Two High Court judges in Brunei convicted of money laundering and breach of trust for looting a Court trust account, will not be punished under Brunei’s new sharia law, which involves the hudud punishment of having their right hands amputated. Instead, they are going to jail.
In July 2018, the two judges, Haji Nabil Daraina bin Pehin Udana Khatib Dato Paduka Seri Setia Ustaz Haji Awang Badaruddin (“Badaruddin“) and Ramzidah binti Pehin Datu Kesuma Diraja Haji Abdul Rahman (“Ramzidah“), were arrested for embezzlement and money laundering for allegedly taking $15 million from the trust account of the High Court held for bankruptcy proceedings. Originally, they were charged with 157 charges, which were reduced to 40.
Ramzidah was convicted on January 15, 2020, of 14 counts of criminal breach of trust and 10 counts of money laundering.
Ramzidah was the Court receiver for bankruptcy cases and in such capacity, she oversaw payments into the Court’s trust account for creditors. She removed funds from 255 judgment debtors’ sub-accounts that were to be paid out from the Court’s account. In most countries, certain garnished or seized sums are paid to a Court receiver in a pooled trust account until the resolution of cases. It was the pooled trust account that she used to withdraw funds.
Badaruddin, who was a former prosecutor before becoming a judge, was convicted of six counts of money laundering. They were both charged with possession of unexplained wealth but those charges were stayed.
The couple had bought several luxury cars worth over $3 million, a few expensive watches worth $150,000, and funded private school tuition fees. Over $6 million was sent offshore to the UK and disappeared.
Their judge’s salaries were each only US$3,500 annually, inconsistent with their ability to have spent in the manner they did.
Ramzidah’s lawyer argued that the funds came from relatives and not from the Court’s pooled trust account, and then for Badaruddin, the lawyer argued, inconsistently, that Badaruddin was unaware that his wife was taking funds from the Court’s trust account and did not realize the cars, watches, lifestyle and funds chilling in their joint bank account were not legitimately earned. The lawyer informed the Court that Ramzidah suffered a severe mental collapse and both had mental health issues.
Both were sentenced to jail – 10 years for Ramzidah and 5 years for Badaruddin. However, on April 3, 2019, sharia law was implemented in Brunei and under its penal code, technically, the punishment was amputation of their right hands. After Brunei implemented sharia law, there was a backlash globally with calls to boycott hotels of its ruler, sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, primarily over the death penalty by stoning for homosexuality and adultery. For now, Brunei says it is practicing a dual legal system of its former English common law and sharia law.
As judges, Badaruddin and Ramzidah are politically exposed persons under anti-money laundering law, and as such, are more at risk statistically, to engage in corruption and launder proceeds of crime.
The sultan’s hotels include The Beverly Hills Hotel, Hotel Bel-Air, Hotel Principe di Savoia, Hotel Eden, Hotel Plaza Athenee, Le Meurice, The Dorchester, and 45 Park Lane. Most US banks prohibit their employees and executives from staying or booking events at, any hotel owned by the sultan.