Ex-1MDB CEO says did text Najib ‘happy birthday’, but not to check on work

Former Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak walks out of the courtroom for a break at the Kuala Lumpur High Court Complex October 14, 2019. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
Former Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak walks out of the courtroom for a break at the Kuala Lumpur High Court Complex October 14, 2019. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 14 — Datuk Shahrol Azral Ibrahim Halmi today confirmed he had in the past sent text messages with birthday greetings to Datuk Seri Najib Razak, but had not contacted the latter to check with him on instructions and decisions linked to 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).

Shahrol, who was 1MDB CEO, said that he had messaged Najib “maybe once a year” to wish him “happy birthday”.

“Also before election, I messaged him. During 1MDB time, I don’t recall any significant messages I sent to him,” Shahrol told the High Court today, adding that he may have sent Najib other messages but that he did not recall what he had written.

Shahrol was testifying against the ninth prosecution witness in Najib’s corruption trial over 1MDB.

Najib’s lead defence lawyer Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah had pointed out to Shahrol that he was in a “messaging mode” with the former prime minister, saying that some of the messages were allegedly still in Najib’s mobile phone.

When Shafee said that the messages may be produced in court, Shahrol replied: “Not at all, please show, they are completely innocent.”

Shafee was quizzing Shahrol on why he had proceeded to carry out instructions by businessman Low Taek Jho to effectively obstruct the Auditor-General’s 2010 efforts to audit 1MDB, and why Shahrol had not checked directly with Najib on whether those instructions really came from him.

Shahrol then replied: “I was able to message the prime minister. However, again, I was respectful of the fact that I cannot simply message him for things I believe to be correct already.”

Shafee: You would rather believe Jho Low 100 per cent rather than do a simple check with the prime minister?

“At that time, I have no reason not to believe Jho,” Shahrol replied, agreeing when Shafee asked if he had every reason to suspect Jho now.

Explaining why he had believed Low to have been relaying instructions from Najib on 1MDB, Shahrol noted that Najib’s actions were “consistent” with what Low had told him and that “never even once after the fact was I told by Datuk Seri Najib that I shouldn’t have done something”.

1MDB and the Auditor-General’s office

Shafee today went through several instances when 1MDB had been obstructive to the National Audit Department’s (NAD) 2010 attempts to carry out an audit on 1MDB, including by proposing to Najib —on Low’s alleged instructions — that the approval of 1MDB’s board of directors and endorsement by Najib as chairman of 1MDB’s board of advisers be required before 1MDB’s confidential information could be shared.

Shahrol noted that the issue of 1MDB receiving only RM4.3 billion of the RM5 billion it had borrowed via bonds was played up by the federal opposition then, adding: “So I believed [Low] when he’s saying that restricting the audit serves to protect the political interests of the then prime minister”.

During his testimony today, Shahrol said Low had allegedly claimed that the Auditor-General’s audit and due diligence exercise “presents a political risk” to Najib, and that Low had also allegedly said there was a need to be “super careful” as information gathered during the exercise would purportedly be “used” against Najib.

Other restrictive moves by 1MDB was where the company sought to limit the NAD’s scope of audit to up to July 31, 2009, although this was resisted by the NAD which sought to carry out an audit beyond the timeframe given.

Shahrol agreed in hindsight now that the NAD would have found out in 2010 that US$700 million of 1MDB money was diverted into Low’s company Good Star Ltd, if the department headed by the Auditor-General was given access to 1MDB documents beyond July 31, 2009. (Shahrol had previously testified that he did not know then that Good Star was owned by Low.)

Shafee also produced an August 25, 2010 letter by then Auditor-General Tan Sri Ambrin Buang to the Treasury secretary-general to complain of how 1MDB was not giving all the necessary documents required including on financial details.

The court also heard of an October 5, 2010 letter from the NAD to 1MDB where it noted that its officers were disallowed from making photocopies of 1MDB documents, despite it being customary during audits to make copies of documents as proof.

Disagreeing that this attempt to “delay” the audit by barring photocopies was not linked to Najib, Shahrol said: “Because it’s based on the earlier instructions based on letters that we sent out, that this due diligence is supposed to be restricted to the July 2009 timespan, and so throughout all this, I was also told by Jho that again to be super careful about information leakage and for no copies to be made of our documents.”

Quizzed by Shafee, Shahrol disagreed that he was “acting in cahoots” with Low to hide the true state of 1MDB affairs.

The trial will resume at 2.30pm tomorrow, as lawyers from both sides will be engaged in a case at the Federal Court tomorrow morning and as Najib would be giving a speech in Parliament as Pekan MP.

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