PETALING JAYA: Najib Razak has come to the defence of Umno lawyer Hafarizam Harun and his former public relations adviser Paul Stadlen, after both were implicated in money laundering charges involving RM15 million.
The former prime minister said the payments made by Hafarizam to Stadlen were above board and came from “legitimate sources”.
“A decision was made to pay Stadlen’s company directly using party funds managed by me and not government funds, to avoid further controversy.
“As part of our arrangement, he would be paid RM15 million for several years’ work,” he told FMT today.
Hafarizam today claimed trial at the Sessions Court to two charges under the Anti-Money Laundering, Anti-Terrorism Financing and Proceeds of Unlawful Activities Act 2001.
According to the charges, the lawyer had deposited RM15 million he received from Najib into his law firm’s account.
The court was also told that Stadlen, who was charged in absentia for the same offence, would be tried together with Hafarizam should authorities arrest him.
Najib also defended his decision to hire Stadlen, a British national who was with Apco, a public relations firm hired by the Barisan Nasional government. Stadlen then quit the PR firm and started his own company, soon after a controversy erupted over Apco’s ties with Israeli politicians.
Najib said money for Stadlen was handed over to Hafarizam to be placed in a trust account, so that the lawyer would arrange for payments to be made to Stadlen over the course of several years.
“The RM15 million was not paid for Hafarizam but to be disbursed to Paul’s company as and when payment or claims are due over the years.”
Najib praised Hafarizam, describing him as a well-respected figure in the legal community.
“This is the second lawyer of mine who has been unfairly charged, and the charges against him and Stadlen are conveniently timed for the by-election,” he said, referring to the Semenyih polls on March 2.
Najib said the source of the funds in Hafarizam’s case was also the subject of several charges against him, but is confident he could prove that the funds came from legitimate sources.
He said similar tactics were employed to smear his name, including allegations that he had asked for changes in the final audit report on 1MDB.
On the other hand, Najib said the actual charge was that he changed the draft audit report and not the final report.
“There were also allegations in the media that I ordered the change to remove any mention of Jho Low’s involvement in the audit report even though it was explained in Parliament that his involvement was on behalf of the Saudi Arabia partner,” he said, referring to businessman Low Taek Jho.
“So I believe the charges against Hafarizam are nothing more than by-election propaganda.”