By Deborah Loh
firstname.lastname@example.org at thenutgraph dot com
PERMATANG PASIR, 20 Aug 2009: With four days left before polling for the by-election here, Barisan Nasional is still on the defensive and is struggling to fend off fresh revelations about its candidate Rohaizat Othman.
Rohaizat’s former legal firm partner, Yusri Isahak, today revealed the direct involvement of his once-close friend and university mate in swindling a client’s money.
Yusri said he and Rohaizat made decisions together about the use of funds belonging to their client, the Penang Rubber Tappers Cooperative. This involved using part of the funds as loans to other clients and friends.
Yusri admitted guilt on his part, but said it was not true that Rohaizat was innocent and a “victim of circumstances”. Yusri also refuted claims by Umno leaders that he was the only guilty party involved in the aborted transaction with their client.
“Yes, it was unethical to use clients’ money for other purposes. Yes, I am taking some of the blame but not all of it. He, too, knows about this breach of trust. It is impossible that he does not know about the flow of money in and out of the firm’s accounts when he had to sign the accounts,”Yusri said at a press conference today.
Yusri held his press conference at Parti Keadilan Rakyat’s headquarters at Yayasan Aman in Penanti, near here, and was provided a coterie of bodyguards by PAS.
However, he said he came forward of his own will and was not given any incentive by Pakatan Rakyat to respond to Rohaizat’s claims of innocence.
“I want to clear my name because I have a wife and child who are affected by the allegations that I am the one to blame,” said the former Umno member.
“I have been made the scapegoat so that he (Rohaizat) can fulfil his political ambition. But I don’t feel betrayed. It is he who has betrayed Umno,” Yusri said when asked if he felt angry and betrayed by his friend.
Yusri said in 2002, the cooperative engaged the firm, called Saif Ariff & Rohaizat, to handle a land purchase. The cooperative took a loan of RM320,000 for the purchase and deposited it in the law firm’s care. The purchase was later aborted because of problems with the seller.
The cooperative then wanted some of the money back for business purposes, and Yusri said he personally signed a cheque for RM100,000 to the cooperative.
At the same time, a client of Rohaizat’s bought a plot of land and asked the firm for a loan to pay for part of it. Yusri said the firm lent RM100,000 of the cooperative’s money to the client.
When the client failed to repay the loan, Yusri said Rohaizat decided to take over the land and to sell it off by lots. This, however, failed and the firm was unable to return the cooperative its money.
Yusri said the cheques issued by the firm were for either him or Rohaizat to sign. The remaining funds in the firm’s trust were also used to help another friend of Rohaizat’s who was in financial trouble, and to open the firm’s Ipoh branch.
Yusri said he then managed the new branch in Ipoh while Rohaizat ran the firm in Butterworth. Yusri left the firm in November 2003, saying he no longer felt suited to the legal profession. He is now a contractor.
Yusri also said his legal practice licence had expired in 2004 and he did not renew it because he had decided to leave the legal profession. He said this was why he was never called for disciplinary action by the Bar Council, as he had already given up his licence.
Yusri, with bodyguards
The cooperative’s complaint against Rohaizat was also lodged with the Bar after Yusri had left the firm. Rohaizat was disbarred on 7 March 2008. His appeal to the High Court was rejected on 12 Aug 2009, just days before his nomination as the BN candidate was announced on 17 Aug.
The talk in Umno circles here is that Rohaizat failed to disclose his disbarment to the party leadership during the candidate selection process, despite Umno deputy president Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin’s claim that the party had “done its homework”.
The information about Rohaizat’s disbarment apparently surfaced just before Umno announced him as their candidate but the party leadership decided to stick to their choice.
Muhyiddin, who is also deputy prime minister, has also accused the Bar Council of having an agenda, and likened their fines and disciplinary actions to “parking tickets”.
However, Malaysian Bar secretary George Varughese today said Muhyiddin’s statement was regrettable. Varughese noted that that the Bar Council was a statutory body established under the Legal Profession Act 1976 (LPA) and that its statement on Rohaizat yesterday was in response to media inquiries on the matter.
Varughese said the decision to strike Rohaizat off the roll of advocates and solicitors was made by the disciplinary board, which was an independent body established under the LPA.
Umno has been taking the stance that Rohaizat’s disbarment does not make it illegal for him to contest the by-election, with Umno lawyer Datuk Hafarizam Harun giving explanations on the legal technicalities of eligibility.
PAS, however, is distinguishing the morality of the issue from the legality of Rohaizat’s candidacy.
“Umno says he is the best and cleanest candidate they have. If this is the cleanest they have, what about the rest of the party?” Mahfuz said.
Yusri’s exposé is starting to cause the BN’s by-election campaign strategy, to paint opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim as a traitor of Malay Malaysians, to backfire.
On the night of 19 Aug, Muhyiddin, at a ceramah in Tanjung Putus, expressed disgust with Anwar and called him a traitor for wanting to abolish the New Economic Policy.
Today, at another press conference immediately after Yusri’s, PAS by-elections operations chief Datuk Mahfuz Omar turned the tables on Umno, saying that it was Umno that had a traitor in its camp.
“Rohaizat not only betrayed his friend, he also betrayed his party and BN. Can someone like that be trusted as an elected representative?” Mahfuz said.
Mahfuz also promised more revelations about Rohaizat’s past dealings in his law firm in the coming days before polling, and repeated his call to the candidate to withdraw from the race.
Rohaizat, when met on the campaign trail in Penanti today, told reporters that he wanted to hear the full transcript of Yusri’s press conference before responding.
The by-election campaign so far appears to be centred on this sole issue.
The Permatang Pasir question