BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – A husband and wife duo accused of embezzling more than $7 million from Brunei’s court system were indicted on 152 corruption-related charges on Monday.
The couple — Hj Nabil Daraina Pehin Dato Ustaz Hj Badaruddin and Ramzidah Pehin Datu Kesuma Diraja Col (rtd) Hj Abdul Rahman — were both senior judges in Brunei’s judiciary until January 2018.
They were brought before the Magistrates Court on Monday morning after being arrested by police on Saturday, in connection with the misappropriation of funds from the High Court’s Bankruptcy Office. The money was allegedly used to buy $3.2 million worth of luxury cars and other high-value assets.
Ramzidah, who was the deputy official receiver of the Bankruptcy Office, was indicted on 146 charges of criminal breach of trust by a public servant, for allegedly embezzling over $7 million from 41 debtor accounts between 2004 and 2017.
Ramzidah and Hj Nabil are jointly facing four charges of money laundering under the Criminal Asset Recovery Order. The prosecution alleges that transfers of $300,000 and $200,000 were made from the Official Receiver’s bank account to their own personal joint account on at least two occasions.
The couple is also facing two charges under the Prevention of Corruption Act, for possessing assets not corresponding to their income as public servants.
Among the assets seized is a long list of luxury vehicles worth $3.2 million.
No pleas were taken from the defendants, who were represented by defence counsel Rozaiman Abdul Rahman. If convicted, they face lengthy jail time and heavy fines.
During court proceedings, Deputy Public Prosecutor Aldila Hj Mohd Salleh requested the defendants remain in custody, albeit separately, in order to provide evidence to the investigation. She argued that further remand was necessary to prevent witness tampering and collusion.
The Magistrates Court initially granted the prosecution’s request, but after defence counsel lodged an appeal at the High Court, Justice Dato Seri Laila Jasa James Kerr Findlay overturned the decision releasing the suspects on $100,000 bail or two local sureties.
The justice said defendants’ access to legal counsel must be protected and that it was not necessary to keep them in custody to conduct further investigations.
The suspects’ passports have also been impounded by authorities and they must report to the Central Police Station once a week.
The next court date is scheduled for August 2.
The scandal — which has been the subject of rampant rumour-mongering with unverified photos of the couple’s seized assets being spread through WhatsApp — is set to become one of the most high-profile corruption cases in the country’s history.
Other high-profile corruption scandals also include the jailing of eight Brunei Shell Petroleum employees for accepting kickbacks from a Malaysian contractor between 2007 and 2009, which resulted in $5 million in losses to the government-controlled oil company.
In 2010 the former development minister was also convicted of accepting $11 million in bribes in exchange for corruptly awarding $300 million in government contracts. The five-year trial was the longest in Brunei Darussalam’s legal history.
This article was last updated at 7.20pm on July 25, 2018.