KUALA LUMPUR (Mar 6): Former Sabah chief minister Tan Sri Musa Aman claimed trial yesterday to 16 counts of money laundering involving US$37.8 million ($51.2 million) and $2.5 million in the Sessions Court here.

Musa, 69, was firstly charged with directing his proxy Richard Christopher Barnes, who is also his lawyer, to open a UBS AG Bank account in Singapore on June 21, 2006 for the purpose of allegedly receiving the illegal money.

Alternatively, he is charged with asking Barnes to hide the fact that the bank account is owned by him to conceal his link to the illegal proceeds.

Besides this, Musa is charged with 14 counts of receiving the illegal proceeds at the UBS AG branch in Hong Kong between June 21, 2006 and March 25, 2008.

On the 16th charge, Musa is claimed to have directed Barnes to transfer all assets and future inflows from Barnes' UBS account to his own UBS account based in Zurich on May 14, 2008.

Musa is charged under Section 4(1) of the Anti-Money Laundering, Anti-Terrorism Financing and Proceeds of Unlawful Activities Act 2001, where he faces a maximum of 15 years in jail and a fine of five times the amount.

The money is said to be paid by individuals and a company in relation to the award of timber concessions.

On Nov 5, Musa claimed trial to 35 counts of graft involving US$63 million.

Earlier, deputy public prosecutor Raja Rozela Raja Toran informed Sessions Court Judge Rozina Ayob the prosecution had obtained two letters of certification from Hong Kong and Singapore diplomatic officers, to draft the charges as the offences took place in both countries.

Raja Rozela also told the court that the prosecution was asking for a joint trial for these new charges with the 35 that Musa already faces.

Musa's lawyers, led by Francis Ng Aik Guan, said that they had no objection to the application.

However, he pointed out that the defence may apply for the graft and money laundering charges to be struck out as the Hong Kong Independent Commission Against Corruption's (ICAC) review committee had issued a letter dated Dec 22, 2011 to Musa, stating that the commission had classified the case as no further action.

Judge Rozina fixed July 15 to July 26 for trial, should the case remain in her court, and also set April 15 for case management.

Outside the court, lawyer Amer Hamzah Arshad, who appeared for Musa, told reporters that besides bringing up the issue of the ICAC letter, they will also bring up the issue of former minister in the Prime Minister's department Datuk Seri Nazri Abdul Aziz's reply to a parliamentary question by Chua Tian Chang (PKR-Batu).

The lawyer said in the reply dated Oct 8, 2012 that Nazri said the Attorney General's Chambers had looked into the allegation of corruption and found that the monies were political contributions for Umno Sabah.

That, Amer Hamzah said, would be the basis of the defence application to strike out the charges.

This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on March 6, 2019.