Court orders seized money returned to businessman in landmark ruling on AMLA

Police display cash seized from suspects. The appeals court today ruled that investigations under the anti-money laundering act must complete with one year. (Bernama pic)

PUTRAJAYA: The Court of Appeal in a landmark judgment has held that law enforcement agencies could only freeze properties of suspects investigated under the Anti-Money Laundering and Anti-Terrorism Financing Act 2001 (AMLA) for up to 90 days.

The court said while the government through the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) could apply to seize such properties, suspects must be charged within a year.

A three-member bench chaired by Umi Kalthum Abdul Majid also held that if there was a prior freezing order, then the one-year seizure period runs from the date of the freezing order.

The ruling will have implications on the police, Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) and the AGC to prosecute persons whose bank accounts were frozen for investigations over the 1MDB fiasco.

It would also mean investigators and prosecutors must complete their task within one year, failing which the frozen and seized property must be returned.

The bench made the ruling in allowing an appeal by businessman Lim Hui Jin whose bank account with CIMB Bank Berhad was frozen indefinitely despite no charges brought against him.

Judge Abdul Rahman Sebli, who delivered the 17-page judgment which set aside a High Court ruling, ordered that the undisclosed amount of monies plus interests accrued in Lim’s bank account be returned.

Lim, who named the bank, a deputy public prosecutor (DPP) the inspector-general of police as well as the government, was also awarded RM10,000 in costs.

Lim’s mother, Tai Hoo Eng, was investigated by the police who froze her bank accounts. Subsequently, the AGC obtained a seizure order on her accounts in 2014.

Police froze Lim’s bank account on June 24, 2014 while the DPP obtained a forefeiture order on Sept 11, 2014. However, only Tai was charged with 21 counts of money laundering offences, but not Lim.

Abdul Rahman said Lim’s seizure order ceased to have effect on June 23, 2015.

“Therefore the legislative intent behind section 52 of AMLA is for the release of the property to the person who has not been charged with an offence on expiration of the freezing order or seizure order, whichever is earlier,” he said.

He said when Lim filed his action on May 5, 2016, the freezing and seizure orders had long come to an end as he was not charged.

Abdul Rahman said to hold one’s property beyond the period allowed under the law was a violation of Article 13 (1) of the Federal Constitution, which states no person shall be deprived of right to property.

“Courts are not allowed to usurp the function of the legislature by reading words into the statute,” he said.

Lawyers Rabinder Singh, Amir Faliq Mohamaf Jamil and Siti Norsyahidah Ismail appeared for Lim, while federal counsel Muzilah Mohamad Arsad appeared for the goverment. K Jeyanthi and Marina Nasution represented the bank.