Firm loses bar association review, stopping lawyers from charging fees for confiscated money

PUTRAJAYA: A law firm lost a proposal to review a previous Federal Court panel’s decision that lawyers could not claim legal fees owed to it from money seized under the Anti-Money Laundering, Terrorist Financing and Illegal Activity Proceeds Act 2001 (AMLATFPPUA).

Messrs Wan Shahrizal, Hari & Co’s application for review was rejected by a three-member panel of the Federal Court composed of Malaya Datuk Chief Justice Mohamad Zabidin Mohd Diah and Federal Court judges Datuk Zabariah Mohd Yusof and Datuk Harmindar Singh Dhaliwal.

Judge Mohamad Zabidin said on Monday (August 14th) that the firm’s application did not meet the threshold requirement under Rule 137 of the Federal Court Rules of Court 1995, in delivering its verdict.

He said the court agreed with Deputy Prosecutor Datuk Mohd Dusuki Mokhtar that a paragraph in the previous Federal Court panel’s majority decision was merely the judges’ observation and did not form the basis of the decision.

Judge Mohamad Zabidin said the court found that the majority decision of Sabah and Sarawak Chief Justice Datuk Abdul Rahman Sebli and Federal Court judge Datuk Seri Hasnah Mohamed Hashim cannot be said to be unfair.

On June 22 last year, the Federal Court tribunal dismissed Messrs Wan Shahrizal, Hari & Co’s appeal to collect legal fees of RM 398,722 from money lost under AMLATFPPUA.

The opposition decision came from Judge Datuk Mary Lim Thiam Suan, the third judge in the quorum, who favored allowing the law firm to appeal.

The firm’s lawyer, Datuk Hisyam Teh Poh Teik, urged the court to overturn the majority decision and issue a decision to re-hear the appeal, saying that paragraph 28 in the majority decision was speculation by the judges and was unfair as the judges suggested. The law firm has acted unethically to simply present invoices for the legal services it renders to its client.

He said the majority’s decision did not accept that the law firm gave evidence of the work and services rendered and did not simply issue invoices for the legal services it provided. The rules of natural justice were also violated, he said, as the judges did not invite the lawyer to present at this point before making the decision.

He told the court, “And if this is to be allowed, all a law firm has to do to succeed in its claim under Section 61(4) is simply to issue invoices for legal services that it has awarded to its client, as was done by the appellant (law firm) in this present case.”

Mohd Dusuki, representing the Attorney General’s Office, said the paragraph in the majority decision was merely a tentative comment by the judges regarding their concerns, if the allegation was allowed.

He said the funds had already been lost by the government and that the firm could not be returned to his client to pay legal fees to his lawyer for the services rendered.

Messrs Wan Shahrizal, Hari & Co had requested RM 398,722 to represent Amar Asyraf Zolkepli, who was being investigated by police for crimes under the 1997 Computer Crimes Act.

A 2016 study revealed that Amar has computer software that provides access to the Malaysian Immigration System (MyIMMs) without requiring passwords or fingerprints. Amar then gave the software to a union that used it to illegally approve foreign workers’ leave for a fee of RM1,000 for each approval.

In a pursuit action, the government confiscated an apartment in Batu Caves and an Audi S Line TFSI CVT(A) for RM 553,918.44 from Amar.

The law firm then requested that Amar’s legal fees be deducted from his confiscated assets for the services he rendered to his clients from the day Amar was detained by the police to the confiscation case.

The law firm’s claim was upheld by the Temerloh High Court, but overturned in a unanimous decision by the Court of Appeal. – Bernama

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