Rotten deal over Riza Aziz must be investigated
By P Gunasegaram |   |  Featured, Mainstream, Opinion

By P Gunasegaram

GIVEN the charges and punishment Riza Shahriz Abdul Aziz was facing, the deal offered by the prosecution to him over his US$248 mil (about RM1.1 bil) money-laundering charges was a rotten one for the government, raising serious questions as to how the prosecution can even agree to such a deal. It needs to be investigated.

Not only that, Attorney-General Tan Sri Idrus Harun has attempted to push this upon  his predecessor Tan Sri Tommy Thomas who has vehemently denied again that he had agreed to the settlement. However, Idrus could not provide any evidence for Thomas’ so-called agreement beyond saying that he had been “advised” that Thomas was prepared to consider it and “had agreed to the suggestion in principle”. He does not say who advised him.

Meanwhile, the lead prosecutor in the case, Datuk Seri Gopal Sri Ram, has said that the controversy over the deal should end with Idrus’ statement. But he is wrong because Idrus’ statement reveals details that most if not all of the assets involved in the US$108 mil to be returned were those seized by the US Department of Justice or DOJ. 

It is so bad that indications are that Riza does not have to take money out of his pocket but merely relinquishes any rights he may have to assets already seized by the DOJ amounting in all to about US$108 mil. This money would have to come to Malaysia anyway. It is rather questionable if Riza has any rights to the assets because they were bought with stolen 1MDB money and the DOJ has legal right to seize assets bought with such money.

Riza, Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s stepson, was facing 75 years in jail over five money-laundering charges, each of which carries a jail term of a maximum 15 years and fines of up to five times the amount laundered or RM5.5 bil in all, but gets away eventually with an acquittal.

What kind of a deal is it when the prosecution agrees to Riza merely relinquishing his rights to seized assets, rights he may not even have, and money from the sale of which is already being returned to Malaysia by the DOJ? Riza in effect returns no money at all and there is in effect no punishment whatsoever for a very serious offence.

It is imperative that this deal be rescinded if it can be. Also, there should be a detailed investigation undertaken by a parliamentary committee or even a Royal Commission to determine how the AG and the lead prosecutor agreed to something like this. 

Idrus’ statement says that Riza will surrender his rights in three properties seized by the US DOJ and for Riza to facilitate the return of the same or its value, to the Malaysian government. 

Also, on May 13, 2020, the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) again wrote to the solicitors instructing Riza to transfer US$14 mil held in an escrow account at Huntington National Bank, USA to the government of Malaysia, Idrus said.

“With this arrangement, the government of Malaysia is expected to recover approximately US$108 mil (subject to the eventual sale proceeds of the assets and deduction of the associated costs thereof) to be credited into the 1MDB Asset Recovery Trust Account. 

“This is in addition to the US$57 mil which was forfeited earlier in April 2019 from Red Granite Pictures, a company co-owned by Riza, the funds of which are traceable to 1MDB,” he said.

Idrus links the settlement to recovery of monies from 1MDB but they are two separate issues. As Thomas said in his latest statement: “By personal diplomacy, we established strong relations with the DOJ after I took office. They have returned billions of ringgit, and more monies may be released in future by the DOJ. The DOJ would have returned these monies in any event because it belongs to Malaysia and was stolen from Malaysia. 

“Riza is not offering to pay any new money or monies from any source other than the DOJ’s seized assets. The US$108 mil would in any event be returned by the DOJ to Malaysia. Thus, Riza is unnecessarily getting credit for returning monies that are not his. Hence, it is a sweetheart deal for Riza but terrible for Malaysia.”

Virtually all of the monies being repaid are in respect of the DOJ’s seizures of assets which were bought with money the DOJ said was stolen from 1MDB by Jho Low, the total amount of which the DOJ established at US$4.507 bil.

Of this, the DOJ reported that US$238 mil was transferred to Riza, providing full details of the transfer and the trails, establishing that this was stolen money and used by Riza to buy assets in the US which it seized. The AG has been strangely silent on all of these in his statement.

On Thomas’ involvement in the process of approval, Idrus had this to say: “I have been advised that my predecessor Tan Sri Tommy Thomas, after perusing the said letter of representation, via a minute dated Nov 19, 2019 to senior deputy public prosecutor Datuk Seri Gopal Sri Ram, sought the views of the latter, and further stated that in light of the proposals outlined above, he is prepared to consider the representation.

“I have been further advised that Sri Ram, in consultation with the then chief commissioner of MACC, Puan Latheefa Koya, suggested that the proposals laid down in the letter of representation be accepted by the MACC. I have also been advised that Thomas had agreed to the suggestion in principle. This paved the way for further negotiations and planning of the mechanism to be adopted to take place.”

The question that arises here is, why didn’t Idrus just pick up the phone and call Thomas? Then he would not have to rely on the so-called advice by others. He could have heard from Thomas himself the views instead of relying on someone else who may well misrepresent him, inadvertently or wilfully.

And why doesn’t Idrus take full responsibility for a decision he made with all the facts available to him, a decision which now looks rather bad?  

In his latest denial to Idrus’ statement, Thomas had this to say: “Finally, even the timing of Riza’s DNAA (discharge not amounting to acquittal) 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 has been given a DNAA so prematurely”.

That about wraps up the situation in this extremely pathetic state of affairs, the bottom of which can only be reached by an impartial investigation by independent parties. That would establish the truth. Any decent, self-respecting government must be prepared to act according to the truth post the investigation. - May 18, 2020

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