KUALA LUMPUR: Former finance minister Lim Guan Eng asked the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) to lift the restrictions on the bank accounts of a prominent property tycoon, frozen over some RM4 million worth of transactions in 1MDB-linked funds, despite failing to recover the bulk of the money, a revelation that comes less than a month after Riza Aziz was given a conditional discharge provided that he return part of the money he received from the state fund.
Details of Lim’s request last year, sighted in an investigation by FMT, showed the exchanges between him and then-AG Tommy Thomas.
In just two weeks, Lim had received a positive response from Thomas, who subsequently ordered the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) to lift the freeze on all four bank accounts.
This was despite MACC informing Thomas that the bulk of the money – some RM3.9 million – could not be recovered as it was no longer in one of the bank accounts said to have received the funds.
“For one, the procedure was wrong,” a source familiar with the case told FMT.
“Any request to unlock a frozen account should have been made through a representation from the tycoon’s lawyer. Going through the minister was not only a conflict of interest but also breached the confidentiality of our investigations to politicians.”
FMT has reached out to the relevant parties for their response.
The freeze order on the tycoon’s bank accounts was made under the Anti-Money Laundering, Anti-Terrorism Financing and Proceeds of Unlawful Activities Act, ahead of an investigation by MACC in June 2018.
A total of 21 cheques amounting to RM4 million from then-prime minister Najib Razak were said to have been deposited into the tycoon’s CIMB bank account.
However, the anti-graft commission found only about RM76,000 left in the said account.
In his reply to Lim, Thomas said the authorities could not make up for the RM3.9 million shortfall by forfeiting funds from the tycoon’s other three frozen bank accounts.
He also told Lim that the tycoon had agreed to return some RM330,000 “being the sum equivalent to the illicit proceeds received from the former prime minister, Najib Razak, in relation to the SRC scandal”.
“This means that the tycoon would only have paid about 12% of what he received,” another source from the AGC told FMT.
It added that the information on MACC’s investigation provided to Thomas was supposed to be confidential.
“The ex-AG’s letter to Guan Eng contained several details of the probe, which raised questions about a breach of confidential information, especially to a politician,” it said.
Thomas recently hit out at MACC and his successor Idrus Harun after the Sessions Court on May 14 allowed a discharge not amounting to an acquittal for Riza, Najib’s stepson.
Riza was charged with money laundering amounting to US$248 million paid to his Hollywood production company Red Granite Pictures – money said to be linked to 1MDB.
Under an agreement with the prosecution, Riza would return some US$100 million, which works out to about 40% of the 1MDB funds he received.
The move drew an angry response from former leaders under the Pakatan Harapan government as well as Thomas, who said he had never agreed to the deal, adding that he was convinced Riza could be convicted.
Thomas’ denial however was questioned by MACC. FMT earlier sighted a handwritten note by him, leaving the decision to senior deputy public prosecutor Gopal Sri Ram while stating his agreement to a representation by Riza’s lawyer.
“Everything is in black and white, so to turn around and say he was shocked by the court’s decision last week is baffling,” an MACC source told FMT in a report on May 20.
Read more inside stories from our Special Correspondent.