Research firm paid RM150k a month to monitor Chinese dailies, Najib’s trial told

Centre for Strategic Engagement (Cense) director, Rita Sim Sai Hoon, arrives at the Kuala Lumpur Court Complex April 23, 2019. — Picture by Hari Anggara
Centre for Strategic Engagement (Cense) director, Rita Sim Sai Hoon, arrives at the Kuala Lumpur Court Complex April 23, 2019. — Picture by Hari Anggara

KUALA LUMPUR, April 23 — The Centre for Strategic Engagement Sdn Bhd (Cense) was paid RM150,000 a month to monitor six major local Chinese newspapers to identify issues affecting the Chinese community, the High Court heard today.

Cense director Rita Sim, 59, testified that the company received a total of RM300,000 in payment for service rendered for December 2014 and January 2015 through a cheque banked into the company’s account at RHB Bank in Bangsar.

Sim is the 14th prosecution witness in Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s money-laundering and criminal breach of trust trial over RM42 million of funds from SRC International Sdn Bhd, a former 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) unit.

Sim said Cense, which was formed in 2010, was engaged by the late Rompin MP Tan Sri Jamaluddin Mohd Jarjis who relayed instructions to the company to pick up points and issues that affected the Chinese community.

She explained that Cense was established to conduct survey on public policy research and provide Chinese media monitoring services.

“The monitoring and analysis service were done daily and a report will be sent to the media office of the Prime Minister’s Office.

“This analysis is sent daily through WhatsApp followed by a weekly analysis through email and a monthly analysis which is the summary of the weekly findings,” she said.

The six Chinese newspapers named were Sin Chew Daily, Nanyang Siang Pau, Kwong Wah Jit Poh, China Press, Guang Ming Daily and Oriental Daily.

Sim, who was previously employed by Sin Chew Daily as an executive director, said Cense had issued an invoice every month and confirmed receiving the RM300,000 as noted through bank account statements.

“I can’t recall if the payment was through cheques as we only knew about the payment after checking our account,” she said.

When asked to identify the cheque in court, she confirmed the cheque as her phone number and the company’s account number was written on it.

She added that the RM300,000 was subsequently used to pay the staff and for other costs incurred from the monitoring and translation services.

When cross-examined by Najib’s lawyer Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abddullah, Sim was asked if Jamaluddin had mentioned any of his concerns.

Sim responded that Jamaluddin wanted to figure out the problems faced by the Chinese community and why were they appeared to be ‘anti-government’.

“Issues such as the Chinese community’s problem with education and the recognition of United Examination Certificate were problems that cannot be solved until today.

“Chinese Malaysians also want the middle-income trap — which affects most members of the community — to be addressed,” she said when asked on the issues focused on.

She also agreed to Muhammad Shafee’s suggestion that Najib cared for the Chinese community as a whole.

MS: Do you agree with me that it is important for any political parties, like Barisan Nasional (BN), to understand Chinese issues if they want to address Chinese dissatisfaction with the government?

Sim: The Chinese community should be the concern of all political parties, not just BN. The government of the day must derive policies (to address the needs) of the Chinese community, as the community is part of Malaysia.

MS: And do you reckon that by doing analysis...is this critical for policy making for the government?

Sim: Yes. If they pay attention to it.

Penang Umno asked for RM2 million, received RM1 million in 2015

Badan Perhubungan Umno Pulau Pinang executive secretary, Ahmad Sahar Shuib, arrives at the Kuala Lumpur Court Complex April 23, 2019. — Picture by Hari Anggara
Badan Perhubungan Umno Pulau Pinang executive secretary, Ahmad Sahar Shuib, arrives at the Kuala Lumpur Court Complex April 23, 2019. — Picture by Hari Anggara

Meanwhile, Badan Perhubungan Umno Pulau Pinang executive secretary Ahmad Sahar Shuib told the High Court that Penang Umno had applied for RM2 million in funding from the party headquarters but only received RM1 million in February 2015.

“As the person responsible for the finances of Umno Pulau Pinang, I was aware of the amount deposited into our bank account,” he said.

Ahmad Sahar explained that the fundings were applied through an application letter drafted by him and the late Datuk Seri Zainal Abidin Osman, who signed the letter.

Zainal Abidin, who was then the chairman, had passed away in August 2018 after being diagnosed with multiple myeloma (blood cancer).

When cross-examined by Najib’s lawyer, Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah, Ahmad Sahar said the RM1 million allocation was used for organising welfare programs for the less fortunate, disaster relief funds, party branches allocations and party operations expenditures.

“It was also used during the festive season such as Ramadan to be channeled to mosques, awarding top-scoring students and supply schooling materials to orphaned children.

Ahmad Sahar said it was a yearly norm to request for additional funding from Umno headquarters.

“I was instructed by Datuk Seri Zainal to inform him when our account has a remaining balance of only RM50,000.

“I would then wait for future instructions from Datuk Seri Zainal,” he said when asked what would happen if the money in their coffers ran low.

Cense and Badan Perhubungan Umno Pulau Pinang are among 15 recipients of cheques totaling over RM10.77 million issued under two AmIslamic Bank accounts that were registered under Najib’s name, based on court documents produced in court previously.

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