BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – After a six month adjournment, the highly-anticipated corruption trial of two former judges is set to begin on Tuesday, after the High Court denied the defendants’ application to stay proceedings.
Ramzidah Pehin Datu Kesuma Diraja Col (rtd) Hj Abdul Rahman and her husband Hj Nabil Daraina Pehin Dato Ustaz Hj Badaruddin are facing 40 charges relating to the alleged misappropriation of $15.75 million from the High Court’s Bankruptcy Office.
Citing abuse of process, defence counsel Simon Henry Farrell QC said the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) had been “heavy-handed” in its investigation, raiding the defendants’ home on April 30 and seizing case notes and papers that contained privileged information.
“A stay is necessary to protect the integrity of the criminal justice system,” Farrell told the presiding judge, Justice Gareth John Lugar-Mawson.
The prosecution, led by Jonathan Caplan QC, said it was not informed of the raid before it took place and did not receive any materials or evidence resulting from it. Caplan added that it was the ACB’s prerogative to investigate any suspected attempt to pervert the course of justice.
Defence counsel also claimed the Attorney General had acted in “bad faith” by amending legislation last October to increase the maximum penalty for criminal breach of trust by a public servant from 10 to 20 years. But the court dispelled this notion, saying the new laws would not be applied in this case since the defendants were first charged in July 2018, before the changes came into effect.
Justice Lugar-Mawson said he did not agree with any of the arguments put forward by the defence to stay proceedings, and that the trial would begin on Tuesday.
The prosecution case
The trial will begin Tuesday morning the prosecution summarising its case.
Last March, the public prosecutor tendered a new set of 40 charges against the defendants, which replaced the 157 charges they were originally facing.
The charge sheet alleges that during her time as deputy official receiver of the Bankruptcy Office between 2004 to 2017, Ramizdah made substantial cash withdrawals from 255 debtor accounts amounting to $15.75 million — more than double the amount of cash that was originally thought to have gone missing.
The prosecution claims that with the help of her husband Hj Nabil Daraina Pehin Dato Ustaz Hj Badaruddin, a former senior magistrate, Ramzidah withdrew the money from debtor accounts at Bank Islam Brunei Darussalam and deposited it into their joint account at Standard Chartered Bank, as well as their bank accounts in the United Kingdom.
The cash was allegedly used to buy luxury cars valued at over $3 million, designer goods worth $429,000 and watches worth approximately $152,000.
The defence denies the charges, claiming Ramzidah withdrew the cash to put into fixed deposit accounts for debtors. The prosecution however disputes that this was a practice of the Bankruptcy Office and says there are no records of such accounts.
The couple has pleaded not guilty to all 40 charges, which include criminal breach of trust by a public servant, money laundering, and possession of unexplained property.