Monies returned are DoJ’s seized assets, not Riza Aziz’s

DoJ would have returned the monies in any event because they belong to Malaysia

by DASHVEENJIT KAUR/ pic by BERNAMA

FORMER Attorney General (AG) Tan Sri Tommy Thomas (picture) once again refuted claims that he was involved in the decision to discharge Riza Shahriz Abdul Aziz from five money-laundering charges over US$248 million (RM1.08 billion) of funds siphoned from 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB).

Responding to his successor Tan Sri Idrus Harun’s statement, Thomas said he had to put the record straight a second time.

“Riza Aziz is not offering to pay any new monies from any source other than Department of Justice’s (DoJ) seized assets. The US$108 million would in any event be returned to Malaysia by DoJ.

“He is getting unnecessary credit for returning monies that are not his. Hence, it is a sweetheart deal for Riza Aziz, but terrible for Malaysia,” he said in a statement yesterday,

Thomas stressed that he did not make any decision in relation to Riza Aziz’s representation up to the date of his resignation on Feb 28, 2020.

“A decision of this importance involving billions of ringgit and significant public interest would be made by me in writing. I did not, and none exist,” he added.

Referring to Idrus’ statement that “Malaysia is expected to recover approximately U$108 million”, Thomas cautioned it as a red herring.

“By personal diplomacy, we have established strong relations with DoJ after I took office. They have returned billions of ringgit, and more monies may be released in future by DoJ,” he said, adding that the purpose of prosecuting Riza Aziz was not to strengthen our chances of securing monies from DoJ.

Regardless, Thomas said DoJ would have returned these monies in any event because they belong to Malaysia and were stolen from Malaysia.

Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) in a statement yesterday said the Prime Minister (PM) Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yasssin is not involved in any way to discharge charges, not amounting to acquittal, against Riza Aziz.

“The PM reiterates his stand to not interfere in AG’s Chamber and the judiciary to decide on criminal cases including high-profile cases in the country,” PMO said.

Last week, the Malaysian court dismissed money-laundering charges against the stepson of the country’s former PM under an agreement in which he will return assets worth more than US$107 million.

The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC), which investigated the case, said Riza Aziz’s agreement to return the assets from overseas is “an alternative to the charges that have been brought against him”.

MACC also claimed that “the agreement between the prosecution and the accused through representation in court was a decision considered and agreed by the former AG”.

Thomas said he took into account the benefits of the Anti-Money Laundering, Anti-Terrorism Financing and Proceeds of Unlawful Activities Act 2001 when he decided to charge Riza Aziz in July 2019 with five money-laundering offences punishable under Section 4(1) of that Act for receiving proceeds of unlawful activities, between April 2011 and November 2012, totalling US$248 million of monies belonging to 1MDB.

“I was satisfied that the prosecution had a very strong case to establish the ingredients of the offences. The documentary trail was substantial and highly credible.

“Upon conviction, the prosecution would have invited the trial judge to impose a sentence commensurate with the severity of the offences, the maximum being 15 years for each charge,” he said.

Thomas noted that the criminal court has been given power by the Parliament to additionally impose a penalty up to five times the amount involved in the unlawful activities, which is five times the US$248 million and would work out to some US$1.2 billion.

“We would have sought this sum upon his conviction” he added.

Thomas also said the timing of Riza Aziz’s discharge not amounting to an acquittal (DNAA) is bizarre.

“In both civil and criminal proceedings which proceed to trial, a plaintiff or the prosecution loses substantial leverage over the adverse party if it withdraws court proceedings before the terms of settlement are completely performed. This is elementary. Hence, one needs to question why Riza Aziz has been given a DNAA so prematurely.

“Since Idrus is at pains to emphasise the weight he gave to my so-called ‘agreement in principle’ (which itself is a fiction), let me state publicly that I would have never sanctioned this deal,” Thomas emphasised.

To him, doing so would have resulted in him losing all credibility in the eyes of the people of Malaysia whom he endeavoured to serve as public prosecutor to the best of disability, honestly and professionally if he had approved it.

“I would have betrayed the trust the PM and the Pakatan Harapan government had reposed in me,” he said.