As PAS president Hadi Awang and his team of senior party advisors contemplated the opening of his libel claim against Sarawak Report in London on April Fool’s Day, they must have realised there would be some very tough questioning in store.
Most particularly with regard to which versions of the various accounts that Hadi and the party had put out about key factual matters were accurate.
Key areas where Hadi and his allies had differed from one story to another included the Nik Abduh voice tape (which some some PAS spokesmen wrongly alleged Sarawak Report dropped from the evidence in its defence); the cash transfer of RM2.5 million into PAS accounts shortly before the 2018 election and whether PAS has collaborated with UMNO.
Confessions of Nik Abduh
In March 2018 Sarawak Report dropped from its original Defence a lot of the more circumstantial evidence about unexplained wealth exhibited by PAS. At the same time it informed Hadi’s lawyers that it would amend its Defence to rely on, amongst other matters, a voice recording of a senior party figure Nik Abduh which was alleged to contain a confession that large sums of money had flowed into the party from UMNO in a meeting with PAS members that was secretly recorded in August 2017.
The recording has now been widely shared online and is available [here].
On the recording Nik Abduh states the following to his audience (alleged to be a group of PAS members concerned about the rumours that PAS was accepting money from UMNO):
“Tok Guru Nik Aziz took UMNO’s money, Tok Guru Haji Hadi took UMNO’s money, I took UMNO’s money, everyone took UMNO’s money. Among the reasons why we succeeded was with UMNO’s help. UMNO helped us to achieve victory… That is us being smart. Umno is stupid. Why do people keep asking us about UMNO’s money? This issue is now over. [Translated]
When the audio first appeared online in early 2018 Nik Abduh (who was slated to be one of Hadi’s key witnesses in the case against Sarawak Report) angrily denied on his Facebook that the recording was genuine. He called it a fake and said the speaker was not him:
Nik Abduh’s Facebook denial
Furthermore, he denounced the recording as highly defamatory of PAS saying that the speaker was indicating that PAS was involved in the political corruption of UMNO. “I deny it” he fumed, demanding the “culprits” repent soon.
Later Abduh denied again publicly the voice on the recording was him and claimed he hoped the police would investigate, but on the other hand said he would rise above placing a police report. Party Chairman, Takiyuddin Hassan (also one of Hadi’s planned witnesses in the case) told the press it was “a trivial matter” and investigating it was a “waste of time“.
Sarawak Report knew otherwise, thanks to solid sources who confirmed the speaker was indeed Nik Abduh and passed us a full copy of the recording. A report then appeared in the Malaysian press about a forensic voice analysis was being conducted into the tape to determine if the speaker was indeed Nik Abduh.
Our accusation against Hadi relating to the Nik Abduh tape
In response to Sarawak Report’s pleading the tape in the Defence and the court giving permission for expert evidence on the issue, Hadi’s legal response came as a surprise. In a statement filed by his highly expensive London lawyers, Carter Ruck, Hadi acknowledged that the speaker in the recording was indeed his senior PAS party member Nik Abduh after all.
However, Hadi’s plea claimed that, contrary to what Nik Abduh had earlier protested, the meaning of the words on the tape were in fact completely innocuous and did not suggest that PAS was being bribed by UMNO at all.
Admission the recording was genuine, but denial it referred to corrupt payments from UMNO
All that Nik Abduh was referring to, according to Hadi’s statement, was the practice of ‘money politics’ in Malaysia, where UMNO is habitually known to hand out cash for votes at election time or give out donations to Malay worthy causes.
It presented a “dilemma” for PAS, Hadi’s court statement explained, however he claimed Abduh was only referring to ‘long time policies of PAS’ by saying in this recording that PAS voters could accept money and donations but still vote how they like.
