PMO orders were to skip town to avoid PAC inquiry, ex-1MDB CEO tells court

Former 1MDB CEO Datuk Shahrol Azral Ibrahim Halmi (right) is pictured at the Kuala Lumpur High Court October 1, 2019. — Picture by Miera Zulyana
Former 1MDB CEO Datuk Shahrol Azral Ibrahim Halmi (right) is pictured at the Kuala Lumpur High Court October 1, 2019. — Picture by Miera Zulyana

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KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 1 — Datuk Shahrol Azral Ibrahim Halmi told the High Court today that he received instructions, believed to have come from the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), to leave the country in 2015 so that he would not have to face a bipartisan parliamentary investigation into the scandal-tainted 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).

The 49-year-old, who was a former CEO of 1MDB testified to receiving a letter in 2015 from the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) to attend an inquiry on the government-owned company, but said he was told by his successor Arul Kanda Kandasamy that they were to leave the country ahead of the hearing.

“I was with Arul at that time and Arul then informed me that the instruction from Prime Minister’s Office was to travel overseas so that we were not able to attend that first session,” Shahrol said in the ongoing trial of former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak who has been charged with multiple counts of corruption related to 1MDB.

He added that he flew to Singapore for the day, when questioned by lead prosecutor Datuk Seri Gopal Sri Ram.

Shahrol said he did not know the identity of the person who issued the instruction as the message was conveyed to him through Arul Kanda.

“He told me PMO wants us to hightail it out,” he said, confirming that Arul Kanda was speaking on the phone with another individual.

Shahrol did not specify the date when he left the country to avoid the 2015 meeting, but said he did eventually attend the PAC inquiry into 1MDB.

This PAC probe into 1MDB started in 2015 was the second one, with the parliamentary watchdog having also carried out investigations on 1MDB in 2010, Shahrol said.

Based on previous news reports, the PAC had on May 19, 2015 launched its probe on 1MDB by holding its first inquiry session on the matter.

On May 25, 2015, PAC chairman Datuk Nur Jazlan Mohamed was reported saying that the watchdog had to postpone its hearing session on the next day as both could not attend, citing a Finance Ministry’s letter on May 22 which informed the PAC that the duo were overseas.

National news agency Bernama had then reported that both Arul Kanda and Shahrol had asked for a 30-day extension, but Nur Jazlan had then said the PAC still wanted them to attend the inquiry hearings as soon as possible and would send another letter to 1MDB’s owner Finance Ministry to ask the two to come.

In a statement to Malay Mail on May 25, 2015, Arul Kanda had claimed that both he and Shahrol were looking forward to appearing before the PAC, also alleging that the “proposed” date of May 26 for them to attend was purportedly “in conflict with previously scheduled overseas commitments”.

Before the PAC could quiz Shahrol and Arul Kanda on the new dates of August 4 and August 5 in 2015 however, Umno man Nur Jazlan had to give up his PAC chairman post mid-way through the inquiry on 1MDB as he became a deputy minister in the Najib administration in a Cabinet reshuffle exercise in late July 2015.

Three other Barisan Nasional MPs then also had to give up their PAC memberships after being appointed as deputy ministers and minister in the same July 2015 Cabinet reshuffle.

Umno lawmaker Datuk Hasan Arifin became the new PAC chairman on October 19, 2015.

The PAC later only quizzed Shahrol on November 25 and November 30, 2015 for the 1MDB probe, while Arul Kanda was quizzed on December 1 and December 18 the same year by the PAC.

Today, Shahrol said he was asked to go to the house of Datuk Seri Ahmad Farid Ridzuan — who was attached to the Prime Minister’s Office and in charge of Najib’s image branding — for a series of evening meetings with some PAC members both before and after the PAC inquiry sessions.

Shahrol said Hasan was present in the post-PAC inquiry meetings at Farid’s house, and that Hasan had disclosed to Shahrol what would be in the PAC’s report — which were only made public after being tabled in Parliament in April 2016. (After the report was tabled, Hasan had then claimed that PAC did not find any evidence to indicate wrongdoing or abuse of power by the prime minister in the 1MDB matter.)

“But throughout all this, the messaging was very strong that this is a political attack against the prime minister and to downplay any role Datuk Seri Najib had in the decisions in 1MDB,” Shahrol said today.

Shahrol was 1MDB CEO from late 2009 to March 2013, while Arul Kanda was 1MDB CEO from January 2015 to June 2018.

Shahrol, who is the ninth prosecution witness, is expected to be cross-examined by Najib’s lawyer Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah next Monday when trial resumes.

Najib’s ongoing 1MDB trial involves 25 criminal charges — four counts of abusing his position for his own financial benefit totalling almost RM2.3 billion allegedly originating from 1MDB and the resulting 21 counts of money-laundering. 

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