Prosecution opens case against judiciary couple; first witness called to the stand

Fadley Faisal

The prosecution yesterday opened its case against Ramzidah binti Pehin Datu Kesuma Diraja Colonel (Rtd) Haji Abdul Rahman (First Defendant) and Haji Nabil Daraina bin Pehin Udana Khatib Dato Paduka Seri Setia Ustaz Haji Awang Badaruddin (Second Defendant).

Jonathan Caplan, QC highlighted the unusual and disturbing feature of this case, in that the defendants allegedly committed the offences when they were serving judges.

The defendants, a married couple, began their careers at the Attorney General’s Chambers and were later transferred to the Judiciary Department.

The First Defendant was appointed as a Registrar of the Supreme Court on July 2, 1997, and conferred with the powers of Deputy Official Receiver (DOR).

The prosecution explained the process which occurs when an individual is declared bankrupt: A DOR is appointed to administer the judgment debtor’s assets.

A bank account would be opened by the DOR assigned to the case, and the debtor would pay monies on a regular basis into that account.

The debtor would either have a portion of his salary deducted and paid into the account each month, or pay cash over the counter at the High Court to be put into the account.

The DOR is the sole signatory to the account. Once there are sufficient funds, the DOR will declare an interim and subsequently a final dividend, to satisfy the amount due to the creditors.

For dividends declared, a Notice of Dividend would be prepared by the Bankruptcy Office, while the Bank would prepare the cheque, with the judgement creditor providing his signature to acknowledge receipt.

In addition, the Proof of Debt on the bankruptcy file would be updated, to reflect the correct balance.

Once the creditors were fully paid, the Receiving Order would be rescinded.

It is the prosecution’s case that the First Defendant only declared dividends in 11 out of the 255 files, despite the fact that there were ample funds to do so.

The debtors were simply left to continue making payments into their accounts to pay off their debt, while the First Defendant allegedly withdrew large sums from those accounts for her benefit.

In fact, Bank A noticed the failure of the First Defendant to give instructions to the bank to prepare cheques for the declaration of dividends, and on occasions the bank wrote to her stating that there were sufficient funds in those accounts inclusive of the cash withdrawals made on various dates.

In response to some of these letters, she informed the bank that the cash withdrawn were held in fixed deposit accounts.

Caplan emphasised the extent of the First Defendant’s action in making withdrawals from judgement debtor accounts by giving an example of her closing an Official Receiver’s account at Bank B which held BND504,557, by giving instructions to prepare a cheque in that amount.

However, that cheque was not used to declare any dividends.

It was deposited into a new account at Bank A, after which she made a withdrawal to the amount of BND503,000 for her own use.

The prosecution intends to call as witnesses several Bank A tellers who attended the First Defendant on various occasions between 2004 and 2017 and processed the withdrawal transactions.

It is anticipated that the tellers will confirm that the monies withdrawn were handed to the First Defendant herself, as it is a requirement to verify the identification of the person withdrawing against the identification card, which the tellers did.

Some of these tellers will give evidence that several transactions included the giving of several banknotes in the denomination of BND10,000 to the First Defendant.

In this instance, the serial numbers of the BND10,000 notes are recorded by the bank against the name of the client who received them and then reported at the end of every month to the Autoriti Monetari Brunei Darussalam (AMBD).

These recording and reporting duties also apply to any deposits made into Bank A and any other banks in Brunei Darussalam.

Over the period between November 2012 and December 2017, Bank A dispensed 194 pieces of BND10,000 banknotes to the First Defendant, of which 98 pieces were traced as having been later deposited into the defendants’ joint account of the defendants at Bank C.

Forty-six pieces were traced as having been used by the defendants to purchase cars, and five pieces were exchanged at Bank C by the First Defendant to smaller denominations.

The cash withdrawal slips, the subject of the charges of criminal breach of trust by the First Defendant, were seized by the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) and submitted to the Department of Scientific Services (DSS) to be examined by a scientific officer who is an expert in document and handwriting analysis.

This expert will also testify in Court to attest to her opinion that the slips were signed by the First Defendant.

In respect of the First Defendant’s claim that the monies withdrawn were held in fixed deposit accounts, the prosecution intends to show that no details of these accounts were given by her or entered into the relevant bankruptcy files.

Not a single piece of statement or correspondence confirming the existence of such accounts have been found in the subsequent searches of the defendants’ office and home, or in enquiries to the banks by both the Judiciary Department and the ACB.

In fact, it is not the practice of the Bankruptcy Office for fixed deposit accounts to be opened, although on rare occasions, this was done for valid reasons in which case the accounts were visible and fully documented.

According to Caplan, within the short period of time of the cash withdrawal from Bank A, a smaller but significant amount of cash was paid into the defendants’ joint account at Bank C.

In demonstrating this, he quoted an instance on May 11, 2015, when the First Defendant withdrew BND595,000, which included 52 pieces of BND10,000 notes.

On the following day, 19 pieces of those BND10,000 notes were used by the Second Defendant as part of cash payment for the purchase of a car.