There was nothing to suggest corruption with PAS on the voice recording, according to this new explanation provided by Hadi. See excerpt below:
“The Claimant’s alleged fatwa permitting PAS to take substantial sums from UMNO 86. Paragraph 26A(7) is denied. 86.1. For many years, as pleaded by the Defendant, there has been a perception of corruption in Malaysian politics and political life. UMNO had been part of the governing coalition in Malaysia since the 1950s and was in many respects synonymous with the federal government. One of the consequences of this was that financial assistance, grants or aid from the federal government could be perceived as gifts from UMNO. This created a dilemma for PAS members or supporters, as to whether the receipt of such financial assistance from the federal government was permissible in Islam, or amounted to impermissible corruption. 86.2 Equally problematic was the receipt of charitable donations from private individuals towards religious or charitable projects run by PAS members or supporters. Given the dominance of UMNO in political life, and given that UMNO was a largely Malay and Muslim party whose members and supporters would likely share charitable aims with the members and supporters of PAS, it was inevitable that PAS members or supporters would potentially be in receipt of such donations from UMNO members or supporters. Further, as the Bersih Report cited by the Defendant points out, political parties, particularly UMNO, had a habit of publicly handing out small gifts in cash or kind to voters, especially at around election time, and during election rallies. That created a further dilemma for the PAS member or supporter as to whether it was permissible in Islam to accept such gifts. 86.3. It had long been the policy of PAS, as determined by the PAS Council of Scholars, that the acceptance of government grants was permissible, as long as the recipient was properly entitled to the funding in question. Similarly the PAS Council of Scholars had determined that the acceptance of charitable donations from individuals connected to political parties or small gifts from political parties were permissible for PAS members or supporters to accept, as long as they did not allow the receipt of such funds to influence their choice of vote. 86.4. This policy was propounded by Nik Abdul Aziz, long before the Claimant became the President of PAS. For example, in the election of 1990, one slogan put forward by PAS was the phrase in the Kelantan dialect “Kalau bagi duit, ambil. Kalau bag! gula, kacau. Kalau bag! kain, pakai. Bila undi, pangkah bulan.” which roughly translates as “If they give money, take it. If they give sugar, stir it. if they give cloth, wear it. When voting, cross for the moon” (i.e. vote for PAS, the moon being the symbol for PAS). 86.5. This long-standing and public policy of PAS was not altered or amended in any way by the Claimant, whether as alleged in paragraph 26A(7) in August 2017 or at all.
86.6 The final aspect of the PAS policy in relation to gifts or grants from the UMNO-led government, or from members or supporters of political parties other than PAS was that it was strictly forbidden, and contrary to Islam, for
the party or for party members or officials to accept for their personal benefit covert payments of significant sums of money offered by way of political bribes, such as the sums referred to in the words complained of and alleged in the Amended Defence. That policy has remained firm and consistent under the Claimant.
Funding of the Sarawak election in 2016
87. Paragraph 26A(8) is denied. The paragraph is devoid of particulars relating either to the alleged payment (such as the date, method and form of payment, donor and recipient individuals or accounts) or to the allegation that the Claimant knew of the payment. As such, it impermissibly requires the Claimant to attempt to prove a negative. If the pleaded paragraph is based on admissible evidence which is sufficient to support the case which is made then the Defendant must have particulars of what is alleged in this paragraph. A request for further information accompanies this Reply. Depending on the response to that request, the Claimant reserves the right to apply to strike out this paragraph, or to plead further to it.
88. Save that it is admitted that Nik Abduh sits on the PAS Ulamak Syura Council (the Council of Scholars) with the Claimant, paragraph 26A(9) is denied.
The Zaharudin Mohamad Nurul Islam quarrel
89. As to paragraph 26A(10), it is admitted that around the time stated there was a dispute between Zaharudin Mohamad and Nurul Islam which was publicly reported. Nurul Islam did not state that the Claimant had “sanctioned PAS receiving funds from UMNO”. Rather, he referred to the Claimant’s reiteration and restatement of the long standing policy of PAS as set out above at paragraph 86
n relation to grants from the UMNO-led government, charitable donations from individuals connected to UMNO or small election time gifts from the UMNO party.
