In The Courts (2020): Judiciary couple convicted of CBT, money laundering charges

BY Fadley Faisal

The judiciary couple was found guilty of criminal breach of trust (CBT) and money laundering on Wednesday, as Justice Gareth John Lugar-Mawson delivered his judgement in the case against Ramzidah binti Pehin Datu Kesuma Diraja Colonel (Rtd) Haji Abdul Rahman and Haji Nabil Daraina bin Pehin Udana Khatib Dato Paduka Seri Setia Ustaz Haji Awang Badaruddin.

The Court convicted Ramzidah of all 14 charges against her for criminal breach of trust offences of over BND15.75 million, which she had withdrawn from Official Receiver’s accounts under her control and management as a Deputy Official Receiver.

This case marks the largest amount of money embezzled by a public servant in Brunei Darussalam.

A total of 255 judgement debtors who made regular payments were affected by the crime committed by Ramzidah. As a consequence of her crime, a large number of the judgement debtors were not able to discharge their obligations to pay their debts.

The prosecution produced 608 pieces of withdrawal slips, which were made on 71 different days. Evidence from the handwriting expert confirmed that the signatures of the person making the withdrawals were done by Ramzidah herself. This was never challenged by the defence.

She claimed that she had received BND5 million from a Malaysian citizen for being a witness to confidential agreements of which she could not disclose any further information, due to the extreme confidential nature of the agreements. The Court found this allegation to be incredible.

She offered no explanation of why she was given cash gifts continuously, or what her purpose was in relation to the confidential agreements.

The Malaysian citizen did not arrive in Court to give evidence and the Judge found no support at all to Ramzidah’s claim.

Ramzidah never offered any explanation to the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) or the Royal Brunei Police Force (RBPF) as to why she withdrew BND15.75 million, or even what she did with the money.

However, documents containing her annotations, and also letters to banks suggest that those cash were deposited into fixed deposit accounts opened for the interest of the debtors.

The prosecution called in officials from banks, who confirmed that there were no such accounts.

Though Ramzidah was entitled not to give evidence, the Judge found it surprising that she did not want to explain where those fixed deposit accounts are, as she would be the one knowing the whereabouts of the purported accounts, yet she chose to remain silent on this.

Defence Counsel Simon Farrell, QC forwarded a series of complaints in his submissions to the Court. In particular, he commented on the inadequacy of the prosecution’s case, as it focusses exclusively on the judgement debtor’s accounts.

Further, he highlighted that the prosecution did not provide evidence of creditors who claimed that they were not paid from the cash withdrawn by Ramzidah.

However, the prosecution called officers from the Judiciary Department, who examined documents of the bankruptcy cases and confirmed that no payments were made to the judgement creditors, except in 11 of those cases.

The Judge found that there was no useful purpose to call all the creditors, in respect of the 255 cases when the prosecution had produced banking evidence to show that Ramzidah was siphoning large amount of cash from the Official Receiver’s accounts under her control.

The Judge also saw no criticism of how the ACB and the RBPF investigated the case.

Ramzidah is also convicted of a charge of criminal breach of trust for cash amounting to BND35,000, paid over the counter of the Official Receiver’s counter between April and May 2017.

Though her counsel suggested that the cash was taken by a previous employee of Bank A, who was tasked to collect cash from the Official Receiver’s chambers to be deposited into the relevant bank accounts, the Judge agreed with the prosecution that there was an irresistible inference that she had misappropriated the sum, because it had been shown that she regularly misappropriated monies from the judgement debtors’ accounts.

Justice Lugar-Mawson was satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that Ramzidah knew the source of the BND10,000 bank notes she was alleged to have used in the commission of money laundering were the proceeds of her criminal breach of trust.

Subsequently, she was convicted on all 10 charges of money laundering for depositing proceeds of her crime into her joint bank account with her husband, using the proceeds as part payment for the purchase of a car, exchanging BND10,000 notes into smaller denominations and also transferring the proceeds of her crime from her local bank to bank accounts in the United Kingdom.

Haji Nabil Daraina faced eight charges of money laundering for using money which were proceeds of his wife’s criminal breach of trust.

Throughout the trial, he maintained that he believed his wife when she told him her cash flow came from the Malaysian citizen and her own brother. Although the Judge could accept that Ramzidah’s late brother may have given her some cash, there was nothing to support that these were in substantial amounts.

The Court said that as a former Deputy Public Prosecutor and a judge working mainly on criminal matters, Haji Nabil Daraina must have known of the international and national concerns of money laundering.

As an educated, intelligent criminal judge with a salary of about BND4,800, he must have been aware they were living far above their emoluments and should have raised enquiries.

The Judge did not doubt that Haji Nabil Daraina knew the source of money used by him and his wife was from the judgement debtors’ accounts under the control of his wife.

Haji Nabil Daraina was convicted of six money laundering offences. He was acquitted of two offences of depositing BND10,000 notes into his joint account with Ramzidah, as the bankers who gave evidence could not be certain which of the two was present to deposit the money into their joint account on those occasions.

The trial was heard over the course of six weeks, between September and November 2019, during which the prosecution produced 1,672 documentary evidence from 93 witnesses comprising judicial officers, bank officers, car dealers, a digital forensics investigator from the IT Protective Security Services Sdn Bhd (ITPSS), a handwriting analysis expert from the Physical Evidence Section of Department of Scientific Services (DSS), and investigating officers from the ACB and the RBPF.

Justice Lugar-Mawson adjourned the case to January 18.

The possession of unexplained wealth offences were stayed at the prima facie stage, to be dealt with at the next mention.

Before the Justice rose, the defence party applied for the defendants to continue to be released on bail, but the application was objected by the prosecution. Justice Lugar-Mawson denied the application and ordered the defendants to be remanded in prison.

The Public Prosecutor was represented by a team led by Jonathan Caplan, QC with Deputy Public Prosecutors Hajah Suhana binti Haji Sudin, Hajah Suriana binti Haji Radin, Dayangku Didi-Nuraza binti Pengiran Haji Abdul Latiff and Muhammad Qamarul Affyian bin Abdul Rahman.

Sheikh Noordin Sheikh Mohammad represented the defendants alongside Simon Farrell, QC.

-- Courtesy of Borneo Bulletin