Bar Council to monitor lawyer Hafarizam’s money laundering case

Boo Su-Lyn
Malaysian Bar President George Varughese speaks to Malay Mail at the Bar Council in Kuala Lumpur. — Picture by Choo Choy May

KUALA LUMPUR, March 16 — The Bar Council will observe a money laundering case against high-profile lawyer Datuk Mohd Hafarizam Harun that has purportedly raised constitutional issues.

Hafarizam, who is counsel for former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak and Umno’s legal adviser, was charged last month with money laundering for allegedly putting RM15 million of illegal funds from Najib into his law firm’s client account.

“We will be sending someone to hold a watching brief in that case,” outgoing Malaysian Bar president George Varughese told Malay Mail in a joint interview with Sin Chew Daily here recently at the end of his two-year term.

He also said lawyers were reporting agents under money laundering legislation.

“So if they are suspicious of monies that come into their account, they must notify Bank Negara,” said George.

He explained that all law firms had a client account to hold their clients’ money for any transactions, such as property or share sale agreements.

“For example, you’re buying a house — the buyer may not be comfortable just passing the money on to the vendor, so it goes through the law firm.

“The law firm gives undertaking as to respect of the money. After certain documents are completed, they’ll release the money to the lawyer of the other side, and that lawyer releases to their client,” said George.

He added that lawyers would be disbarred if they misused their client accounts.

“We’re very strict about the clients’ accounts. They’re audited on a yearly basis. And only if there’s a clean auditors’ certificate will we issue them a practicing certificate.”

Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah, another lawyer of Najib’s, said last month that Hafarizam’s case was a constitutional one, as he highlighted a similar case in the United States and Canada of a lawyer who acted for clients without knowing where their money came from.

Shafee had claimed that in that case, a lawyer was not obliged, unlike a bank, to identify the source of their client’s funds.