The Nik Abduh tape
90. As to paragraph 26A(11), it is admitted that a recording of Nik Abduh speaking at a meeting was published on the internet at around this time. Nik Abduh did not during that meeting admit or confess that either he, the Claimant or PAS had been “complicit in corruption” as alleged by the Defendant. During the meeting Nik Abduh discussed the long standing PAS policy described above in paragraph 86. He referred to charitable donations which had been received in the 1990s by a charitable trust run by Nik Abdul Aziz towards the construction of a religious school and a mosque, and charitable donations which he, Nik Abduh, had received during his time as an MP to provide aid or welfare to his constituents, such as during the Malaysian flood emergency in 2014. His suggestion that the Claimant had received similar donations was false. Nothing that he said was, was intended as, or can properly be construed as an admission, let alone evidence, of the corruption which the words complained of alleged against the Claimant and PAS.
Except, that just weeks before Nik Abduh had denied he was the speaker on the tape, which he said was ‘fake’ and had fumed at the libellous and defamatory nature of what was said. How could Nik Abduh listen to the recording and think it showed corruption with PAS but was a forgery, but his own party leader say quite the opposite: that the recording was of Nik Abduh but did not evidence corruption?
Sarawak Report has sought comment from both Nik Abduh and PAS to clarify their position on the recording, but has never received a response.
This issue would have been addressed at the trial in April, with Hadi and Nik Abduh under cross-examination over the contradiction.
Here is a bit more of the transcript of the recording, which lasted nearly 20 minutes and suggested repeatedly that senior members of PAS had received money from UMNO:
“During the Sarawak Election, people did co-operate with UMNO to defeat DAP. I am asking you not to leak this information. People did co-operate. Regarding the monetary issue, the fatwa [legal opinion] was already in place. It was apparent that Tok Guru Nik Aziz took UMNO’s money, Tok Guru Haji Hadi took UMNO’s money, I took UMNO’s money, everyone took UMNO’s money.
Among the reasons why we succeeded was with UMNO’s help. UMNO helped us to achieve victory. In 10-11 of these activities. That is us being smart. Umno is stupid. Why do people keep asking us about UMNO’s money? This issue is now over. Tok Guru Nik Aziz took a considerable amount of UMNO’s money. Not a problem? Tok Guru Harun Din, not a problem. This meeting today not a problem.
…. I have met Tok Guru Haji Hadi. Tok Guru Haji Hadi said it was good for us to take UMNO’s money. Just do whatever we want. But do not use the money for our private matters. For our personal gain. Instead, use it for Islamic purposes. That’s why we have good relations with UMNO today…
It was why Najib could accept amendments made by MT [PAS Council] members.”
Hadi’s case suggested Nik Abduh is discussing charity payments here and that he personally never received any of them. Sarawak Report’s case was that the recording was confirmation of exactly what Sarawak Report had been referring to in the article sued over.
Sarawak Report relied on another strong piece of evidence to corroborate PAS was in receipt of UMNO money in the run up to the 2018 election. Sources detailed how on 21st March last year a known UMNO party official walked into a branch of Bank Islam lugging a bag containing no less than RM2.5 million in cash, which he then asked to be deposited into two of PAS’s bank accounts.
Bank ID – Shamsul deposited RM2.5 million in cash into PAS accounts in his capacity as an envoy from UMNO
The man, who identified himself as Shamsul Zairil Bin Kamaruddin presented a business card with an UMNO logo, describing him as special officer working for the then treasurer of UMNO, the Najib loyalist Salleh Said Keruak.
UMNO logo and the name of his boss Salleh Keruak are emblazoned on Shamsul’s business card
Anti-money laundering procedures demanded that full details were taken from Mr Shamsul about the payment and Sarawak Report has obtained records of those details plus the bank details showing exactly which accounts those those payments went to.
