Court: Lawyers can claim legal fees from frozen funds

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PUTRAJAYA: Lawyers who represent clients in anti-money laundering cases are entitled to claim their legal fees from funds frozen by the authorities.

This follows a landmark decision by the Court of Appeal today which allowed the appeal by three legal firms who appeared for a deposit-taking company and its two directors.

The three firms had filed claims for an undisclosed amount to Bank Negara Malaysia but were rejected.

The Sessions Court had later dismissed their claims and that ruling was then upheld by the High Court.

A three-man bench chaired by Court of Appeal judge Mohd Zawawi Salleh allowed the appeals by Messrs Sharidah Ho Cheng & Menon, Messrs Stanley Augustine & Co and Messrs Haresh Mahadevan & Co.

“We are satisfied that the claims are bona fide (genuine),” he said of the unanimous ruling.

Zawawi, who sat with justices Kamardin Hashim and Yaacob Md Sam, said the court would deliver its written grounds later due to the significance of the matter.

Earlier, lawyer Gopal Sri Ram, who appeared for the legal firms, submitted that Section 61 of the Anti-Money Laundering Act stated that a bona fide third party may have monies “returned to them”.

He said the lower courts interpreted the provision strictly and ruled lawyers and their legal firms were not entitled to money that was due to them by clients as fees from frozen funds.

“For the lawyers, a strict interpretation of the provision will mean a violation of their livelihood under Article 5(1) of the Federal Constitution,” he argued.

Sri Ram said Section 61 must therefore, be interpreted harmoniously with Article 5 (1).

He further submitted that the accused persons charged with anti-money laundering offences would also be deprived of a lawyer of their choice, a right enshrined under Article 5 (3).

Lawyers from Messrs Stanley Augustine & Co and Messrs Haresh Mahadevan & Co had represented Asia Ceramic Marketing Sdn Bhd and a director Lim Long Yew in the Sessions Court.

Counsel from Messrs Sharidah Ho Cheng & Menon had appeared for Leong Guan Yeu, who is Asia Ceramic marketing director.

On June 11, 2014, Lim was sentenced to 10 years’ jail and fined RM1.596 million on 481 counts of money laundering and illegal deposit-taking, involving millions.

Meanwhile, Leong was sentenced to two years’ jail and fined RM180,000 on nine counts of illegal deposit-taking and 130 counts of money laundering.

Asia Ceramic Marketing was fined RM180,000 on nine counts of illegal deposit-taking.

The offences were committed at various locations between June 19, 2008 and Oct 19, 2009. Lim and Leong are free on RM1 million bail each pending the outcome of their appeal in the High Court.