PETALING JAYA: A soft heart can get you into big trouble, as private financial adviser Zulkifli Shafie has found out.
He did not hesitate to help when a long-lost acquaintance begged him for money, saying he needed it to feed his family.
Little did he know that his altruism would see him languish in jail for two years. It turned out that the friend in need, former rock drummer Akel Zainal, was a terrorist.
Zulkifli said he could never forget that day in October 2018 when plainclothes policemen arrested him in front of a bank in Putrajaya and whisked him away in a van to his house, where they searched for evidence.
To his horror, he was detained under the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act (Sosma), which allowed the police to hold him for up to 28 days.
Zulkifli said his wife and eight children were shocked to see him handcuffed and escorted by policemen.
It was when they were at his house that one of the officers asked him if he knew Akel.
He told them that Akel, whom he claimed he had not seen or contacted since university days, had reached out to him on social media.
“Akel said he was struggling in Syria and needed money to feed his wife and kids,” he told FMT, adding that he had always set aside money to help the needy.
“Should I quiz them about their ideology or do background checks? I never thought of going to that extent when helping people in need.”
He said Akel’s presence in Syria did not raise any red flag for him as he had heard of celebrities going to that country to help war victims. He had no qualms about wiring the money in February 2017.
He said he was shocked when police told him that Akel had joined the terrorist group Islamic State. He argued that this was not something the public at large would know about.
Akel travelled to Syria to join IS in 2014. He and his family were killed in 2019.
After he was detained, Zulkifli was hopeful that he would be released within a few days with the “misunderstanding” cleared up. But it was not to be.
At the police remand centre, he was grilled to the point where he felt that he was being treated like a criminal. He was subsequently charged with funding terrorism and was held at the Sungai Buloh prison while awaiting trial.
He said he pleaded guilty just to get a reduced sentence and was finally freed on Oct 30, 2020.
Zulkifli said the only thing that kept him going while in prison was a visit from his wife once a month.
“I was so excited upon being released that even if nobody had waited for me at the prison gate, I was willing to walk from Tapah to Cyberjaya. That’s how happy I was.”
Zulkifli’s harrowing experience has seen him being invited as a panellist at talks on terrorism and Sosma, but it has also taught him to be wary about playing the Good Samaritan.
“I’ve stopped transferring money to strangers or people I hardly know,” he said. “I now donate only to established charity funds.”