BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – Two former judges accused of embezzling $15.75 million from the High Court’s Bankruptcy Office were convicted of 30 corruption-related charges Wednesday.
The court found the first defendant, Ramzidah Pehin Datu Kesuma Diraja Col (rtd) Hj Abdul Rahman, guilty on 14 counts of criminal breach of trust for withdrawing $15.75 million from 255 debtor accounts while she was the deputy official receiver at the Bankruptcy Office.
She was also found guilty of 10 charges of money laundering, for depositing the stolen cash into a joint bank account with her husband, the co-defendant Hj Nabil Daraina Pehin Dato Ustaz Hj Badaruddin, and also transferring large sums to their accounts in the UK.
The money was also used to buy luxury cars, designer goods and watches valued at over $3 million.
The Attorney General’s Chambers (AGC) said the case marks the largest amount of money ever embezzled by a public servant in Brunei Darussalam.
“Debtors who made regular payments were affected by the crime committed by the first defendant. As a consequence of her crime, a large number of the judgment debtors were not able to discharge their obligations to pay their debts,” the AGC said in a statement.
Banking records produced by the prosecution showed that between 2004 and 2017, Ramzidah withdrew money from debtor accounts and deposited it into her personal accounts and joint bank account with her husband.
In the early stages of the investigation, she claimed she put the money into fixed deposit accounts for debtors, but no records of these accounts were ever produced in court. She also did not testify during the trial.
“In our system, she is entitled to sit in the dock and let the prosecution prove their case,” said the presiding judge, Justice Gareth John Lugar-Mawson. “My only comment is that she did not want to explain where these accounts are, when she is the only one who must know where they are.”
The defence also claimed that the large amounts of cash in Ramzidah’s personal accounts were derived from money given by her family, in addition to $5 million for executing “highly confidential agreements” for a person referred to only as “the Malaysian lady”. The woman’s identity was never disclosed in open court nor did she give evidence to support this claim.
Justice Lugar-Mawson said the defendant offered no explanation of the nature of their business relationship, or why she was continuously given cash gifts by the “Malaysian lady” between 2010 and 2017.
Hj Nabil guilty of money laundering
Hj Nabil, a former senior magistrate, faced eight charges of money laundering — he was convicted on six counts and acquitted on two due to insufficient evidence.
During trial, the defendant denied knowledge of his wife’s embezzlement, saying he believed the money was from the “Malaysian lady” and from investments Ramzidah’s late brother made on her behalf.
He added that the couple also receives financial support from both sides of their families, ranging from $1,000 to $5,000 every month. He said his father, a cabinet minister, also provides additional funds to pay for his grandchildren’s private school fees.
Justice Lugar-Mawson said as an “educated and intelligent man”, the defendant must have known the couple was living far above their emoluments as public servants.
“It beggars belief that the second defendant could not know,” the judge added.
He said the prosecution’s evidence had been “more than sufficient” to prove both defendants guilty of the charges brought against them.
Defendants to appeal conviction
The court will deliver its sentence on Saturday. The defendants face hefty fines and a maximum of ten years in prison for each charge.
Defence counsel has already indicated he will file an appeal against conviction and a stay of execution on the sentence.
The couple face a further seven corruption-related charges for possession of unexplained wealth, but proceedings for these charges were stayed last October pending the outcome of the trial. The charges will be addressed in court on Saturday.
Ramzidah and Hj Nabil were denied bail this morning and taken into prison custody.
The case, which first hit the news in July 2018, has been one of Brunei’s most eagerly anticipated criminal trials, generating a high degree of public interest and scrutiny.
The trial lasted six weeks producing over 1,600 pieces of documentary evidence and 93 witnesses comprising judicial officers, bank officers, car dealers, law enforcement, a digital forensics investigator and handwriting analysis expert.
The prosecution team was led by Jonathan Caplan QC, with deputy public prosecutors Hjh Suhana Hj Sudin, Hjh Suriana Hj Radin, Dk Didi-Nuraza Pg Hj Abdul Latiff and Muhammad Qamarul Affyian Abdul Rahman.
Simon Farrell QC and Sheikh Noordin Sheikh Mohammad appeared for the defendants.