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ARKIB : 30/05/1998

Muhammad Taib Acquitted Of Currency Charges

FORMER Selangor Menteri Besar Muhammad Muhammad Taib was acquitted of currency regulation breaches by the District Court of Brisbane.

BRISBANE May 29 - Former Selangor Menteri Besar Tan Sri Muhammad Muhammad Taib was today acquitted of currency regulation breaches involving more than $A1.2 million (RM2.9 million).

Muhammad, 52, had pleaded not guilty to knowingly making a false currency report on an inward bound trip on Dec 16, 1996, and then failing to declare currency when outward bound six days later.

Muhammad resigned soon after these charges were brought.

The defence argued he did not know the currency laws and the money was for the legitimate purpose of buying land on the Gold Coast for himself and his three brothers.

But the prosecution said it was a deliberate act and he was trying to hide the money.

The District Court jury took three hours to bring in the not guilty verdict which was met with cheers from a large number of Malaysian supporters in the packed gallery.

Earlier, District Court judge Eric Pratt warned the jury against convicting Muhammad on one part of the prosecuting evidence.

Muhammad had carried the money in four different currencies through while leaving the Brisbane Airport for New Zealand on Dec 22, last year.

Commenting on prosecuting evidence, Pratt criticised as ''unfair'' the Australia Federal police agents' omission in not showing Muhammad his original inward bound declaration form when questioning him.

''In such circumstances, I must warn you of the danger of convicting on that evidence. The danger is an injustice may be done,'' he told the jury.

On the form, Muhammad had entered the figure ''20,000'' in answer to a question about how much currency in Australia dollars that he was carrying.

He gave evidence he interpreted the question to mean how much Australian currency, and not the correct interpretation which is the Australian equivalent of all currencies being carried.

The figure was changed by a customs officer, who thought he meant Malaysian 20,000 ringgit, and so calculated it into more than $A9,000.

Judge Pratt also criticised the police failure to check out the reasons Muhammad gave for carrying the money until after they summonsed him on the charges.

Muhammad had said all along that the money was to purchase properties for himself and his three brothers in the Gold Coast.

Judge Pratt also told the jury to ignore Muhammad's exalted status in Malaysia and to treat him as a human being, but furthermore as a ''Malaysian'' human being.

It was also argued by the defence that Malaysians were very much into ''portable wealth'' and regularly dealt in large amounts of cash.

- Bernama-AAP

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