The UMNO emissary presented his card to the bank to verify the deposits
RM1 million went into a trust account in the names of three prominent PAS leaders in Terengganu, namely YB Saitiful Bahri Mamat, Shukrimun bin Shamsudin and Muhydin Abdul Rashid.
PAS’s fundraising account
Another RM1.5 million went into the Tabung Pembangunan JPP PAS Pusat account number 1402 301002 8183 held at the Bank Islam, an election account allegedly advertised in the party’s fundraising.
Both cash injections inflated the two accounts well above their normal balances, showing them to have been significant major donations, according to documentation obtained by Sarawak Report.
An email seeking confirmation from Mr Shamsul has not been immediately replied to and when Sarawak Report rang his number today he acknowledged his identity, but then cut off the call.
So, how did Hadi and PAS respond to the allegations of these large cash payments from an UMNO official, when they were leaked online by third parties before being added to Sarawak Report’s amended defence?
In response to initial queries about the payments, raised by former PAS Vice President Mahfuz Omar last April, the three Terengganu leaders gave a press conference denouncing any suggestion their fund had received money from UMNO, calling the allegation defamation and fraud:
“I want to make it clear that Terengganu State Pas denounces the allegations and defamation that PAS Terengganu has earned from Umno” said Satiful Bahri Mamat “That is an accusation, a false slander made against Terengganu Pas [translation]
Likewise, Hadi himself also went on the record to say that it was completely untrue that UMNO had paid the sums to PAS, calling his senior former colleague a ‘snake oil salesman’ for suggesting it:
“PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang has described as “childish” an allegation by former PAS vice-president Mahfuz Omar that PAS had received money from certain Umno leaders. Abdul Hadi said that, logically, no political parties contesting in the general election would give money to their opponents. “In the 14th general election, PAS will contest Umno’s seats, not DAP’s. And Umno gave us money to fight them? Only a snake oil salesman will say something like that,” he told a press conference after attending the Mega Town Hall Programme 2018 here last night [Free Malaysia Today]
However, a few days later, the senior PAS leader Dr Zhudi Marzuki provided an altered the narrative, admitting that the cash payments Mahfuz had spoken of had indeed entered the relevant accounts on the day described.
Yet, he claimed the cash had been donated by an anonymous wealthy individual (that there were many wealthy individuals supporting PAS and he welcomed more) and definitely had not come from UMNO:
“We face a thousand and one slanders. The most recent is by a former PAS leader who claimed we received RM1.5 million and RM1 million. “This was a donation from an individual, not from Umno. It did not come from the Umno office,” Zuhdi told a forum organised by Sinar Harian in Shah Alam yesterday. Expressing gratitude to the donor, Zuhdi, however, did not name the individual. “That is why we say ‘thank you’ to the person who donated – thank you. “After this, if there is anyone who wants to donate RM5 million, Alhamdulillah,” he added. [Malaysiakini]
However, in response to Sarawak Report’s reliance on the payments in its Amended Defence, in August 2018 Hadi’s lawyers provided a significantly different response about his and PAS’s knowledge of the payments. Hadi stated that he simply did not know where the money had come from but thought it was unlikely to have come from UMNO.
Having said the money definitely didn’t come from UMNO in public, Hadi told the court he didn’t know where the money came from, thanks to political funding being ‘unregulated’ in Malaysia
The statement implied that the identity of the donor, who had been required to reveal himself to Bank Islam under Malaysian money laundering rules, was unknown to PAS itself (something that appears not to have troubled PAS or Hadi when publicly denying that the payments were from UMNO).
The leader of a party that claims great moral authority fell back on the excuse that in Malaysia political funding is disgracefully unregulated.
Therefore, whilst Hadi had been happy to reassure the public and his party that the cash sums had definitely not come from UMNO, he at the same time had stated through his lawyers to the London court that he did not know who had donated the enormous cash sums.
