High Court dismisses MACC's bid to forfeit RM4.6m belonging to GroupM

Malaysia's High Court has dismissed the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission's (MACC) bid to forfeit RM4,631,602 taken from a bank account belonging to GroupM (Mediaedge:cia) for reportedly being associated with the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) fund scandal, reported Bernama

High Court judicial commissioner Ahmad Shahrir Mohd Salleh dismissed MACC's application in a decision, after finding that MACC was unable to prove that the money stemmed from proceeds from unlawful activities. Quoting Ahmad Shahrir, Bernama said the forfeiture application "to compel parties that received the disputed money to return or repay the money that is no longer in their possession or their account". Citing Section 56 of Act 613 (Anti-Money Laundering, Anti-Terrorism Financing and Proceeds of Unlawful Activities 2001), the High Court judicial commissioner said money that can be forfeited under that section "must be money that was previously seized, where in this case, proceeds from unlawful activities".

However, if the money confiscated was not earnings from unlawful activities, Ahmad Shahrir said the law does not allow it to be forfeited. On his reason for dismissing the application, the High Court judicial commissioner explained that based on the balance of probability, MACC has failed to prove the conditions provided under Section 56 (2) (a) (iii) and Section 56 (2) (b) of Act 613. Hence, he dismissed MACC's application.

Section 56 (2) (a) (iii) and Section 56 (2) (b) of Act 613 state that subject to section 61, where in respect of any property seized under this Act there is no prosecution or conviction for an offence under subsection 4(1) or a terrorism financing offence, the Public Prosecutor may, before the expiration of twelve months from Act A1467. According to the Act, the date of the seizure, or where there is a freezing order, twelve months from the date of the freezing, apply to a judge of the High Court for an order of forfeiture of that property if he is satisfied that such property is the subject-matter or evidence relating to the commission of such offence are the proceeds of an unlawful activity and if that there is no purchaser in good faith for valuable consideration in respect of the property.

Reportedly, Ahmad Shahrir explained that Mediaedge:cia "is a legitimate business entity" that carries out business as a media relations service provider, and the RM4,631,602 in question was paid for the service concerned. He explained that the money was used by the agency to pay for the media slots and time bought by ORB Solutions under the media service agreement. Quoting Ahmad Shahrir, Bernama said that Mediaedge had specifically stated in its affidavit that the money was used to pay for media slots and time purchased by ORB Solutions and that it was not payment from the former Prime Minister. Following the High Court's decision, the money will be released to Mediaedge:cia.

A+M has reached out to GroupM for comment.

Last June, Mediaedge:cia and IPG Mediabrands were among the companies and individuals named in the 41 civil forfeiture suits filed by the MACC. Multiple media reports including The Star,The Edge and New Straits Times, the suits aimed to recover RM270 million which was reportedly misappropriated from 1MDB. The 41 respondents included in the suit comprised 12 companies, four political parties, five foundations, four non-governmental organisations and seven private individuals. The suit orders those involved to relinquish monies and properties which were “dispersed or misused” from 1MDB, according to former MACC chief commissioner Latheefa Koya.

IPG Mediabrands subsequently clarified to A+M that in 2013, the agency served as media consultants on a Chinese New Year campaign for the Prime Minister’s Nation Branding Division and worked with reputable media owners to execute it. The spokesperson said all related business proceedings have been verified. The spokesperson added that upon being contacted by the MACC regarding the funds received for the Nation Branding campaign in 2013, it immediately cooperated and furnished MACC with all necessary documentation and evidence.

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