1MDB trial: Ex-CEO says Jho Low chose, but Najib signed appointment letters for Louis Vuitton boss, others as advisers

Datuk Seri Najib Razak arrives at the Kuala Lumpur Courts Complex October 8, 2019. — Picture by Hari Anggara
Datuk Seri Najib Razak arrives at the Kuala Lumpur Courts Complex October 8, 2019. — Picture by Hari Anggara

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KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 10 — Datuk Seri Najib Razak personally signed the letters of appointment for famous personalities such as luxury fashion brand Louis Vuitton’s boss Bernard Arnault to act as international advisers for 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) predecessor Terengganu Investment Authority (TIA) Berhad, the company’s former CEO said today.

Datuk Shahrol Azral Ibrahim Halmi, who led the TIA which was later renamed 1MDB in September 2009, confirmed that it was businessman Low Taek Jho who supplied the proposed names for TIA’s board of advisers.

Shahrol confirmed that he had in a letter previously as TIA CEO said that the company was “finalising” the appointments of a list of eminent persons, by reaching out to them to see if they were agreeable to be appointed to TIA’s board of advisers.

The names proposed for TIA’s board of advisers were Abu Dhabi sovereign wealth fund Mubadala’s CEO Khaldoon Al-Mubarak, The Walt Disney Company’s former CEO Michael Eisner, US firm General Electric’s then CEO Jeffrey Immelt and an individual named Peter Sutherland, with Shahrol confirming that all four names were given by Low.

Out of the four names, only Khaldoon was appointed to the company’s board of advisers, Shahrol said during Najib’s corruption trial over 1MDB funds.

When asked by Najib’s lawyer Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah, Shahrol said he recalled four names that were eventually appointed as 1MDB’s international advisers.

“One was Khaldoon, the other one was the Louis Vuitton boss Bernard Arnault, the Citic chairman — one of the Chinese investment funds — Chang Zhenming, the other one is Qatar PM Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani,” Shahrol said, confirming all these names were suggested by Low.

Shahrol confirmed that none of these international advisers attended 1MDB meetings, as 1MDB management was never able to get them all together in the same place due to “scheduling conflicts”, although 1MDB did try to organise a board of advisers meeting with their presence.

Shafee then questioned the legitimacy of these appointments, asking “The important question I would suggest to you is that Jho Low is very fond of impressing any particular entity with big names, although the big names may not really be involved, in hindsight, would you agree?”

Shahrol then replied “I disagree, it’s because I personally met Khaldoon. I personally met Bernard Arnault in Paris with Casey Tang to give him the letter of appointment so he was also aware.”

Saying that Arnault had verbally agreed, Shahrol also said that the letter of appointments for the other two were passed to Low to be given to them.

“I testify to the best of my recollection there was a letter from Citic chairman affirming he accepts,” Shahrol said.

Appointment letters by Najib and 1Malaysia composition

When asked by Shafee about 1MDB board of directors member Ashvin Jethanand, Shahrol said it was also Low who had recommended this name following the resignations of Tan Sri Mohd Bakke Salleh and Tan Sri Azlan Zainol from the board of directors.

“Jho had mentioned to me that Datuk Seri Najib wanted a more 1Malaysia composition, hence Ashvin,” Shahrol said.

When asked why Ashvin and LV’s boss were selected for roles in the company, Shahrol said: “Bernard Arnault is clearly one of the leading business people in the world, I think that alone is enough justification. I think he’s one of the top five richest men in the world, it’s quite cool to get him on board.”

Shahrol also explained that Ashvin who heads high-end retailer Valiram Group and is a businessman.

Shafee: In what what would that be relevant to TIA or 1MDB?

Shahrol: Well I wasn’t the one who appointed him, the letter of appointments came from Datuk Seri Najib.

When pressed by Shafee regarding all these officials, Shahrol noted that “those names came from Jho who said Datuk Seri Najib had already agreed.”

“I went through the process of waiting for the letter of appointments to be signed by Datuk Seri Najib and it was formalised by the board meeting,” Shahrol said.

While agreeing that Najib had acted on advice, Shahrol said “Yes, whose advice though? I was told by Jho Low that Datuk Seri Najib already agreed and I merely had to formalise the process and part of the process was letters of appointment signed by Datuk Seri Najib.

Agreeing with Shafee that he had not checked with Najib if these officials could be appointed after the letters of appointments were signed, Shahrol said he trusted the words of Low — who was allegedly representing Najib — as it were matched by Najib’s actions of signing those documents.

“Yes because the consistency in which his points and his instructions that were relayed from Datuk Seri Najib, so far at that point, has proven to be consistent,” Shahrol said.

Hearing for Najib’s trial will not be going on in the afternoon as Shahrol is unwell today, and is set to resume next Monday.

The court had last month heard of how TIA had also claimed TIA Foundation would have famous individuals such as Queen Rania of Jordan and popular band U2 lead singer Bono as trustees.

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