The best his lawyers could say on Hadi’s behalf was that the PAS leader thought it was “inherently unlikely that the money had come from UMNO”. Read the full explanation:
Payments into PAS election accounts said to be from UMNO
91. Save that PAS election funds are administered by the PAS Treasurer (Razman Zakaria) and the PAS Election Director (Samsuri Mokhtar), paragraph 26A(12) is admitted.
92. Paragraph 26A(12.1) is admitted. The increase in the number of seats contested by PAS was indicative of the fact that it was no longer part of the coalition grouping under which it had fought the 2013 and 2008 general elections. PAS political campaigns are financed by donations from PAS members and supporters, which are requested at political gatherings and campaign rallies and online, with adverts on social media publishing the details of the accounts into which donations should be deposited.
Paragraph 26A(12.2) is admitted save that it is not admitted that the sum referred to was deposited by Shamsul Zairil Kamaruddin, nor any other person or individual associated with UMNO, and it is not admitted that Mr Kamaruddin held the position alleged. Neither the Claimant nor PAS are aware of the identity of the person who paid this sum of money into the account, nor the ultimate source of the donation. As stated above, PAS had launched a public appeal for donations publicising the account details into which donations should be paid. There is no way of determining the source of cash donations if the donor does not disclose his or her identity. Under Malaysian law, political funding is unregulated and there is no requirement to record the source of funds donated to political parties.
94. Paragraph 26A(12.3) is admitted. The comparison between the amount deposited and the “average balance of the funds” in the account is not a fair or relevant comparison as an account such as this, which is designed to receive and hold funds for elections, is unlikely to have a large balance outside election periods.
95. Paragraph 26A(12.4) is admitted. The withdrawals were as follows:
95.1. Two cash cheques amounting to RM50,000 each under the name of Mr Mohd Khairul, which were used for administrative expenses incurred by PAS during the election.
95.2. Four cheques amounting to RM25,000 each payable to the PAS subsidiary company in charge of the party’s official newspaper Harakah.
95.3. One cheque of RM3,900 paid to the staff of the election department.
96.The first two sentences of paragraph 26A(12.5) are admitted, save that it is not admitted that the sum referred to was deposited by Shamsul Zairil Kamaruddin, not any other person or individual associated with UMNO. Neither the Claimant, PAS, nor the three men referred to in this paragraph are aware of the identity of the person who paid this sum of money into the account, nor the ultimate source of the donation.
97.lt is inherently unlikely that the sums deposited came from an UMNO source, or were paid in some way to assist the interests of UMNO. At this time PAS and UMNO were fighting or were about to fight a general election on opposing sides in numerous state and Parliamentary seats across the country, were fighting for votes amongst electorates of similar ethnic and religious makeups and in similar areas. The funds were deposited into election accounts, where they would likely be used, as they in fact were, to assist PAS in its efforts in that election, to the detriment of the prospects of UMNO.
98.The third sentence of paragraph 26A(12.5) is denied. The Claimant did not become aware of the donations referred to until information relating to them began to be published in the media.
99.Paragraph 26A(12.6) is admitted. The comparison between the amount deposited and the “average balance of the funds” in the account is not a fair or relevant comparison as an account such as this which is designed to receive and hold funds for elections is unlikely to have a large balance outside election periods.
100. Paragraph 26A(12.7) is denied. The Claimant did not become aware of the donations referred to until information relating to them began to be published in the media.
101. Paragraph 26A(12.8) is admitted.
102. Paragraph 26A(12.9) is denied. No pleaded basis is set out for the allegation in relation to the Claimant’s knowledge, nor are the “other denials” referred to particularised. The Claimant reserves the right to plead further to this paragraph once the Defendant has answered the Part 18 request which accompanies this Reply.