This act forms one of the money laundering offences which the Second Defendant was charged with.

The prosecution also relies on the analysis by an ACB investigator, which found that both the defendants would often travel to the United Kingdom (UK) after a substantial cash deposit was made into their joint account at Bank C, subsequent to cash withdrawals from Bank A.

They would also often send a telegraphic transfer to their accounts at a bank in the UK.

Again, in demonstrating this, it was highlighted that the First Defendant withdrew BND577,700 from Bank A on June 14, 2017, and made a substantial deposit into her joint account with the Second Defendant, including 10 pieces of BND10,000 bank notes, from which she then transferred a total of GBP150,000 to her account in the UK – all on the same day.

An investigation into the defendants’ financial position revealed that their only legitimate source of income was from their salaries at the Judiciary Department.

Between 2003 and 2017, the First Defendant’s salary was BND922,146 and the Second Defendant’s salary was BND958,921 totalling to BND1.881 million. Bank loans to the defendants between 2012 and January 2018 were BND654,271 therefore leaving a net balance of BND1,226,796.

In contrast to their total salaries, the defendants made a total of BND7,125,983 cash deposits into their accounts at Bank C and Bank D, and also into their children’s accounts between 2011 and 2017.

Between 2008 and 2017, the defendants paid BND2,126,535 towards the purchase of cars.

They also purchased a car for their daughter with cash in the sum of BND147,500.

In the trial, the prosecution will show the Court that the defendants led a lavish lifestyle, travelling business class to the UK two or three times a year, while also going on expensive shopping sprees in London at retail stores.

The defendants also had two rental properties in the UK – one in London, which they rented between 2015 and 2018 to the total of GBP131,429; and another in Coventry, rented between 2011 and 2019 for GBP182,200.

It is the prosecution’s case then that the defendants were in control of properties that were disproportionate to their income or emoluments as public officers.

These properties included cars valued at about BND1.288 million in the First Defendant’s possession, cars valued at about BND1.836 million in the Second Defendant’s possession, designer handbags and shoes valued at about BND429,000, and watches valued at BND152,000.

The First Defendant also said in her statement to the investigators that she received about BND5 million from a foreign woman, who assisted her in the execution of a confidential agreement.

At the heart of the Second Defendant’s defence is that he believed the First Defendant received those monies from her arrangements with a foreign woman.

The prosecution submitted to the Court that the foreign woman has denied she knows, or has ever met the First Defendant, or that she has ever paid the First Defendant any money.

The prosecution intends to call 88 witnesses first from the Judiciary Department, followed by bank officers, car dealers, officers from the ACB, an officer from the Royal Brunei Police Force (RBPF), expert witnesses and a witness to rebut the claim by the First Defendant that she received BND5 million from a foreign woman.

Simon Farrell, QC informed the Court that the Defence may be able to reduce the number of witnesses for the prosecution to call, subject to agreement with all parties.

The trial continued in the afternoon during which the prosecution called its first witness, Hajah Hazarena binti Pehin Orang Kaya Setia Jaya Dato Paduka Haji Abu Hurairah, who is currently a Senior Registrar at the Judiciary Department.

She was appointed as a Registrar/Magistrate, together with powers as a DOR, in 2004.

She had given evidence of the typical process of a bankruptcy case and informed that DORs would not see another DOR’s file unless they were sent by mistake, or when conducting work on the DOR on leave.

In administering the files assigned to her, she had never opened fixed deposit accounts.

The payment of dividends is by way of cheque, which is a practice that has been in place since she started work.

She added that she had never made any cash withdrawals from DOR accounts, and was not even aware that it was possible to do so.

Hajah Hazarena testified that she had taken over some files that had existing fixed deposit accounts which were opened by a previous DOR.

She continued to give details of where those accounts were held, and the balance of the last bank statement received.

During cross-examination, Farrell put across the argument that an individual DOR is left with the discretion as to how to deal with their bankruptcy files.

It is also up to the DOR when to declare the dividend and how much to declare.

He further questioned Hajah Hazarena on the physical bankruptcy files, suggesting that there are imperfections in the contents of the files.

In March 2015, the Official Receiver’s (OR)Chambers started using an electronic case management system called the Judicial Court Management Systems (JCMS).

It was suggested by the defence counsel that not all of the documents in the physical documents would be uploaded into the JCMS, though only relevant documents were uploaded in relation to older files holding voluminous documents.

Hajah Hazarena confirmed, during a re-examination by Caplan, that documents such as Notice of Dividends and Proof of Debts are definitely uploaded into the JCMS.

Deputy Public Prosecutors Hajah Suhana binti Haji Sudin, Hajah Suriana binti Haji Radin, Dayangku Didi-Nuraza binti Pengiran Abdul Latiff and Muhammad Qamarul Affyian bin Abdul Rahman also appeared for the Public Prosecutor.

Defence counsel Sheikh Noordin bin Sheikh Mohammad appeared with Farrell for the defendants.

The trial continues today.