 21. — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon

Following the latest postponement, Malay Mail looks back at all 15 times the Bagan Datuk MP’s trial dates were either vacated or deferred since proceedings began in November 2019.null

It should be noted that trial dates are set several months prior by the court, with replacement dates sought by the court for every day of trial vacated to make up the lost time. This is a list of the times Ahmad Zahid’s trial was forced to postpone.

Checks showed that these postponements were either caused by circumstantial conditions like a witness being unwell, Covid-19 restrictions as an effect of the movement control order (MCO), when Ahmad Zahid was forced to isolate for being a close contact of someone found positive of the virus, or when he was occupied with political duties.

March 2020

1. The first actual postponement of his trial, where Ahmad Zahid was present in the courtroom as his lawyers pleaded leave from the judge. Sequerah agreed to vacate March 2 after he was told that the accused was required to attend a meeting with newly appointed Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin over the Cabinet’s formation.

However after the Prime Minister’s Office refuted his claims, saying no such meeting took place, Ahmad Zahid escaped from being slapped with a contempt of court charge which was suggested by the prosecution. Sequerah had issued a warning to Ahmad Zahid and his lawyers the next day for submitting conflicting information, with the latter parties apologising.

Days vacated: One

2. A movement control order (MCO) was implemented by the government following a rise in Covid-19 cases as the pandemic swept across the country. As a result, court trials, including Ahmad Zahid’s, were vacated to avoid any congregation of masses. Trials dates scheduled from March 23 to March 25 were vacated.

Days vacated: Three

April 2020

3. As a result of the extended MCO, two weeks where trial dates were allocated were forced to be vacated. The trial was supposed to have commenced from April 13 to April 16, and April 27 to April 30.

Days vacated: Eight

May 2020

4. In a similar fashion, trial dates that were set to run from May 12 to May 15 were also vacated due to the MCO. However, the case came up for management on May 19, where future trial dates up to September that year were finalised. The hearing resumed on June 15.

Days vacated: Four

July 2020

5. On July 29, Sequerah allowed for the afternoon session of that day’s trial to be vacated, to allow Ahmad Zahid to fulfill his duties as an MP and attend a parliamentary committee meeting.

Days vacated: 0.5

August 2020

6. With trial set for three days straight, the prosecution’s 90th and key witness, Major Mazlina Mazlan @ Ramly called in sick on that Wednesday, August 26, forcing proceedings to halt. Hearing continued on August 28, with Major Mazlina taking the stand.

Days vacated: Two

September 2020

7. On September 21, Ahmad Zahid only attended the morning session of his trial but was absent from the afternoon session. The court was later informed that the former minister had undergone a Covid-19 test over the lunch break. It is understood that Ahmad Zahid took the test after returning from campaigning in Sabah for the statewide elections there, several days earlier.

At that time the entire Sabah was a Covid-19 red zone. Sequerah then allowed for the rest of the day and the following day, September 22, to be vacated to allow his test results to return.

Days vacated: 1.5

8. Sequerah had on August 28 allowed for three trial dates to be vacated, from September 23 to September 25, to allow Ahmad Zahid to campaign in Sabah. The statewide polls were held on September 26. This despite the court having already set September 21 to Sept 30 as dates for trial.

Days vacated: Three

9. Upon his return from Sabah, as per government requirements, Ahmad Zahid was placed under mandatory home quarantine for 14-days, a measure implemented following the spike in Covid-19 cases in Sabah. As a result, Ahmad Zahid was then unable to attend his trial from September 28 to September 30.

Days vacated: Three

November 2020

10. With Covid-19 infections still on the rise, a conditional MCO (CMCO) was implemented in several states including the capital, with court cases also suffering a delay. As a result, Deputy Public Prosecutor Datuk Raja Rozela Raja Toran informed the press that trial dates scheduled for November 16 to November 19 had to be postponed.

Days vacated: Four

11. As Covid-19 numbers continued to remain a worry towards the end of the month, the government decided on an extension of the CMCO, which meant court trials would also be deferred as a result. This resulted in a trial date set for November 30 was forced to be vacated.

Days vacated: One

December 2020

12. The court was forced to vacate dates set for December 1 to December 3, as per restrictions imposed under the extended CMCO.

Days vacated: Three

January 2021

12. Following the implementation of the MCO 2.0 by the government, court cases were again off the table. Trial dates initially set for Jan 18 to Jan 21 had to be vacated, following a a statement that was issued by the Federal Court’s Chief Registrar’s Office.

Days vacated: Four

14.  Chief Justice Tan Sri Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat had on January 12 said that the courts would allow corruption cases to continue despite the ongoing MCO. DPP Raja Rozela then said Ahmad Zahid’s trial would resume on January 27.

However, on January 26, she confirmed that proceedings were again postponed, this time to allow the accused to undergo self-quarantine after he had come in close contact with Umno Supreme Council member Datuk Seri Tajuddin Abdul Rahman who tested positive on Jan 19. Ahmad Zahid later tested negative.

Days vacated: One

February 2021

15. On Monday, Ahmad Zahid was once again identified as a close contact to a Covid-19 positive case after he attended two meetings with Umno Supreme Council member Datuk Johan Abdul Aziz on Friday, February 19, in Janda Baik, Pahang. Johan tested positive for the virus on February 21.

The Umno Hulu Langat division leader’s test results were later submitted to the court by Ahmad Zahid’s lawyers as the defence sought for adjournment for the rest of the week to allow their client to undergo the required 10-day quarantine and to get tested.

Sequerah then allowed for the hearing, which was supposed to stretch until Thursday, to be vacated, not before handing Ahmad Zahid and his team a stern warning to buck up.

Days vacated: Four

Total number of days vacated (to date): 43 days

BY : EMMANUEL SANTA MARIA CHIN – MALAY MAIL

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