103. The first two sentences of paragraph 26A(12.10) are admitted. The third sentence is denied. The men referred to accepted that the donation in question had been made and denied that PAS had accepted funds from UMNO, because they had not. They had no reason to believe the donation in question was from UMNO (which was itself inherently implausible, for the reasons given above). Even if the donation had been made by UMNO or an individual connected with UMNO, that was not known by the men in question nor the Claimant. The third sentence of paragraph 26A(12.10) is denied.
104. The first sentence of paragraph 26A(12.11) is admitted, save that it is denied that Dr Zuhdi is properly described as a “close associate” of the Claimant, beyond their mutual membership of the PAS central committee. Dr Zuhdi’s statement was made in response to a question on the occasion of him giving a religious lecture at a mosque. The second sentence is denied. The third sentence is admitted save for the words “finally” and “falsely”, which are denied.
Yet, despite that acknowledgement, Hadi has continued to reassure the public that the money definitely did not come from UMNO. In October 2018 he referred directly to the RM2.5 million payment, saying that claims that the money had come from UMNO was was “a lie aimed at tarnishing PAS’s image”. If Hadi doesn’t know who the money came from, why does he continue to say the reports are a lie?
The PAS leader and his deputies would have had to explain these public statements under cross-examination at trial.
Another issue for trial would have been evidence from Manchester blogger RPK.
RPK was one of the first witness cited in Hadi’s original claim form against Sarawak Report in April 2017. By that point RPK had spent many months engaging in foul mouthed, libellous and threatening tirades against the defendant. He had also been a vocal supporter of Hadi’s libel suit, claiming repeatedly that Hadi’s case would somehow prove prime minister Najib Razak was innocent of 1MDB.
When it became clear to Sarawak Report that RPK coverage was based in part on documents from Hadi’s possession, SR filed a counter-suit for harassment against Hadi for facilitating RPK’s behaviour. Hadi denied any responsibility for the leaks to RPK from PAS or that RPK’s behaviour was harassing. No explanation has been given by PAS as to how Hadi’s documents reached RPK.
Ties With UMNO
Which brings matters to another crucial subject on which Hadi has been wholly inconsistent in the course of his proceedings against Sarawak Report.
In a post this very weekend RPK adopted a ‘so what’ position, acknowledging that there had been exploratory ties between PAS and UMNO leadership figures since at least 2006, but explaining that since the parties were established political foes this matter was kept from rank and file members. Apparently, RPK sees no problem with this lack of transparency.
Yet, in response to Sarawak Report’s defence, which had pointed to the growing and obvious ties between the two parties, Hadi gave evidence denying any collusion with UMNO, stating that: ‘Regardless of the fact that PAS is no longer in the Opposition coalition, we remain in opposition to UMNO and Prime Minister Najib… It is simply not the case that PAS are colluding with UMNO, whether in this libel case, or more generally politically.‘
Those claims made by Hadi looked at odds with the political commentary at the time. Collaboration between PAS and UMNO in the run up to the 2018 election became one of the key political talking points of the period.
Following the General Election and BN’s defeat, the two parties have now openly moved into an effective coalition, collaborating over by elections and working as a united opposition against the new Harapan government, which is made up of PAS’s former allies and the half of the party that split away from PAS to form Amanah in 2015.
So, while Hadi claims that PAS were not colluding with UMNO in April 2018, presumably he would admit the parties are cooperating openly now. The genesis of this open co-operation would have been another issue for trial.
Many explanations have been given by PAS leaders over the past weekend as to why Hadi’s case has settled.
Many excuses have been made by PAS leaders over the past weekend for the settlement of this case. Some have claimed the legal suit achieved the party’s ends by convincing voters before the election that PAS was innocent of taking UMNO cash (and certainly PAS made much of the fact of the litigation as evidence of the party’s innocence). Others just said PAS could no longer afford the case.
Certainly also, by pulling out Hadi has left a large number of evidential issues unresolved by a British court.
PAS has been approached for comment about this piece and have not immediately responded. [to be updated]