KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 9 — The now-defunct Terengganu Investment Authority (TIA) that later became 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MBD) had an urgent need in 2009 to borrow RM5 billion by issuing bonds, partly due to businessman Low Taek Jho’s claim of a proposed plan to develop Pulau Bidong in Terengganu that was “real” and not imaginary, the company’s former CEO insisted today.
Lead defence counsel Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah was grilling TIA and 1MDB former chief executive, Datuk Shahrol Azral Ibrahim Halmi on whether the project was indeed “real”.
Shahrol explained that TIA was rushed to issue the bonds as Abu Dhabi’s investment arm Mubadala had expressed interest to invest in the Pulau Bidong project.
Shahrol said TIA needed to raise the funds in order to have the financial muscle before Mubadala would invest.
Shafee: Do you know whether the Pulau Bidong project was true or false?
Shahrol: At that point, I was shown some early plans that had basically a diagram of the island where the hotel was going to be built and I remembered even having discussions with the CEO of Mubadala Real Estate and Hospitality... about that plan. So at that time, I thought it was a real project.
Shafee: At that time... Did you subsequently change your mind because until now nothing has happened? Nothing moved, not even a general survey of the island?
Shahrol: The proposal I saw, some survey had already been done.
Shafee: You didn’t go to Pulau Bidong?
Shafee: The CEO didn’t go to Pulau Bidong where the project was urgently required?
Shahrol: No, I didn’t.
The Pulau Bidong development project eventually fell through despite TIA being successful in raising the RM5 billion through bond issuance.
Shafee then continued to question the legitimacy of the project, suggesting that Low had used an “imaginary drawing” to convince Shahrol that Pulau Bidong was going to be developed.
In response, Shahrol recalled he had spoken to Mubadala Real Estate and Hospitality Chief Executive John Thomas about the project.
Shahrol is the ninth prosecution witness testifying against Datuk Seri Najib Razak, with today being Day 19 of the trial.
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.